• Rewind to 1985

Taylor snatches the 'black-ball final'

Rob Phillips-Knight
April 29, 2010
Dennis Taylor celebrates the greatest achievement of his career © Getty Images

The brief but enthralling return to form of Steve Davis at this year's World Championship evoked memories of his great baize battles of the past. 25 years ago Davis was the best player in the world and already a three-time world champion at the age of 27. But in the 1985 Crucible final, the man known as the "Nugget" would play an ultimately unsuccessful part in the most famous snooker contest of all time.

On April 27 1985, Davis, the defending champion, took on Northern Ireland's Dennis Taylor, who had lost out in the 1979 world final to Terry Griffiths. Never had a sporting contest enthralled a nation so much. By the time Taylor sunk the winning pot at 12:19am on April 29, 18.5 million people had tuned in to witness the tension - a record, at the time, for the largest British audience for a sporting event.

In an era full of coalescence of cultural and social trends, the final played a key role in snooker's emergence as a popular television sport. Such was the level of fatigue-inducing drama, legendary snooker commentator Ted Lowe, famed for his poetic ability to capture the moment, remained silent for long periods of the match. On watching Taylor's winning pot, Lowe exclaimed with relief: "He's done it."

Both players came into the final in terrific form. Davis' defence had so far seen him lose only 25 frames in his five previous games, while Taylor had conceded a mere 18. Those figures would soon change though. Davis, aiming to become the first player to win three successive Crucible titles, began in masterful fashion as he won every frame in the opening session to lead 7-0. Anyone who decided to switch off for the remainder of the match would have been excused, especially when the world No. 1 reeled off the first frame of the second session in confident manner. Those who stuck with it though were to be rewarded.

In the ninth frame, one shot changed the whole match. Davis took on a tricky green down the right cushion which would sew up a 9-0 lead. The green wobbled in the jaws but failed to drop. "Maybe I relaxed a bit," Davis later reflected. Taylor cleared the colours and snatched the frame for 8-1. It was 8.15pm. By the end of the evening, the Ulsterman had rallied back to 9-7. Game on.

Both players returned to their lodgings to ponder an action-packed day. A pumped-up Taylor, aware he would struggle to sleep, ordered a bottle of champagne from the hotel bar and relaxed with his wife, Trish, and close friend Trevor East. The next morning a walk around the hotel grounds shook off any hint of a hangover and re-focused the Ulsterman's priorities. "The hotel had a lake and I spent some time walking around it, looking at the ducks, thinking about my Mum," recalls Taylor. His mother, Annie, had died of a sudden heart attack the previous October at the age of 62.

"Foremost in my mind wasn't really (that) I was trying to beat Steve Davis, the greatest player in the world. It was my Mum. I'd been in one final before, in 1979, and a friend had flown Mum over for that. I'd led into the final day, I should have done better."

Dennis Taylor holds aloft the World Championship trophy © Getty Images

The role of East, then the executive producer of ITV's snooker coverage, in Taylor's success is a fascinating one. After employing the Ulsterman as a commentator, East went on to act as an amateur psychologist for Taylor. The partnership blossomed en-route to the 1985 final as East worked wonders to curb his patient's tendency to become downhearted by mistakes and lose concentration when not at the table. Due to engagements with his beloved Derby County, East was absent for the first session of the final but managed to catch enough of the action to offer his friend a prognosis on his failings before the second session.

Taylor, buoyed by his friend's words, continued his momentum into Sunday afternoon and levelled at 11-11, but Davis won the next two frames on the black to go into the final session leading 13-11. In an incredibly tense final session, both players gave their all. Taylor again battled back to level at 15-15 before another surge from Davis put him one frame away from the title at 17-15. In typically resolute fashion, Taylor ground out two more frames to set-up a final frame showdown.

In what would prove the longest final frame in Crucible history, Davis wrestled control of the 35th frame and with only the last four colours remaining led 62-44. Taylor seized on a sloppy safety shot by his opponent and produced three excellent shots to sink the brown, blue and pink. The black lay nestled below the right centre pocket. Brimming with confidence, Taylor attempted a risky back-double. He missed but left it safe.

Several tentative safety shots were exchanged until Taylor took on yet another risky double. Again he missed but this time he left the ball hovering temptingly over the right-corner pocket. Davis seemed set to take frame and match. A pale Davis studied the shot for several seconds. He overcut the pot by some way and in the process presented Taylor with his chance. With the frame in its 68th minute, Taylor walked to the table, his face like a beetroot. He would of course sink the pot and proceed into the famous cue above the head celebration.

"It was all there in black and white," Davis said when confronted by David Vine and his microphone immediately after the most disappointing defeat of his career. Davis would go onto claim three further Crucible titles after losing the 1986 final to 150/1 outsider Joe Johnson. The 1985 world final proved to be the highlight of Taylor's career and he retired in 2000.

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