Born on January 19th, 1949 in Coalisland, County Tyrone, Dennis Taylor is the most famous snooker player ever to emerge from Northern Ireland. Remembered mainly for his comedic oversized spectacles and lively sense of humour, he built up a legion of fans over his playing career, and still finds himself in the limelight as a commentator for the sport.
Taylor made the move to turn professional in 1971, but it would be another two years before he made his World Championship debut. It was an unspectacular affair for Taylor, who disappointingly went out to Cliff Thorburn in the first round. His talent, however, did not go unnoticed, and it would not be long before he made a return to the competition.
In 1975 he stormed into the World Championship tournament once again, this time managing to reach the semi-final. This feat announced him to the snooker-playing world as a real future contender who meant business. He managed the same achievement in 1977, but again could not quite get into the most important match in snooker as he went out once again before the final.
The first final
However, his time came two years later when he finally beat his jinx of semi-final defeats to go through to his first ever final, playing against Terry Griffiths. Success eluded him, however, and when he lost 24-16 to Griffiths it seemed that he was going to have to be patient. His performance had certainly been respectable, but he knew he had it in him to win.
Aside from this final, his career had not been amazingly prestigious. He had to wait until 1984 for his first ranking-event win, 13 years after he had turned professional. This time he avenged his first-round exit to Willie Thorburn in the 1977 World Championship by beating him by a resounding 10-2.
This seemed to overcome another jinx for Taylor, and the next season saw him achieve what will surely remain not only his finest moment, but one of the most memorable moments in snooker history.
The final to end all finals
Taylor was not done with the World Championship, and in 1985 he enjoyed another successful campaign to reach the final once again. However, he was not up against any normal snooker player. Instead, he found himself face to face with Steve Davis, one of the greatest players ever to grace the game, in his heyday. Taylor went into the match the overwhelming underdog.
The first session seemed to confirm what many had suspected, and Taylor slumped to a humiliating eight straight-game losses in a row. It would take nothing short of a miracle to get back from that, and the odds on him taking the match at that stage would have been astronomical.
But if Taylor was known for one thing, it was not giving in. He was there to win, and he fought back to take seven of the next eight games, ending the second session 7-9. Suddenly the crowd had something to get excited about, but still it would take something special to beat Davis.
But Taylor had that special something, and he came back, first to make it 15-17, and then, miraculously, 17-17. It was all down to the final frame, and it was anyone’s game.
Down to the black
The final frame was a tight affair, with Davis slightly ahead the whole way. However, leading 62-44 with only the brown to win the title, Davis missed, and the pressure was suddenly all on Taylor.
Taylor needed all of the remaining colours to win the match, and it would take nerves of steel to manage it. He started by potting a long brown. Then he took on a tricky blue and pink. And suddenly, with the score at 62-59, the crowd became aware that for the first time in its history, the World Championship would be decided on the black.
Davis stepped up to cut it into the top pocket, but in that second, luck was not on his side. With the most important shot of his career missed, he could then only stand back and watch Taylor slot it into the pocket, taking the title for the first and last time in his career.
The pinnacle reached
It was to be the pinnacle of Taylor’s career as a snooker player. He had not only won the World Championship and written his name into the history books, but he had taken part in one of the most mouth-watering finals in the history of the game.
A few months later, Davis took his revenge on Taylor with another closely fought battle in the final of the Grand Prix, which Taylor eventually lost 10-9. While Davis resumed duty with his own personal jinx beaten, Taylor failed to make any further impression on the game in a significant way.
He went back to defend his World Championship title the following year, but hardly made a dent in the competition, and lost in the first round to Mike Hallett. After the match, he famously tied a white handkerchief onto the end of his cue to resemble the white flag of surrender. At least his sense of humour remained intact, and he won many fans as a result.
But his titles did not stop there. In 1989, he won another prestigious title in the B&H Masters, beating Alex Higgins 9-8. This match began a long-standing feud between the two players, so that whenever they played each other the tension was high. However, when they met in the Irish Masters it was Taylor who came out on top, even though he later went on to lose in the final to his old rival Davis.
That was to be the last of Taylor, and he retired from the game soon after. Although he will always be most fondly remembered for the World Championship match against Davis and his oversized glasses, he will also be remembered for being a fantastic player with a competent left hand, a talent that gave him a certain edge over a number of his rivals.
He has since become a much-loved commentator for the BBC, and takes part in various celebrity events on TV. Most recently, fans would have been pleased to see him take part in the third series of Strictly Come Dancing, where he showed everyone that snooker was a wise career choice over dancing, by finishing in eighth place.