'˜Without those glasses I wouldn't have won the World Championship'

The 1980s was a decade made famous by leg warmers, Dallas, the Rubik's Cube, big hair, Duran Duran '“ and snooker.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 17th November 2018, 6:00 am
Dennis Taylor winning the World Championship in 1985
Dennis Taylor winning the World Championship in 1985

The 1980s was a decade made famous by leg warmers, Dallas, the Rubik’s Cube, big hair, Duran Duran – and snooker.

The waistcoated men of the green baize were genuine superstars: Alex Higgns, the flamboyant, belligerent Belfast boy who once threatened to have Dennis Taylor shot, Bill Werbeniuk drinking 16 pints in a day to settle his nerves, Terry Griffiths singing Welsh lullabies, boring Steve Davies and Dennis Taylor with his funny glasses and his jokes.

All these players were able to earn small fortunes while the country went as Snooker Loopy as Chas & Dave in their top-10 hit of 1986.

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Dennis with presenter Malachi Cush on Back Home

With football in the doldrums, mostly due to hooliganism and stadium disasters, there was wall-to-wall coverage of snooker – a reported 18.5 million watched world number one Davis lose to Dennis Taylor on the final black of the 1985 World Championship final. It was, undoubtedly, snooker’s golden era.

Speaking from his North Wales home, Dennis Taylor, 69, reflects on that amazing, nerve-shredding World Championship coup.

‘‘To win it the way I did was just incredible. I had had a couple of chances, I should have won it in 1979, but when I won the reaction everywhere was tremendous.’’

And in just 10 seconds Dennis had earned a cool £60,000.

‘‘Yeah, it was a lot of money back in 1985, but it didn’t change me,’’ he says, ‘‘I still lived in the same house.’’

A week after winning the tournament, Taylor was booked to do an event at the Shankill Leisure Centre in Belfast.

‘‘When I went in the place just erupted, the crowd were incredible and then a week or so after that I went back home to Coalisland where, I don’t know how many thousands of people were in the town that day, from all denominations, which was brilliant.’’

Of course, back in the day when he was racking up snooker frames, his spectacle frames were also racking up attention.

‘‘The thing that people do, even to this day when they see me, and if they’ve got a pair of glasses on, is they tend to want to turn them upside down, which I don’t mind,’’ he laughs.

Those distinctive swivel-lens spectacles were handmade by Jack Karnehm, best known as a mellifluous BBC TV snooker commentator. Karnnehm had also served a five-year spectacle-making apprenticeship.

‘‘I am short-sighted in one eye and long-sighted in the other,’’ says Dennis, ‘‘so it’s quite a complicated prescription, that’s why I couldn’t really get on with contact lenses - I needed glasses.

‘‘Without those upside down glasses I would never have won the world championship. After that I had at least a dozen pairs of snooker specs I could have worn.’’

Dennis left Coalisland, or ‘the island’, as he still refers to it 50 years ago, but returned recently to take part in the UTV show, Back Home, hosted by fellow Tyrone man Malachi Cush.

‘‘It was a great couple of days, meeting people that I hadn’t seen for quite a while,’’ he says.

Dennis was one of eight children, sadly his brother Thomas died before he was born.

When he was 12, the family moved from their two bedroom house, with an outside toilet and no running water, to a four-bedroom council house, where his sister still lives. .

‘‘It was a move of about 60 yards up the hill to the new house, so we didn’t have far to go, but it was incredible to be in a four-bedroom house.’’

His father Thomas was a lorry driver, and the young Dennis loved to accompany him on trips.

‘‘He worked for the local egg store, he used to deliver eggs all over and once every so often I would get to go off to Larne - you can imagine in one of the old lorries what sort of a trip that was, but it was an exciting thing to get to do when you were young.’’

Dennis also visited the chapel where he was an altar boy and, always on cue with a funny story says: ‘‘When we were learning to serve mass you had to learn to answer the priest in Latin.

‘‘There was one little line we were learning at school- the whole class had to learn it anyway, even though they weren’t all going to be altar boys - and the line was ‘Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa’.

‘‘There was a couple of us used to say ‘me a cowboy, me a cowboy, me a Mexican cowboy’,’’ he chuckles.

As a youngster Dennis worked in the local cinema selling ice cream.

‘‘It got me a little bit of money so that I cold practise my snooker.

‘‘I played in Jim Joe Gervin’s Hall - I was allowed in as a nine-year-old to watch the grown ups playing for an hour between six and seven in the evening - that was my introduction into snooker.’’

When he was 17 Dennis moved to England for work, rather than for snooker, but admits he was desperately homesick.

‘‘If I had been in digs I wouldn’t have lasted a week, but I was with my aunts; my aunt Sheila, who passed away a few years ago, was like a second mother to me and was one of the reasons I lasted in England.

‘‘As well as doing jobs, I started playing much more snooker.

‘‘I was quite a good standard, but didn’t realise how good I was until I went to the local club and found I was as good as the top local amateurs.’’

These days Dennis lives in North Wales with his wife Louise and two children, 13-year-old Cameron and 11-year-old Amber. He has four other children from a previous marriage.

Surprisingly, he doesn’t keep a snooker table at home.

‘‘I’ve always had a snooker table, but when we moved to our current house 15 years ago, I didn’t need one and now all of a sudden I could do with one, but, no, I’ll not have a table.’’