By Gerry Moran
It happened some 55 years ago, or more, and I’m still seeing red over the black! And it happened on the green baize of the snooker table in what was the CYMS in William Street.
It was the final of the schoolboys snooker championship and yours truly was at the table having made it through numerous knockout rounds to reach the grand finale. The best of three frames, my opponent and I had won one frame apiece as the final frame came down to the very last ball on the table – the famous black.
My opponent took his shot, the ball rolled silently towards the right bottom corner pocket. And stopped. Not just short of the pocket but right on the lip. It hung there precariously for what seemed like a brief eternity. If you blew on the ball it would have gone in. The black was now ‘stuck on’, and a ‘tap-in’, in snooker parlance; a simple ‘tap-in’ for me to win the game and become the schoolboys’ snooker champion. ‘Tap-in’ or not it’s still a tricky shot. For sure, a mere tap will sink the black and it’s game over. Miscalculate that tap, however, and the cue ball (ie. the white ball you hit with your cue) goes in after the black and it’s game, set and match – if I may mix my sporting metaphors – to your opponent.
And so, yours truly, chalked his cue, assessed the scenario – one that he’d known many times before – and carefully shot. But not carefully enough. Sure enough I potted the black. And the white! Game over and I had not just lost, but thrown away, the schoolboys’ snooker tournament trophy.
I still have nightmares about it, as my moment of glory, my moment of schoolboy fame (my name and photo in the local paper) was blown away with one careless cue shot. Sport is cruel.
All of this comes to mind as the Snooker World Championship is taking place in the famous Sheffield Crucible Theatre as I write (it may well be over by the time you read this) And I am especially reminded of one of my all-time favourite sporting moments (apart from any Kilkenny All Ireland victory) which was the famous Black Ball World Snooker Final of 1985 between Northern Ireland’s Denis Taylor and England’s Steve Davis.
A final that also ended with the last ball on the table, the infamous black ball, except in this case the World Title was on the line not to mention £60,000 in prize money (the largest prize money up to then).
Steve Davis, three times world champion, was red hot favourite and proved his form by leading from start to finish, or rather to the very last frame (at one stage he led Taylor by 7 to 0) The match was the best of 35 frames, first to 18 claiming the title. At 17 frames all, people who had no interest in snooker tuned into this engrossing match between Denis with the jam-jar glasses and Steve with the cute ass (he won ass of the year once, there’s more to snooker, folks, than balls!) Anyway that famous final came down to the very last ball of the final (which went on way past midnight, with half of the United Kingdom, and Ireland, staying up to watch it, including my wife (heavily pregnant with our first child) who had no interest whatsoever in snooker but was captivated by this epic encounter.
Finally, Davis missed a relatively easy pot (nerves get to everyone, even world champions). In stepped Taylor and the rest is snooker history. Denis Taylor won the World Snooker Championship title by potting the last ball of the match, the black ball, after 35 gruelling frames of snooker, and the only time Taylor went ahead in the game!
I was absolutely thrilled for him, so thrilled that I considered calling my soon-to-be-born son, Denis, but my missus had other ideas. As for snooker being a sign of a ‘misspent youth’ tell that to the finalists of this year’s World Snooker Championship in Sheffield who are playing for half a million sterling first prize!
And tell that to Ronnie O’Sullivan, Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry all millionaires thanks to their ‘misspent youth’!
In the meantime I’m still seeing red over that black.