It’s worth remembering that the prosperity professional snooker has enjoyed for the last 30 years was preceded by some hard times.

The World Championship stopped stone dead in 1957 through lack of interest and only achieved credibility again in 1969 when it became an open event.

In the 1970s, general public interest increased thanks to the emergence of Alex Higgins. The BBC gave fans a weekly snooker fix through Pot Black and in 1978 took the landmark decision to broadcast the World Championship in its entirety.

There was still not much of a living to be made and many players preferred to remain amateur but, in 1978, Terry Griffiths, a twice English amateur champion, was accepted into the professional ranks at the age of 31 and the world of snooker would change forever.

Griffiths hailed from Llanelli in Wales and had worked as a bus conductor, insurance salesman and postman who was 25 before he started playing snooker at a serious competitive level.

His first match was in the UK Championship, where his 8-2 lead against Rex Williams was whittled away until it became a 9-8 defeat.

He headed to Sheffield the following spring hoping merely to get some sort of profile from playing in the sport’s main event.

“My ambitions were quite small,” Griffiths told Snooker Scene in 2009 when we commemorated the 30th anniversary of his Crucible triumph.

“I went to the Crucible because I would be receiving national television coverage that would offer me the opportunity to get exhibitions, because this was the only way I could earn money. There were only two tournaments to play in.

“I was drawn against Perrie Mans in the first round, which was great because he had been runner-up the previous year.

“Then the technicians threatened to strike. I had a panic attack because I thought if I lost to Perrie I wouldn’t get any TV exposure and therefore wouldn’t get any work.”

However, Griffiths did not lose to Mans, he beat him 13-8, which meant a quarter-final against one of the title favourites, Alex Higgins.

The match was a classic. Higgins led 6-2 but Griffiths recovered to 8-8 going into the final session.

At 12-12, he made a 107 break for victory and a place in the semi-finals. As a result, the notion that a first time professional could win the title got a little less unlikely.

“I thought if I could beat Alex over a long distance, which was all new to me, then I had a chance of winning the title, but no more than a chance,” Griffiths said.

“If you’re in the semi-finals you have to think you have a chance but not in my wildest dreams did I expect to win the tournament at any stage until the last day.”

To get to the last day, Griffiths had to first make it past the dogged Australian, Eddie Charlton. Their semi-final was a marathon that ground on until 1.40am.

Griffiths had led 10-4 but, exhaustion beginning to set in, lost six successive frames and trailed 11-13 and 16-17 before a break of 97 in frame 36 secured his 19-17 victory.

It was in the arena afterwards that, asked how it felt by the BBC presenter, David Vine, Griffiths uttered the immortal words, “I’m in the final now, you know.”

His genuine humility and obvious working class credentials saw the public warm to him for the final against Dennis Taylor.

He was aware, though, that tiredness may still count against him in the three day, seven session, best of 47 frames final.

“I had a spell against Eddie in the semis and against Dennis in the final where I couldn’t really stand up. I was so tired. Luckily enough I had leads when those tired spells came along,” Griffiths said.

“I’d never played that much snooker at the practice table, let alone under match conditions with all the pressure and the television lights.

“For the Charlton match we went straight through from the afternoon to evening session without any real break and I lost a string of frames but somehow managed to win the match.

“I was ahead of Dennis and he was under pressure because I was the outsider. Nobody knew me.

“But I had a tired spell and hit a brick wall. He levelled up at 15-15 and the next day I got up and thought I could win the tournament. That was the first time I’d thought about it.

“I thought, this is it, I’m either going to be champion or runner-up, and I didn’t want to be runner-up. I just had a feeling I would win and went out and played exceptionally well on the last day.

“I ended up losing a stone in weight. It seems like a short tournament now but it really was a long championship.”

And then his life changed. From the struggling newcomer he instantly gained national fame as the snooker boom began to take hold.

“Winning the World Championship set me on the road. It also turned me into a nervous wreck,” he said.

“My ambition had been to get exhibition work through appearing in the championship but it sort of backfired in a way because I hardly had a day off for a year, or so it seemed.

“My diary filled very quickly. The game was booming at that time. It had had more hours than ever before on national television and I was always going up to London to do TV and various things.

“Clubs were after me for shows as well. It was all very strange to me, from humble beginnings to all of that.”

His life changed but so too did the snooker circuit. Interest from broadcasters and sponsors meant more tournaments and an intake of players determined to emulate Griffiths’s success.

“In those days, if Ray Reardon, Alex Higgins or John Spencer didn’t win the World Championship there was a steward’s enquiry,” he said.

“Me coming along did open the doors in other people’s minds. A lot of those who turned professional after that had competed against me in the amateur game and it would have inspired them to have a go at it.

“They may not have done otherwise because in those days there was very little chance of earning a living.

“But when we drifted into the 1980s the game blossomed. There were more tournaments, more opportunities and an actual living to go with your skill. Whereas before then if you didn’t get an invitation to Pot Black you couldn’t really make enough money.”

Griffiths was one of snooker’s leading lights throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. He lost seven times at the Crucible in seven meetings with Steve Davis, who beat him 18-11 in the 1988 final.

Griffiths won the 1980 Masters at Wembley, the 1982 UK Championship, three successive Irish Masters from 1980 and attained a highest ranking of third.

His Crucible victory persuaded other talented amateurs, including Joe Johnson and Kirk Stevens, to turn professional. It proved the old order could be beaten and ushered in a new era for the game.

Griffiths is now a much respected coach. He retired in 1997 after losing 10-9 to Mark Williams.

But does he miss playing?

“There are odd times when I turn the clock back,” he said. “However, I only think that based on what I know now, what I’ve learned as a coach. I would have loved to have put that into my game when I was at my peak.

“That’s never going to happen but there’s nothing wrong in dreaming.”


TazMania said...

yh gud article

kildare cueman said...

I remember the Griffiths win. Televised snooker, like myself, was in its youth and was a major curiosity for many people.

There was a new feel about it. If you didn't know your top players, it was a bit like not knowing what twitter or x box is today. Even if you had no interest you would feign knowledge of the game.

One old "sage", in my local(teenagers could go into pubs to play pool in Ireland), informed me that the reason Higgins could play so quick, was that he had every shot planned out in advance of the match.

Im sure the snooker benefitted from having only 3 channels in operation. With no computers, mobiles, and maybe only crossroads or Blue peter on the other stations, the competition was weak.

Something similar appears to be happening in Germany at the moment. The lust for top tier snooker, particularly in the German open final, was reminiscent of the Irish masters in Goffs in the mid 80s.

Long may it continue.

jamie brannon said...

Griffthis is an excellent commentator.

Anonymous said...

Very true Jamie, he realises it's ok to have a few seconds of silence every now and then!

Anonymous said...

bloody hell jamie, you said something nice (and it wasnt about your boyfriend ron)

well said. tel is a great commentator and hes a very down to earth guy too.