19.1.09

TAYLOR AT 60 - SNOOKER CELEBRITY

Dennis Taylor, who turns 60 today, will forever be associated with that extraordinary night in 1985 when the UK snooker boom reached its zenith as he potted the final black to beat Steve Davis 18-17 and become world champion.

It seemed unlikely when he trailed 8-0. Indeed, it seemed unlikely full stop: Davis was the unstoppable machine and undisputed no.1; Taylor was the funny Irish guy with the big glasses and surely no threat to snooker’s top dog.

It was a victory for one of snooker’s most dogged competitors and the career Dennis has made for himself since is almost the template for any player wishing to exploit every last drop of their success.

He is a BBC commentator, a very entertaining after dinner speaker and much in demand as a snooker celebrity.

Dennis was never one to rest on his laurels. He realised early on that there was far more to being a snooker professional than merely turning up and playing.

He was born on January 19, 1949 in Coalisland, Northern Ireland and moved to Lancashire in England in the 1960s to pursue his snooker career, working in a paper mill to support himself.

The early years on the professional circuit were tough to say the least. There was little money in the game so players took on whatever exhibition work they could get.

In this, Taylor was a natural: his engaging wit and ability to entertain made him a great favourite in holiday camps and snooker clubs around the UK and beyond.

He reached the 1979 world final but lost to Terry Griffiths. There was an edge missing from his game and he came to realise it was related to his eyesight.

It was Jack Karnehm, the BBC commentator, who fashioned the ‘upside down’ glasses that at first made Taylor a figure of fun but which ultimately helped him to become world champion.

The 1984/85 season began in devastating fashion when Taylor’s mother died. He immediately withdrew from the International in Newcastle and was not going to play in the next event, the Grand Prix at Reading, but was talked round by his family.

He ended up beating Cliff Thorburn 10-2 to win his first ranking title and thus received a huge injection of confidence.

This came to the fore at the Crucible several months later and his inner steel helped Dennis pull off the most famous victory in snooker history.

Of course, much is talked about the black ball finish but his preceding pots on brown, blue and pink were all, in the circumstances, remarkable.

A peak viewing audience of 18.5m were watching when he sank the black. Some years later I interviewed him and he told me that not a day went by without somebody mentioning it.

It took me a while to realise that that somebody was Dennis himself.

But you can hardly blame him. It would all have been so different had Davis potted the black.

As it was, Dennis was catapulted into the limelight and became a great favourite on chat shows, game shows, for endorsements, exhibitions, personal appearances and anything else going.

And he has never been anything less than professional in undertaking all these engagements.

A well known player asked me recently how to get into TV commentary. The advice I gave him was not to wait until his playing career was on the decline before getting involved.

Dennis was commentating for ITV before he became world champion. Indeed, he was lead commentator for them on the conclusion of the 1985 British Open a few weeks before his own greatest moment.

And his playing career went far beyond the 1985 World Championship. In 1987, he won six titles, including the Wembley Masters with a 9-8 defeat of Alex Higgins from 8-5 down.

He spent 18 successive years in the top 16 and was part of the Ireland team that won three World Cups.

It was in this tournament in 1990 that he and Higgins fell out in a big way after the fiery twice world champion questioned Taylor’s captaincy tactics. It ended in a row in which Higgins threatened to have Taylor shot.

By chance, they were drawn to play each other a few weeks later at the Irish Masters at Goffs. It was a bear-pit atmosphere for what Davis dubbed ‘the biggest grudge match of all time.’ Taylor won 5-2. He would never have forgiven himself had he lost.

Dennis was known for banter and having a laugh in the arena but the truth is he was one of snooker’s hardest competitors who hated losing.

He hated it every bit as much when he played his last match as a professional in the qualifiers for the 2000 World Championship. Dennis came from 8-4 down to level at 8-8 with Sean Lanigan but was beaten 10-8. He was absolutely gutted afterwards that his career had come to an end at the Newport Centre and not, as he had hoped, at the Crucible Theatre.

It’s a shame there’s not some sort of seniors circuit where Taylor and his old rivals could lock cues once again.

But even though he no longer plays, Dennis remains one of snooker’s biggest stars.

Why? Because he has worked hard to make a living not just from the game but through being a personality recognisable to those who do not necessarily follow the game.

He’s been good for snooker and, in turn, snooker has been good to him.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

many happy returns denny

Sean Brennan said...

Happy 60th Dennis.The 1985 World championship final is something snooker fans will never forget.Dennis is a great ambassador for the sport.

Anton said...

Many happy returns, Dennis, if you're reading this.

Anonymous said...

very few replies for someone who has contributed so much to snooker (yes i know he got lots in return).

shame so few felt it worthwhile commenting. i hope denny doesnt read this

stuartfanning said...

Maybe it's because his type of commentary (always a nice word about everyone with little journalistic criticism) is the benchmark used by BBC Sport for all TV commentary from now on. Bland and totally non critical. So there's no room for the likes of Clive Everton.

Anonymous said...

yes the guy has done a lot more in snooker than commentate. good of you to pop by in his birthday blog to mention hes not as good as clive. hmm

stuartfanning said...

Your welcome anonymous. Popular name on this blog!

Anonymous said...

i didnt know that wasnt allowed. oh, it is allowed. i thought so.

Anonymous said...

As Dennis says, never a day goes past without 1985 being mentioned - usually because he mentions it!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely abysmal commentator. Why oh why didn't Davis pot that black and save us from 20 years of his appaling ramblings?

Anonymous said...

When Sean Lanigan ended his professional career he was an extremely bad loser and he used to be an all-round unpleasant person in general. I was there and saw it.

Anonymous said...

Im sean lanigans daughter. Reading this is very comical to me!!!

JAMIE O'REILLY said...

Happy 60th, Dennis.