That is one of those famous questions that comes up every now and then. I was in the hospital in Armagh visiting my brother Sean who had just had his appendix taken out; I was about nine years old, had no clue what was really going on but knew something important was happening by the hushed tones and chat among the adults.
In my home town of Coalisland we have another great question: where did you watch the final in 1985?
“What final,” I hear you ask, especially if you are not from that area and have no interest in the great game of snooker, “What final are you talking about?”
It is now thirty years from the night that young man from Coalisland, the one with the odd shaped glasses, won what is considered to be the greatest final in the history of the game of snooker. Actually, in recent years my appreciation of the skill that is involved in the game has greatly increased. This has come about because my wife, who hails from Argentina via the United States, has taken to snooker like a fish to water. Let me explain.
We had seen a few games of snooker on the TV and she had become interested in the game as opposed to American pool and had some appreciation of the skill involved. Then one day we were up in Bundoran on a ‘bit of a break’ (pun intended) and we went into one of those amusement arcades and for the first time in her life, my wife saw firsthand, a snooker table.
“Wow,” she said, in only the way that a person from Texas can say it, “That table is so big; it is four times the size of a pool table.”
While we all know that, it is not something that we often think about but the next time we saw a game of snooker on the TV my wife’s whole attitude changed. Take, for example, a safety shot where a player brings the ball up and down the table and lands the ball right on the bottom cushion.
“He hit that ball right up and down that table and landed it just on the exact spot. That is twenty four feet and he was inch perfect. That’s amazing!”
Or when a player plays a great positional shot and the ball ends up exactly where he wants it. All these abilities which we take for granted, she sees with the new eyes of an amazed child. It has really made me perceive the game again in a new light.
When you come to think of it, snooker is a game of great skill, with all that hand to eye co-ordination. Then there is the mental aspect of the game. This week we saw how certain players could ‘pot them from the lights’ when they were under no pressure and yet could not ‘pot a chrysanthemum’ when they really needed too.
Yes, my wife has caused me to see the game of snooker in a new light; but back to that great night in ’85 when YKW, (You Know Who) won the world championship; he is a legend so we do not have to mention his name.
I was in my home watching history unfold. When that final black of the concluding frame went down I almost cried with joy. Poor Steve Davis was shell shocked: before the match began people were laughing at Taylor and saying that he would not win a frame. After the first session, when Taylor was 8-0 down, people were openly mocking him.
He won the ninth frame on the pink and went on to win six more in a row, going into the overnight break only 9-7 down. We had a match on our hands.
The part of the whole match which I remember most was the talk between the commentators just before the last three frames. The match was the best of thirty five frames so the first man to eighteen was the winner. Davis led 17-15 with three to play, and needed one more frame while Taylor needed the last three.
“Don’t write off Denis Taylor yet, he is too good a player and too tough. He will never give in. If he can win this next frame he is not out of it,” said John Virgo, the only one of the commentators to give Taylor any chance at this stage.
We all know what happened. Taylor won the next two frames to level the game at 17 all. We were into that dreaded decider: the tension was getting higher by the shot. Here is what Wikipedia says about that last frame:
“The 35th and final frame lasted 68 minutes. Davis led 62–44, with only the last four colours on the table, worth 22 points. Taylor stayed in contention by potting a very difficult brown from long range, followed by a tricky blue and pink.
This meant that, for the first time, the title would be decided on the very last ball, the black. Taylor tried to double it into the left middle pocket; he missed but the ball rebounded to a safe position at the top of the table. Davis then played an excellent safety shot, putting the black near the middle of the bottom cushion and leaving the cue ball near the right-hand cushion, a little above the corner pocket.
Taylor then half-attempted to double the black into the top-left corner pocket but missed, with the black rebounding up and down the table, eventually sneaking past the left middle pocket to a relatively safe position. As the applause died down from the audience, veteran commentator Ted Lowe remarked, "I'm sure Dennis wouldn't mind my saying he chanced his arm, and it's come out lucky".
Davis' next attempt went awry, as a double-kiss left Taylor with a reasonable middle-distance pot to the green corner pocket. However, he snatched somewhat at the shot and missed the pot. Taylor thought, in his disappointment, that he had left Davis a moderately easy cut on the black into the top pocket from fairly close range.
Davis over-cut the black, leaving Taylor a fairly straightforward half-ball pot on the black into the same pocket from mid-distance. This time the Coalisland man, made no mistake and sunk the black ball on this his fourth shot. As the audience erupted, one of snooker's greatest-ever comebacks was complete at 12.19 a.m. on a Monday morning (29 April 1985).” (Wikipedia)
Even though it was after midnight, we poured out onto the streets: the Main Street in Coalisland was full of people singing and dancing, the Square was chock-a-block. There was joy in the air and in the middle of the Troubles all the strife of life was forgotten for a while: we were proud of our lad.
Shortly afterwards Denis came home to the town for a formal procession and we all had a great day. Denis was a few years older than me but I remember him well playing snooker in Gervin’s Hall: he was actually a better billiards player than snooker player at that time.
Eventually all the hub bub died down and we forgot about YKW and his great win. Every now and then we hear his voice on TV as he commentates a match. Then one day, as the 25th anniversary of his victory approached, I happened to get chatting to one of a group of people who were making a documentary about Denis.
“Sure, it not that big a thing,” said I to Rick Crawford, one of the people involved in the making of the documentary, and a well-known British actor, “It’s all so long ago.”
“It is wonderful for a small village to have something like this to celebrate,” said Mr Crawford, “Such an event gives a town a sense of identity that lasts for at least a generation or two. As long as snooker is played that final shall be seen as one of the best ever.”
It is amazing when we get down to it, how important the sense of identity is to a person. It actually is important to me (although not overly important) that I was a friend of Denis Taylor when we were young, that I was in the Hogan Stand on the day that Tyrone won their first All-Ireland and that I was on the first Civil rights march in 1968. That’s another thing Coalisland is famous for; it was the starting point for the first civil rights march.
Then there are the personal details that we also remember well, the date of our marriage, the birth of our children and the deaths of friends. Each of us have our own personal dates that we remember, the day we took our last drink, the day we passed our driving test or whatever it is that sets us apart. These and many other things give us our sense of identity.
Identity is very deep in every human being. Unfortunately, it isn’t something that can be forced upon someone else. Take for instance the West who has gone “gun ho” into the Middle East and tried to impose democracy on a people who have no idea what democracy is about and now the whole area is a mess. Britain failed for years to understand that there are separate nations in Northern Ireland and they expected us to behave like the rest of the UK.
No way: each side would have its own left wing party and its own right wing party but when it came to the bit, it wasn’t left or right that was important, it was whether or not I am a Catholic or Protestant. The identity was with my own people, not my politics.
This week we have all felt the force of our identity as we head out to vote in Northern Ireland’s community sectarian headcount. If there is anything that shows up the folly of our partisan identity crisis in this land it is the general election; I do not vote for a party, I vote against one, even if the party that I vote against has social and economic policies that I agree with.
When you think about it, the whole process is absurd. Years ago they used to say that if you wrapped a donkey in the right flag that people would vote for it. Unfortunately that is still true; the inbred identity of the Catholic or Protestant runs very deep.
It is the same in the Middle East. We can’t go in and make Western democrats out of people who have no idea what we are talking about. Africa is a society of tribes, the imperial powers tried to make them into countries and there has been trouble ever since; each tribe has its own identity.
Yes, I am proud of being a Coalisland man and I am proud of that great win that Denis achieved in 1985. I am also proud of being Irish and Catholic, and when I go abroad, I find myself having pride in being from the British Isles and having that British/Irish identity that we can’t avoid since the two islands are so close together.
In fact a new thing is happening in my life. I notice that for the first time, especially when I go south of the border, that I am proud of my Northern Ireland identity. For years we listened to Free Stater’s mock us and say that they wanted nothing to do with us. Now I can put my hand on my heart and say that I want nothing to do with them; what a turnaround.
Identity is always in flux, ever changing and reshaping itself, that’s why the local identity is so important, it stays with us.
And it is why the big markers of our lives are important: the big markers, or ‘rites of passage’ stay with us. Every person and every country have their own rites of passage that they commemorate in their own way.
The Irish have the Easter Rising, the English have the signing of Magna Carta, the French the Storming of the Bastille and the Americans, the signing of the Declaration of Independence. These are nationally important days that help to define a nation, and unlike Denis Taylor’s win, which shall last a generation or two, these identify a nation for centuries.
But what about the eternal markers, what are they, the markers that put us face to face with eternity, are there any of them?
There certainly are. The first one was discovered in the background radiation on the TV about fifty years ago. It was found to be the left over radiation from the Big Bang, that moment at the very beginning when God decided to create all that there is.
Then there was the direct intervention of God in the affairs of man when He sent His Son to overcome death in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. These are the biggies, these are the truly important markers of history, for they show that there is a God and that He is intimately involved in the affairs of men.
We are in the Season of Eastertide, the time of year when for fifty days the Church celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. This is the time when we reflect on the fact that we are never going to really die, that what we understand as death is just a change of life and that God is calling us to be with him.
When it comes to our own personal election, who do we vote for? Will we vote for a life that goes out to others, or will we vote for a life of selfishness, a life which is closed in on itself?
This general election goes on every day of our lives. Perhaps we should take it a bit more seriously.
The views expressed are not necessarily those of the editor but are the views of the writer.
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