The year was 1986. Steve Davis had lost the world final to Joe Johnson but was still the undisputed king of snooker.
One day he was having a meal in a Chinese restaurant. Another man came in with his 10 year-old son.
The father was full of enthusiasm about his boy’s talent on the green baize. A waiter informed him there was another snooker player in the restaurant by the name of ‘Dave Stevens.’
Realising the mistake, father and son headed over for an autograph and photo with the man who bestrode the snooker world.
The man assured Davis that his boy would one day be world champion. Steve had probably heard this 1,000 times before from other fathers and could be forgiven for taking it all with a large dollop of salt.
Fast forward 22 years and Ronnie O’Sullivan, who turns 33 today, is now a three times world champion and world no.1. His father has been incarcerated for all these triumphs but remains his son’s no. l supporter.
The picture above is the one they took that night.
Davis has not beaten the Rocket in ten years. O’Sullivan leads 18-6 in career meetings but I suspect he does not take much pleasure in beating him these days.
Davis was his boyhood hero. He recalled that when he watched the end of the 1985 world final in his local club, “all the others wanted Dennis Taylor to win. They were sat there saying ‘miss it ginger’ when Steve was on the black. I was the only one supporting him.”
It’s telling that Ronnie would cheer for Davis, a player so dominant than millions couldn’t wait for him to lose.
(How times change. He is now one of the most popular players on the circuit.)
O’Sullivan identified with him because he was a winner and young Ronnie wanted to be a winner as well.
Over time, Davis’s achievements would be eclipsed by Stephen Hendry, another player who has O’Sullivan’s total respect (notwithstanding an ill judged stream of invective about him at the 2002 World Championship for which Ronnie has subsequently apologised).
Kids need heroes. O’Sullivan’s were his own father and Davis.
And next time they cross cues a small part of Ronnie will still be that young boy looking up to his idol and dreaming of one day being the snooker player everyone else is in awe of.