Mountjoy back on the Baize
THE LAST time Welsh snooker legend Doug Mountjoy walked out in front of a full audience at the game’s ‘home’, the average house price was £68,000, a pint of bitter cost £1.32 and Bill Clinton has just started his first term as United States President.
It was 1993 at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre and Stephen Hendry was midway through denying Jimmy White a World Championships title the ‘Whirlwind’ would never win on five final appearances.
A new kid on the block made his debut at the Crucible, a 17-year-old from London by the name of Ronnie O’Sullivan who lost in the first round by 10-7 to gritty Scot Alan McManus later to lose to Hendry in the semi-finals.
Llanelli’s Terry Griffiths was still playing and beat England’s David Roe in round one before Northern Ireland’s Dennis Taylor gained revenge for the 1979 Championships final that saw the West Walian take the trophy for the only time in his life.
Mountjoy, by then aged 50, would have surgery after those World Championships to have a lung removed due to cancer, the effects of his years as a smoker.
But next month, Mountjoy, now aged 68, will be back on the green baize, in front of the TV cameras again, with a full-house audience at Newport Leisure Centre watching – and playing ‘back with my mates’.
The man, who went from digging coal in the mines of Gwent to tackling Steve Davis at the height of the six-times world champion’s green baize powers, is the home nation Welsh guest player on this year’s Legends tour.
White will be in Newport, as will the first man to make a 147 maximum break at The Crucible, Canadian Cliff Thorburn.
Ironically, in making that often-repeated break, Thorburn took Mountjoy’s record for the World Championships, the Welshman having made 145 in 1981 against another six-times world champion, Wales’ own Ray Reardon, in the semi-final.
“It’s only going to be a bit of fun but it will be great to be with my old mates again,” said Mountjoy about his appearance in Newport.
Many wrote off the Blackwood-based potter off in the mid-eighties before legendary coach Frank Callan re-built his game and guided him to the UK Championships and Mercantile Credit Classic titles back-to-back in 1988 and 1989.
But a bit of fun? Take that with a pinch of salt.
Mountjoy is making sure his game is bang up to scratch and has been preparing for months to get back on the table in Newport, where he won the old Senator Windows Welsh Professional title in 1989.
He has practiced two hours a day, five days a week at Mark Williams’ snooker club in Tredegar where the world number two and another Welsh star, Pontycymmer’s Ryan Day, have often been potting on the next table.
“I’m practicing for it because I have pride in my performance and I’m finding it tough. It has been hard work because what I am looking for is flair – and that’s for the young.
“For me to get the consistency I need takes hours of work.
“But I’m loving it. When I’m practicing, I’m back with the boys like Mark and Ryan. Lee Walker (former World Championships quarter-finalist) comes up as well from Newbridge and Paggy (Main Tour pro Andrew Pagett) practices there too with Mark.
“So it will be good to see how the Legends evening goes and good to see them all again. I haven’t seen Cliff for some time now.”
Thorburn and Mountjoy saw enough of each other on one day back in 1990.
Their second round World Championships match took so long to complete in the afternoon session that, when they reached 6pm still with a couple of frames to play, World Snooker (WPBSA as it was) officials pulled them off the table and stuck them back on after Darren Morgan and Mike Hallett had completed their opening session.
They eventually finished the match sometime in the early hours of the next morning, with only the dedicated snooker-holics staying behind as witnesses to the 13-12 victory for the Canadian.
“That was a long old match,” chuckled Mountjoy. “it was a really tough game and neither of us gave an inch.”
The 1981 semi-final win over Reardon, meanwhile, also brought Mountjoy his greatest Crucible match. He was the man in ‘the other chair’ when Davis won the first of his world titles by 18 frames to 12.
“That was my best match at The Crucible. I may have lost but it says a lot about Steve Davis that he is still around and playing now.
“He had a bad year this year and, at his age (Davis is 53), he may think about retiring. He has worked extremely hard on his game to get back to where he was in the top 16 of the rankings and that is incredible in its’ own right.”
Those golden days of snooker in the 1980s were full of great characters. Other guests on this year’s Legends tour were there, include Bolton’s Tony Knowles and Canada’s ‘Man in the White Suit’ Kirk Stevens.
And, on the subject of clothes, Mountjoy will always be remembered, as much for his brilliant potting as for for his dapper attire, particularly his crisp, white, ruffled shirts.
Will he be getting one of those shirts out of mothballs for the Legends match? After all, for his first appearance on the baize in public for so long, he wants to be perfectly dressed.
“I haven’t got a frilled shirt anymore,” laughed Mountjoy. “I have moved house a few times and they have probably been lost. They may not have fitted me anyway.
“But I think I still have the suits which were tailor-made in those days. I will have to look around for one!”