Crucible Snooker: Recalling one of Sheffield theatre’s biggest dramas – The 1985 Black Ball Final as Dennis Taylor toppled Steve Davis

Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis, the 1985 finalists
Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis, the 1985 finalists

Heroes have come and gone, dreams realised and shattered almost in equal measure.

But still, in the Crucible Theatre’s 40th year of holding the World Snooker Championship, no match defines the iconic venue quite like the 1985 final between Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis.

Plucky underdog toppling robot-like favourite, respected but largely unloved, would be a fitting plot for any drama at this arena.

But this was real life and as the Taylor/Davis epic lurched one way then the other before going to the last ball of the last frame, a nation was transfixed. As 950 people watched ‘live’ in the arena, a further 18.5 million breathed every moment from their living rooms on TV.

Little wonder, then, that the final features prominently in the excellent documentary The Crucible: 40 Golden Snooker Years, fronted by Davis and shown by the BBC tomorrow.

The absorbing account explores how the sport’s biggest event came to be crammed into one of the circuit’s smallest venues each year, and why legends like Alex Higgins, Davis and Taylor, Stephen Hendry, Jimmy White and Ronnie O’Sullivan have all, in one way or another, captured the nation’s hearts.

“We were involved in something iconic, that a third of the population watched on TV,” Davis remembers.

“Lots of them had to get up for work in the morning but couldn’t turn their TV off. We had no idea what was happening outside.”

Fans of the game, and plenty of others besides, had been gripped by a final in which Davis, the defending champion and winner of three of the previous four Crucible titles, stormed into an eight-frame lead. Taylor levelled at 11, 15 and 17 frames apiece, before taking on and missing three brave chances to pinch the final frame on the black ball.

Fortunately for him, so did Davis as the 68-minute final frame ticked on. Balls flew safe, Davis produced one of the best safety shots ever seen under immense pressure but after overcutting the black, Taylor finally sunk it and was champion of the world.

Taylor said: “Nobody dreamed it would go down to the black, so none of us knew how to handle the pressure.

“The pressure was unreal. I remember leaving the black, sitting down, pushing my old, upside-down glasses way up my face and thinking: ‘There’s no way Steve will miss this’.

“But who knew, the ginger magician and the bloke with the funny upside down glasses. We were involved in the best final of the lot.”

Not many will argue, but it is hardly a field of one, either. Stephen Hendry beat perennial bridesmaid Jimmy White in the 1994 final with a broken arm, 150/1 outsider Joe Johnson – pink shoes and all – shocked the world eight years earlier and Higgins calling out for his baby daughter, after winning the 1982 title is one of the enduring, and endearing, images of the Hurricane’s tumultuous career.

Lauren, now 37, makes an emotional cameo in the documentary, insisting that her late father made snooker what it is today.

And six-time world champion Davis doesn’t disagree.

“What is it about this place?” he asks.

“Tales of the Crucible are not told in a rush. These are crafted stories, chapter after chapter, stories within stories.”

Including, inevitably, the most famous final of them all.

n The Crucible: 40 Golden Snooker Years with Steve Davis is shown on BBC Two tomorrow, 9pm-10pm.

n Snooker latest: P40