The first chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.
To the say the least, the 1976/77 snooker season had quite a different look compared to what we’re used to today.
The sport was in its fledgling years of truly becoming a professional entity, and a world rankings system had only just been implemented.
Ray Reardon was the first world number one, awarded the top status in recognition of winning the previous four World Championships.
None of those, of course, were held at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield and it wasn’t going to be until the conclusion of that campaign when the modern era for the game would truly commence.
In those early days, only the World Snooker Championship counted as a ranking event but there were other competitions on the calendar.
Notably, the Masters enjoyed its third edition with Doug Mountjoy edging Reardon in a ding-dong final that ended 7-6 at the New London Theatre.
As a rookie on the tour, Mountjoy wasn’t even ranked inside the world’s top 16, a prerequisite for qualification to the prestigious invitational nowadays.
Mountjoy also featured in the final of Pot Black, which had for many years served its useful purpose to simultaneously grow the sport and also highlight the emergence, and by this point widespread usage, of colour television.
The event, which was aired over several weekends on BBC, comprised matches that lasted only one frame, quite like today’s Shoot Out.
Unlike today’s Shoot Out, Pot Black didn’t incorporate shot clocks, rule variations, and rowdy audiences in a brazen effort to attract viewers.
South African Perrie Mans triumphed in 1977, winning a handsome £1,000 for his efforts.
For new world number one Reardon, the 1976/77 snooker season didn’t produce a great deal of success overall.
As well as the Masters final, the affable Welshman known as “Dracula” lost in two other significant finals, including one to Alex Higgins in Ireland.
It was around this time that plans were being made for the upcoming World Snooker Championship.
In fact, it would be an understatement to say that the sport’s flagship event had moved around in the preceding years, with the previous year’s championship requiring two venues in Manchester and Middlesbrough in order to be completed.
London, Birmingham, and a couple of trips to Australia left the World Championship without a permanent home that it desperately needed to forge an identity.
Promoter Mike Watterson was the man tasked with finding a new destination, and the Englishman had his wife Carole to thank for the unique discovery.
Upon seeing a theatre production at the Crucible Theatre, Carole recommended to her husband that it would make a suitable venue for snooker, and the rest of course is history.
Sixteen competitors made up the field at the debut staging in the City of Steel, with Reardon losing a World Championship tie for the first time since 1972.
John Spencer ended Reardon’s magnificent run with a 13-6 quarter-final victory, and the eighth seed subsequently edged John Pulman, the dominant force of the 1960s, in a close semi-final battle that ended 18-16.
Spencer had been world champion in 1969 ad 1971, so with his experience went into the final against Cliff Thorburn as the favourite.
The final lasted three days and was contested over the best of a mammoth 49 frames, with Spencer winning the opening three frames of what transpired to be an epic encounter.
Thorburn, who was advised by Spencer to travel to the UK in order to improve his standard in the early 1970s, fought back to level the scores at 6-6.
The Canadian looked set to outlast Spencer as he forged ahead at a crucial time to lead 15-12, but the latter dug deep to hang in there before his opponent could pull too far in front.
Back then, high breaks were at a premium, and although Spencer compiled a nice 105 earlier in the showdown, the frame-winning contributions dried up as the final got down to the nitty gritty of the last few frames.
Spencer retrieved the deficit to make it all-square at 16-16, and when Thorburn surrendered his advantage in the 33rd frame the writing was on the wall.
The “Grinder” fought well to keep it close, but the experience of Spencer told with the then 41 year-old becoming the first Crucible champion as a 25-21 victor.
Interestingly, the Lancashire man was the first player to win a world title with a two-piece cue.
Perhaps more importantly, the Crucible was hailed as a success, with coverage on the BBC helping to forge a marriage that has lived happily together for more than 40 years.
The Crucible’s emergence at the end of the 1976/77 snooker season also paved the way for more tournaments and a new generation of formidable players, but more on that later.