This instalment of Betslip Killers takes us to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, host of the World Snooker Championship since 1978.
In this series we take a look at some of the most dramatic finishes to sporting events that rendered good betting slips worthless in the final moments of the game (or tournament).
From soccer, to the NBA, and golf to snooker there are some absolute classics that had people crying into their worthless pieces of paper.
The 1985 World Snooker Championship
Snooker is something of a niche sport and not all that popular outside the British Isles (and now China). However it did give rise to what I believe to be the most dramatic conclusion to a sporting event in history.
The World Snooker Championship typically takes place toward the end of April over two gruelling days where the finalists race play a best of 35 frame match over four sessions.
The 1985 edition pitted underdog Dennis Taylor from Northern Ireland against the sport’s dominant force at the time, Englishman Steve Davis.
Number 1 seed Davis had won the previous two World Championships and was hot favourite going into the final against Taylor (11th seed) who, although something of a journeyman, had previously reached the final in 1979 where he lost to Terry Griffiths. Before the match, Davis was priced up as 1/4 favourite for the title with Taylor sitting at 3/1. The two had met in the previous year’s semi-final, Davis winning by a score of 16-9. Both men had a comparatively easy run into the final winning their respective semi-finals by a score of 16-5.
Davis came out of the blocks like a greyhound with breaks of 88, 93, 95, 85, 83, and 121 in the first session. Some of the finest snooker ever to be seen gave him a surely insurmountable lead of 8-0 at the end of the first session leaving Taylor shellshocked.
This was long before the days of online gambling and you’d do well to find a bookmaker open on a Sunday evening, but Taylor’s price must surely have been 100/1 at that stage. In the space of 3 hours his goal had gone from winning the title to sparing himself the embarrassment of being beaten with a session to spare, which was a real possibility.
As the evening session began, a resigned Taylor nicked the first frame on the pink and somehow he eeked out four breaks in excess of 70 on his way to winning six more frames that evening, closing the gap to just 7-9 at the end of the first day. Back in the game!
Taylor finally completed the historic comeback in the 22nd frame, tying it up at 11 frames each but he didn’t manage to pull in front with Davis taking the next two. He ground out another comeback to 13-13 but again Davis turned the screw and went 15-13 in front. The steely resolve for which he was famed (and often times disliked) looked like it would be too much for Taylor to overcome.
The pattern continued…15-15, then 17-15 Davis, then 17-17. After almost 14 hours of snooker it all came down to one frame. That frame began at 11:15 pm and one hour later while it was still going on, 18.5 million people in the UK were tuned in. Still to this day there have never since been more people watching the same thing after Midnight. I was only six years old at the time, but I remember getting out of bed for the last frame because of the shrieks coming from downstairs. Even my mother was shouting at the TV, something I’d never seen before, nor I have I seen since. I don’t think I really understood what was going on, and mostly wanted to go back to bed, but I knew something special was happening.
The word ‘epic’ is certainly over-used these days but it fits in perfectly here. The cagey frame as mentioned progressed for an hour and saw Davis just three points ahead at 62-59 with only the black ball (worth 7 points) left on the table. It had all come down to just one ball. After an exchange of several shots on the black, the pressure became too much for Davis and he missed a relatively straightforward shot into the corner pocket and in doing so left Taylor a tap in for the title.
The ’85 Final remains the most famous match in snooker history and in all likelihood that’s never going to change. The game was at its peak, the BBC gave it huge coverage in the ’80s and the game delivered with thrilling matches and great characters.
You can check out the below video from YouTube which goes through the final with some talking heads along with the protagonists…