the fifties and sixties snooker suffered a lengthy decline in
its fortunes, primarily due to the lack of positive marketing
and promotion but also because of the lack of new players for
viewers to watch. There was little or no snooker coverage in
the national press and the national game was seemingly more
interested in developing amateur stars, rather than the six
active professional players at this time.
began to change in the late sixties as a number of corporate
bodies began to consider the sport as a useful media tool to
reach their target audience. Although press coverage remained
non-existent, John Player (a tobacco company) began to sponsor
individual professional players in exhibition matches, in an
attempt to reach the large market which snooker, social and
and working mens clubs represented.
this time in 1968, a new snooker player was beginning to emerge
from the amateur ranks. His name was Alex Higgins and he would
become one of the most famous sporstman in Britain and arguably
the nost famous snooker player of all time.
after the 1968 World Championships Higgins became the youngest
ever winner of the Northern Ireland Amateur title at the age
of 18 and followed this up by almost single-handedly winning
the British Team Championships for Belfast YMCA.
Reardon's 37 - 33 victory over Pullman in the 1970 World Championships,
and Spencer's win against Warren Simpson in 1971, Alex moved
from Ireland to Lancashire, England in an attempt to break into
mainstream British snooker. He was the talk of the county as
no-one had previously seen a player seemingly so reckless, but
who seldom seemed to miss. Off 14 start, he played Spencer in
numerous challenge matches for £200 a match, winning the
1972 World title began in its new format in March 1971, within
Higgins drawn to play Ron Gross at a snooker club in Ealing.
never in danger and won easily 16-5. Gross was a three times
English amateur champion in the 1960,s but never looked like
break in the World Championships, saw Alex play Jack Rea for
the Irish title. Higgins beat him 28-12 to become Irish champion,
but was then drawn to play him again, this time in the World
Championships, with Higgins winning 19-11. Into the quarter
finals, Higgins then played John Pullman and defeated him 31-23
to move into the semi finals against Rex Williams. This match
was extremely close throughout, with Williams 12-6 up, then
26-25 behind, befoe the match levelled at 30 frames apiece.
The last frame was a little scappy due to the extreme pressure
of the occasion, but Higgins potted the final green to book
his place in the final against John Spencer.
was the pre-match favourite but Higgins was in superb form and
playing with huge confidence. Early in the final session Higgins
clinched the title 37-32 and became the game's youngest ever
snooker world champion. No-one would envisage a ten year gap
before Higgins was crowned world champion again. Following his
title victory Higgins quickly became the highest profile player
in the sport, enhanced when a Thames TV documentary about him
took 25th place in the television ratings for that week.
build up to the 1973 title again centred around Alex but there
was to be no repeat victory. After beating Fred Davis 16-14
in the quarter finals, Higgins lost 23-9 to Eddie Charlton in
the semi's. Reardon meanwhile was defeating Spencer in the other
semi-final and after numerous twists and turns defeated Charlton
38-32 in the final.
meanwhile was making the news wherever he went. Broken committments,
damaged hotel rooms and excessive drinking stories seemed to
follow him daily. The 1974 championships saw him beat Bennett
15-4 in the second round but lose to Fred Davis 15-14 in the
quarter finals. Reardon however was making steady progress on
his way to the winning his second consecutive title 22-12 against
1975 championship saw Alex beat David Taylor 15-2 in the second
round and then Rex Williams 19-12 in the quarter finals. In
the semi final Higgins drew Ray Reardon and the match was evenly
poised at 10-10 before Reardon won 9 of the next 13 to win 19-14.
Reardon went on to beat Charlton 31-30 to win the
the third consecutive year.
saw the first Embassy sponsored snooker world championships,
with Higgins reaching the final after wins over Thorburn 15-14
in the second
round, Spencer 15-14 in the quarter finals and Charlton 20-18
in the semi finals. The final did not go well for Alex with
Reardon playing a steady if unspectaular game on his way to
winning, with a session to spare 27-16 . In numerous frames
Alex conceded frames with reds still on the table.
the first Embassy sponsored championships, Reardon won the Pontins
Professional, whilst newcomer Doug Mountjoy won the Pontins
Open for the second time in three years and also the Welsh Amateur.
Higgins beat Reardon to win the Canadian Club Masters, which
was subsequently shown by Yorkshire television. Charlton beat
Reardon to win the World Professional Matchplay championship,
a result which created confusion as to who was now the official
world snooker champion.
1977 championships were moved from the venue in Wythenshaw which
held the '76' final and relocated to the Crucible Theatre in
Sheffield. This decision immediately proved to be hugely successful
with 20,000 spectators watching over the fortnight of the competition.
lost a pulsating first round match with Doug Mountjoy 13-12.
From 10-12 down Higgins won the next two to level at 12-12.
After leading for most of the frame a missed pink allowed Doug
in to recover to make it a black ball shoot out. Afetr two or
three shots apiece, Mountjoy potted the black to win. Meanwhile
Spencer was making steady progress, defeating Virgo 13-9, Reardon
13-6 and Pulman 18-16 to meet Cliff Thorburn in the final. Thorburn
in his first final played very well, but Spencer's experience
stood him in good stead as he recorded a 25-21 victory.
the 1977 championships, Higgins won the Pontins Professional
from 864 entries and the Canadian Open after beating Reardon
and Spencer in the last two rounds. The BBC had committed to
televising the final of the Benson and Hedges Masters, (which
Higgins won 7-5 against Thorburn), Pot Black and the final of
the UK championships. BBC's decision to cover daily sessions
of the 1978 Embassy championships however, gave snooker wide
spread media coverage, raising profile and awareness of the
game to a new level. This was the single most influential decision
made in the history of snooker.
live matches was still deemed to be extremely risky, as a boring
frame could eat away valuable airtime. This was overcome with
two-table coverage and selected moments form matches being shown
on the television. No-one could possibly anticiapte the television
success story of the 1978 championships. On the first Monday
there was an audience of five million for the recorded highlights.
On the Wednesday, six million people tuned in and by the end
of the championship fortnight over seven million people were
regularly watching sessions.
the first round their were two last frame losers. Unfortunately
for the viewers, Alex lost 13-12 to Patsy Fagan from 12-10 in
front. The 23rd frame was won on a tie-break the 24th on a black
ball finish and the decider on the last pink. The other last
farem loser was Willie Thorne, defeated 13-12 by Charlton from
12-9 in front. The tension was unbearable, the coverage impeccable.
Televised viewers loved it.
Davis and Perrie Mans progressed to one sem-final, whilst the
other was between Eddie Charlton and Ray Reardon. Mans came
through 18-16 against Davis, while Reardon beat Charlton 18-14.
The final was split at 10 all, before Reardon built up an 18-14
lead at the end of the fourth session. Mans recovered to 18-17
before Reardon responded with seven frames out of eight to win
his sixth and last world crown 25-18.
this championship saw the great Joe Davis taken ill whilst watching
his brother Fred in the semi-finals. Complaining of back pains
Joe was taken from the arena to his hotel and the following
day to the hospital. An operation saw him through the crisis,
but he never fully recovered and died six weeks later. A true
sporting gentleman and one of the primary reasons for snooker's
growth and success, Joe's death was a tragic loss to the game.
form in 1979 was somewhat sporadic. Doug Mountjoy defeated him
in the Uk championship's at Preston and Perrie Mans beat him
8-4 to take the Benson and Hedges Masters at Wembley, without
making a 50 break in the entire competition. Reardon beat him
11-9 to take the Daily Mirror Champion of Champions, but Alex
responded by winning the Tolly Cobold Classic and the first
prize of £750 in an open tournament at the Castle Club.
build up to the 1979 World Championships saw a number of new
players introduced into the tournament. One of them was Steve
but surely the status quo was changing, with the older established
players finding things harder as fierce competition raised the
overall standard. Another new entrant was Welshman Terry Griffiths,
playing in his first world championships. For him to go on and
win the title was a remarkable achievement for someone with
very little experience of long matches condensed into a fortnight's
play. After beating Perrie Mans in the first round he was then
drawn to play Alex in round two.
lost the first frame after a 61 clearance from Terry, but then
made consecutive centuries of 105 and 112 and looked all set
for a third until he broke down unexpectedly on 45 in the fourth
frame. Griffiths cleared with 63 to win on the black and levelled
at 2-2. Higgins then won the next four to finish at 6-2. The
next session Griffiths won the last three to level at 8-8, before
the next six frames were shared with the match level at 11-11.
The following session saw all the frames shared before Griffiths
clinched the decider with a break of 107. Many argued that this
was one of the best matches ever seen at the Crucible Theatre.
then defeated Charlton in a titanic struggle in the sem-final,
a match that was in stark contrast to the quarter final with
Alex. Long bouts of safety play and tactics saw the final session
last over five hours, but Griffith's stayed focused and emerged
triumphant 19-17. In the other semi-final Dennis Taylor beat
John Virgo 19-12 to book his place in the final for the first
time after suffering the disappointment of two losing sem-finals.
final was the best of 47 frames, spread over three days as opposed
to the 35 frames over two days format, which would take place
in 1980. After levelling at 15-15, Griffith's then moved into
a 17-16 lead before winning the next seven frames on his way
to the title and a winning margin of 24-16.
individual is bigger than the game, but every now and then along
comes a special player whose name becomes synonymous with their
(Hurricane) Higgins is one such player.