Snooker, like any sport, is dependant on a constant supply of new blood to refresh and renew its ranks, but for romantics and nostalgics – and there are a high proportion of these who follow the green baize sport – you can’t beat an old timer, apparently past his best, returning from the sidelines to reclaim former glories.

Doug Mountjoy, one of the myriad cast of characters who helped make snooker such a popular television attraction, was one of the leading players of the late 1970s/early 1980s but, by 1988, appeared to be in terminal decline.

He did not look like the player who won the Wembley Masters at his first attempt in 1977 and the UK Championship in 1978.

Down at 24th in the rankings and out of the top 16 after a run of 11 consecutive seasons, it was widely assumed that it would not be long before he was also relegated from the top 32.

Mountjoy was, after all, 46 years of age in a game largely dominated by the younger brigade – Steve Davis (31), Stephen Hendry (19), Jimmy White (26) and John Parrott (24).

There had, though, been signs of an upturn. He defeated Hendry 5-1 at the Grand Prix in Reading where the Scot had been defending champion and had had his confidence restored by having teamed up with Frank Callan, a Blackpool fishmonger and renowned snooker coach.

Mountjoy had sought Callan out after a humiliating, dispiriting 13-1 defeat to Neal Foulds at the previous season’s World Championship.

Callan completely rebuilt his technique and the results started to come at Preston Guild Hall.

First, Mountjoy battled past his fellow Welshman Wayne Jones 9-7 before a confidence-boosting 9-4 victory over Foulds.

In the last 16, he beat Joe Johnson 9-5, wobbled in the quarter-finals before edging John Virgo 9-8 having led 8-3 and then defeated Terry Griffiths 9-4 in the semis.

Even so, few gave him much hope against Hendry, the natural heir to Davis’s decade of domination.

Mountjoy believed, however, and led 8-6 after the first day before winning six of the third session’s seven frames to extend his advantage to 14-7.

This was not some bygone era where players won through tactical play alone; Mountjoy compiled three centuries in four frames at one point.

He led 15-7, suffered anxiety a-plenty when Hendry won the next five, but eventually prevailed 16-12.

His triumph against the odds caught the public imagination with 13.2m tuning in to watch on the BBC.

“Without that guy, I’m nothing,” he said in paying emotional tribute to Callan.

This was a remarkable, heart-warming victory for a player refusing to embrace the apparent dying of the light.

Perhaps even more remarkably, Mountjoy went on to win the next world ranking event, the Mercantile Classic and would rise to fifth in the world.

His professional career ended in 1997. He had gone down the rankings after having a lung removed because of cancer.

But he could look back on 1988 as both a personal high point and as one of the most popular victories in snooker history.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A great moment for inclusion in your top ten- I remember it well and was a great Mountjoy fan in the early eighties. I recall this was an emotional win of absolute top quality snooker that would been a match for anyone in any era.
Thinking about the Mercantile Classic that followed the UK I seem to remember Doug didnt play anything like to standard he produced in the UK but confidence in his own ability carried him to the title! Many happy memories of the end of a golden age.
John H