Meet the ‘Gods of Snooker’ during the 80s

Sunday: Gods of Snooker; (BBC Two, 9pm)
Seven-time snooker world champion Stephen HendrySeven-time snooker world champion Stephen Hendry
Seven-time snooker world champion Stephen Hendry

Although snooker continues to be popular today, for a remarkable period during the 1980s, sporting superstardom was embodied by a handful of men in tight-fitting suits, chasing after multi-coloured balls on a green table.

At its peak, the World Championship final at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre drew in an audience of 20 million people, and the sport became a national obsession even greater than football, loved by women and men, young and old.

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Over the past three weeks, this fascinating series, executively produced by award-winning filmmaker Louis Theroux, has brought snooker’s golden age back to life.

Former UK and Masters champion Jimmy WhiteFormer UK and Masters champion Jimmy White
Former UK and Masters champion Jimmy White

We’ve heard from those at the very heart of the story – sporting heroes from working-class backgrounds who quickly became household names.

In the first episode, we saw how Alex ‘The Hurricane’ Higgins helped transform snooker from a game played in the backrooms of working men’s clubs to a national sporting obsession.

Then, last week, Gods of Snooker chronicled how savvy Essex-based promoter Barry Hearn took young hopeful Steve Davis under his wing and turned him into a winning machine who would help build his own Matchroom snooker empire.

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In the final edition, we pick up the story in the mid-80s, when two distinct camps had emerged amongst the players.

On one side were Hearn’s ‘Matchroom Mob’, including Davis and Dennis Taylor – clean-living, utterly professional and family friendly.

In sharp contrast was a group that included Higgins, Jimmy White and Kirk Stevens, who all embraced a more rock ’n’ roll lifestyle.

With Higgins’s career quickly spiralling out of control, Tooting-born left-hander White was next in line to take the crown of ‘People’s Champion’.

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But ‘The Whirlwind’ also had an insatiable appetite for the high life and a string of vices – including crack cocaine – that threatened to overshadow his raw talent and enormous potential.

He wrote in his autobiography, Second Wind: “Jimmy White… snooker hero… people’s champion… crack addict. Sounds far-fetched, doesn’t it? But for about three crazy months it was true.”

Twelve years younger than Higgins, White soon realised that Alex’s popularity and ability was at odds with his success in the game, having won only two World Championship titles, in a sport many thought he should dominate.

Indeed, Davis had quickly become the world No.1 through practice and discipline and was the man to beat.

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Desperate for success and tempted by the lucrative rewards brought by towing the line, Jimmy eventually joined Hearn in the hope he could be turned into a champion like his new stablemate, Davis.

Jimmy began the 1990s clean and well-prepared and got his best opportunity yet to win his first World Championship, coming up against a precocious young Scotsman called Stephen Hendry.

With White as the hot-favourite and the crowd in Sheffield urging him on, the 1990 final turned out to be a pivotal moment in snooker and paved the way for what was to come in the next decade.

“Steve Davis and Barry Hearn pretty much had a monopoly on the game,” Hendry says.

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“Steve dominated the game throughout the 80s. Our plan was to take over that dominance. I knew personally that winning the 1990 World Championship was only the start.”

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