Yesterday, just before the start of Ronnie’s match, Rob Walker announced that the legend that is Steve Davis was retiring from the game. Steve got a vibrant tribute by the crowd in the Crucible arena. I took a few pictures.
And I leave it to Hector Nunns on inside-snooker, who writes far better that I do, to express how the snooker community is feeling after hearing the news.
When it came, it was an emotional occasion for all concerned and the tributes were fitting and so fully deserved as Steve Davis finally called time on a glittering 38-year career.
Within the snooker bubble the actual announcement may have been felt less keenly, as to all intents and purposes the six-time world champion has been playing at best part-time for many years.
But the finality triggered an outpouring of appreciation across the board for man that spanned the decades, and had become not only a national treasure but part of the sporting landscape.
Steve Davis – player, professional, winner, champion, world No1, ambassador, legend, enthusiast, reality TV star, radio presenter and techno DJ.
And how they cheered him in the arena on Sunday, parading the famous trophy that he won so many so many times in the Crucible arena.
As a player, the rise was inexorable. After turning pro in 1978 Davis made his first Crucible appearance that season, losing to Dennis Taylor 13-11 – a portent of at least one big match to come in the same venue.
Then the following year he knocked out the defending champion Terry Griffiths before eventually losing to Higgins in the quarter-finals. A first major title came later that year at the UK Championship, and from then the trophies came along at regular intervals for 10 years.
Images such as friend, manager, and now World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn rushing in to the arena to give a startled Davis a bear hug after his first world title win in 1981 remain some of the most iconic in sport. It is a partnership that has endured 40 years, with huge success.
Davis left hoping he was the “grandfather” of the sport – with his image transformed from ruthless winning machine to national treasure. Winner of a record 81 trophies in all, he said: “To some degree it tied in to my father passing away recently and it’s the team thing.
“So it’s time to call it a day, he made it to 89, which is a bigger break than I made in that recent qualifier against Fergal [O’Brien]. That was the first match without my father.
“I think it’s a natural time to stop playing now. I should have done it ages ago, I think I played a bit for my father as well.
“I am delighted to have had such a great time in the game. You are lucky that your hobby becomes your profession. It’s been a fantastic journey and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.
“It’s really lovely to feel like the grandfather of the game. Probably losing that 1985 final to Dennis Taylor was a great moment for me, people are excited when a shock happens.
“Stephen Hendry and I both agreed that we missed the days when we were booed in.
“At one time as the hottest prospect during the 80s I thought I could walk on water. Then Stephen Hendry came along, took my sweets and the 90s were just awful for me.
“Five years ago beating John Higgins at the Crucible was just the most amazing match I’ve ever played. When you’re not supposed to win and you do, it’s the most amazing feeling.”
For all the success, Davis might just be best known, certainly to the wider public, for a match he lost rather than won. That of course was the 1985 black-ball world final, where he lost 18-17 to Dennis Taylor in a 68-minute decider watched by 18.5million viewers at 12.20am.
And for former foe and now fellow BBC pundit Taylor, there was recognition of the legacy Davis leaves for those still competing.
“Steve raised the bar for all of us, no one practiced seven hours a day, seven days a week before him but we had to change,” Taylor said.
“He was an inspiration for those that followed too, the Hendrys, John Higgins, O’Sullivans. Steve says himself that he is almost better known and remembers himself that 1985 final more than many of the ones he won and other titles.
“Both of us were just lucky enough to have been involved in something amazing that people still talk about 31 years later.”
You could not escape the Nugget as a child in the early 1980s, and I must confess at that time I was in the Jimmy White/Alex Higgins/Tony Knowles camp whenever he met them.
Perhaps with nothing else on which to base my judgment I fell for the image – the dour, ruthless winning machine so played up by the media. And not entirely without foundation.
But one of the privileges of later becoming a journalist and covering this sport was to realise that over the course of many interviews and conversations that Davis either never was, or certainly is not now, that person.
For me, back in the days when it was a straight public vote rather than the bizarre and agenda-driven shortlist of these days, his record in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year annual knees-up was extraordinary.
Winner in 1988 ahead of people like Adrian Moorhouse and Sandy Lyle after his Masters triumph, Davis finished in the top three and on the podium five times in all. Not bad for someone with ‘no personality’.
That myth has continued to be debunked by the way Davis coped with being lampooned on Spitting Image, appearances on A Question of Sport and more recently in the Australian jungle on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, presenting music shows on local radio and a turn as a techno DJ known as ‘DJ Thundermuscle’.
The Nugget – gone, but really still here and at least partially responsible for players now being able to earn a decent living from the game.