From about the age of 8 (roughly), I have spent most of my life mesmerized and intrigued by the game of snooker and as a kid I had the pleasure of seeing some of the snooker in the 80’s, which our older reader will know, was the heyday of the sport . No other sport in the world comes close to the love I have for the game nor would I want it to and i can attribute that to the snooker in the 80’s and 90’s.
My love affair began when watching snooker in the 80’s with my parents and grandparents but I did not start playing snooker myself until the early 90’s or there abouts at 11/12 years of age. This was when Stephen Hendry was in his prime, Jimmy White was the peoples champion, the emerging Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins were beginning to hit our screens regularly and Steve Davis was still doing alright for himself. Unfortunately for me, Alex Higgins was on the way out at that stage. The players of the 90’s got their inspiration from the snooker in the 80’s and 70’s, when snooker was in its prime in the UK.
Snooker in the 80’s was a kick ass time for the game. Players made millions of pounds yearly, had weekly television game shows and had hit records in the charts!! Snooker was in its prime and the players were household name celebrities who would be recognized by almost everyone on the streets.
But why was it so popular? And why has its popularity faded so much in Britain and Ireland compared to the snooker in the 80’s?
Well football, the nations favorite sport had hit an all time low because of stadium disasters such as the Hillsborough disaster, hooligans raging wars on the streets of Britain and abroad which was deeply unpopular among the general public, so the television company’s (mainly BBC) reduced the amount of football matches they showed. They needed a clean and well mannered sport to fill the gaps in their schedules and so snooker was chosen to resurrect sport in a clean and well mannered sport.
Snooker was often perceived as the gentleman’s game, with clean cut civilized men who said very little and behaved like those from the aristocrat end of society. I don’t even think the media and television company’s knew just how big snooker was going to get during the 80’s.
Characters such as Alex Higgins and Steve Davis emerged in the late 1970’s and early 80’s and were rivals who were a world apart in their character. Alex a flamboyant, crowd pleaser, on the edge of your seat kind of player who loved to entertain, whereas Steve a quiet, well mannered, boring character who was like a robot around the table. You would hardly see Davis move in his chair, or even sip some water unlike some of his counterparts of the time, like Bill Werbeniuk who liked his pints or Alex the “hurricane” Higgins who twitched and jumped after each shot. Steve Davis did however dominate snooker in the 80’s though, winning the world championships a total of 6 times along with everything else such as the UK championships and Masters.
But we had a lot of players who were constantly on our screens, the bread and butter of snooker. Some of these included snooker celebrities of the 80’s, such as Kirk Stephens, Tony Knowles, Eddie Charlton, Joe Johnson, Tony Meo, Willy Thorn, Terry Griffiths, young Jimmy White and Dennis Taylor, just to name a few! We had alcoholics, drug addicts, short fused players and boring players but what really made these guys stand out, is their characters on and off the table which the British public loved.
These were the times when you’d often see players drinking pints while playing (Bill Werbeniuk with his 16 pints a day) and smoking cigarettes (Terry Griffiths, Jimmy White, Alex Higgins etc). It was proper, raw snooker at its best.
Snooker in the 80’s was that big in Britain, we even had a Saturday night game show called Pot Black which originally began in the 70’s (co-hosted by Jim Davidson) and a snooker song called ‘snooker loopy‘ which reached No.6 in the charts in 1986.
But what really made the snooker in the 80’s, was some of the nail biting scenes ever seen in snooker history. Viewed by many as the most iconic moment in 1980’s snooker was the famous 1985 final of the world championships between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor when it came down to the final black when Steve missed a relatively easy cut back which Dennis managed to pot and win the world championships. 18 million Brits stayed up until 1am to watch the final that year.
Another fantastic moment of the 80’s was when Alex Higgins won the world championships and cried his eyes out holding his little baby girl. People loved the fact that Alex was so human, which he carried over to the snooker table. Hed smoke his cigarettes, drink his Guinness and twitch on shots. He was truely the peoples champion.
The human factor is what people relate to most, maybe more so than the ability of the player. The public like to see the tears of joy, the anger of losing and everything in between. Its drama.
Snooker in the 80’s was slightly different than today. The cloths on the tables were thicker, the balls were heavier and the players were not as technical as they are now. The persona amoungst the general population who don’t understand snooker, is that its boring, robotic and lacks character. I disagree totally, however I can appreciate some parts of what they say. For instance look at Ronnie O’Sullivan. The best snooker player that ever lived, fills auditoriums night after night, but people don’t come to watch him just because hes a great snooker player! They flock to see him because you don’t know what your gonna get with him. Will he fly off the hangdle, walk out of matches, declare his resignation or make a 147 in the final frame of the final. I think some of the players struggle to get their personality showcased to the general public because of the lack of TV time they get away from the table, but I think ultimately the game of snooker hasnt changed much, its the access people have to a variety sports which they didn’t have in the 80’s.
But in more recent times, snooker has changed somewhat even though there are three times more tournaments played now than was played in the snooker of the 80’s and we have more players who are more regularly on our television sets. Perhaps we don’t get to see the players personalities in this era as we did in the 80’s. In the UK, the ratings have dropped significantly, almost to the point where BBC was questioning whether or not to continue showing coverage of the snooker, but these factors are due to the fact that television and sports in general have changed. In the 80’s we had no more that 5/6 channels to pick from. Now we can choose from literally thousands of channels and hundreds of sports. Football is massive in this country and accounts for 80% of all sports shown on television. Snooker ultimately has had to take a back seat to a degree.
Going forward, snooker looks like it might change its home to Asia but World Snooker has been attempting to widen the snooker reach to mainland Europe, which is fast becoming popular and keeping the biggest tournaments (world championships, Masters and UK championships) here in the UK.
Not only this, but world snooker has also announced their plans to increase prize money for a lot of the events, which again, points to a growth in the game, so going forward, the future is looking bright.