27.11.08

MOUNTJOY'S MOMENT IN TIME

It is 20 years to the day since Doug Mountjoy won his second UK Championship title in what is one of the most heartwarming tales in snooker's rich, compelling history.

Mountjoy was one of snooker’s greatest names of the late 1970s/early 1980s but like all the other players of this era had a life long before turning pro.

Snooker was run like a gentleman’s club in the 70s. To become a professional you had to be invited by the other members, not all of whom particularly wanted talented amateurs muscling in on their patch.

Mountjoy could not walk out of school and on to the circuit in the way players of this era have done. He worked as a miner in the coal valleys of South Wales and played snooker in the evenings.

Already twice Welsh amateur champion, in 1976 he won the World amateur crown and was accepted into the pro ranks. He made an immediate impact, winning the Masters at his first attempt.

In 1978 he won the UK title. Three years later he reached the world final at the Crucible where Steve Davis beat him 18-12. He spent 11 successive years in the elite top 16.

But by 1988 Mountjoy seemed a spent force. He was beaten 13-1 by Neal Foulds in the second round of the World Championship and fell to 24th in the world rankings.

At the age of 46 it appeared as if the only way was down.

Desperate to stave off decline, Mountjoy sought out Frank Callan, a former fishmonger from Blackpool who had gained a reputation as one of the sport’s leading coaches.

Callan took Mountjoy’s technique apart and rebuilt it. This was high risk but rewards were immediate. Mountjoy beat Stephen Hendry, the defending champion, at the Grand Prix and began to feel better about his game.

Even so, nobody gave him a chance at Preston Guild Hall, the venue for the UK Championship in what nostalgics may term the good old days.

Mountjoy beat Foulds 9-5 and former world champion Joe Johnson 9-5 before edging John Virgo 9-8 having led him 8-3.

He was so relaxed against Terry Griffiths in the semi-finals that he went to sleep in his dressing room in the interval.

The final against Hendry was very much the old versus the new. The young gun was widely expected to beat the veteran.

Yet from 7-7 after the first day Mountjoy won all seven frames of the third session.

It is fashionable now to pretend that nobody could really play 20 years ago but at one stage he compiled three successive centuries.

At 15-7 he had it won. At 15-12 it was getting sticky but Mountjoy duly completed an emotional 16-12 victory and dedicated it to Callan.

Even more remarkably he went on to win the next ranking title, the Mercantile Classic in Blackpool, and would rise to his highest ever ranking, fifth.

The financial rewards from this golden run of success should have set Mountjoy up for life but he was badly ripped off by a manager.

Worse still, he had a lung removed after developing a tumour and his career hastened to an end in 1997.

Mountjoy went out to Dubai to coach and continued in a coaching role on his return to Wales.

He still plays from time to time in the CIU Championship, a tournament for working men’s clubs, very much back to his roots.

It’s sad that Mountjoy endured an uncomfortable time after his renaissance but he was from a generation that was grateful to have made a living from playing snooker and never forgot what life was like before there was a televised professional circuit.

He was a key character in the soap opera that was the UK snooker boom and, 20 years ago, he authored one of the most memorable of all the many stories that have kept so many engrossed in this great game.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

It doesnt seem 20 years! The attacking style of play Doug employed in his early years was a joy to watch. Many of the players of his era were as good as any since -when on form! For a number of them the periods in which they were 'in form' seemed to be patchy. Having watched much of the Grand Prix players from 20 years ago would of won most of the matches playing at the standard of 20 years ago then when 'on form'. Mountjoy remains one of the best players not to have won the world crown- two UK titles remains a very rare achievement. Thanks for the memories Doug.
John H

Anonymous said...

That third session, he never seemed to miss a long red - and once he potted them made decisive breaks. Interesting that with Doherty, Hendry and others approaching their 40s we expect the long potting to go and there was Doug closer to 50 knocking them in in a major final.

Anonymous said...

I remember it like it was yesterday. Everyone wanted Doug to win that final. If Doug could do it there's definitely still hope for Jimmy....

Anonymous said...

Looked exceptionally comfortable in either brown or beige.

Not easy to do that. Only Terry Wogan and Gerald Harper (when playing Hadleigh) could get away with that look.

Janie Watkins said...

Hadleigh - well Anon you must be as old as me!!

and don't forget the wonderful frilly dress shirts!

andy said...

I remember the final very well, I was 17 years old and a massive Hendry fan at the time, I was always distraught when Hendry lost.

This match particularly sticks out in my mind because I was really enjoying the snooker from both players, I couldn't believe how well Mountjoy was playing and that Hendry was losing!!!

It was probably one of the few finals that Hendry lost where I wasn't distraught at all because of the quality of snooker from Mountjoy.

And yes, an even more exceptional performance due to his age.

Good article, more like those please! :o)

Andy

MICKIE EFF said...

I remember the 3rd session very well. Mountjoy scored very heavily in the closing 5 frames of this session. His cue action, delivery & timing - were flawless.

Pete Williams said...

Although not snooker Doug is still playing Cue Sports, he represented his County Pool side in the final of the Welsh Pool Association County KO Cup that we broadcast recently and looked the part as well with a couple of nicde break & runs!

Anonymous said...

My first ever recollection of snooker was the 1981 world final at the age of 6 so Mountjoy was one of the two first players I ever heard of.

I was more a White/Higgins/Davis fan and didn't really notice Doug apart from his appearance on Record Breakers about his then highest ever break of 145. But out of nowhere he won the UK in 1988 and I was amazed at how good he was playing. I was a Hendry fan back then but ended up supporting Dong and was thrilled when he won and even more when he won the next tournament.

Probably the best purple patch/Indian summer in snooker history!

Gary Baker said...

I had the privilege of bumping into Doug again after many years when he went to watch the Welsh stars at the Tredegar Cons Club (Newport) Pro-Am tournament a couple of years ago. When I was working on my first paper in Pontypool, Doug lived just about five miles away in Mamhilad and myself and my colleague would regularly meet him for a swift one in the local there after work.

I remember those days when he won the UK Championships and the Mercantile Credit Classic back-to-back. Excellent piece by David Hendon but what he may have just missed out was that Doug beat the man he thought of as a brother in those days, fellow Welshman Wayne Jones, in the Mercantile final.

Doug's wife, Yvonne, was always at his side and a real rock. Hard as nails on the table but extremely kind off it.

But, boy, could Doug grind it out when he wanted to! Around 1989 or so, myself and my friend Andrew booked a couple of days off to go to the Crucible. We were lucky to catch the first session in the evening of Mike Hallett v Darren Morgan. However, in the afternoon, Doug played Cliff Thorburn - to the bitter end! And didn't they grind, so much so that they were pulled up for the next match to go ahead four frames from the winning post to come back after the evening session and finish off. Found out the next day that it finished 13-11 (can't remember who to) at 1.30am!

Senator Welsh Open, great matches, an incredible life - so many memories of Doug.

And now for everyone, he is getting his cue back out to play in the Legends tournament in Newport this May with Jimmy White and - oh no, not a replay? - Cliff Thorburn.