1979/80 snooker season
Snooker Seasons

1979/80 Snooker Season: Griffiths and the Grinder

The latest chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.

The 1979/80 snooker season brought the sport into a new decade, a period in which the game’s popularity truly exploded.

Terry Griffiths, a qualifier making his debut at the Crucible, had just stunned the field to claim the 1979 World Championship title.

If it was meant to be a one-off nobody told Griffiths, because the Welshman subsequently featured heavily at the business end of competitions throughout the next term.

Griffiths contested five notable finals during the 1979/80 snooker season, underlining his credentials as one of the new leading players.

To those in the know, the former postman’s rise wasn’t necessarily a huge shock, as Griffiths won back-to-back English Amateur Championships – a prestigious event at the time – before turning professional.

A few months after sealing success in Sheffield, Griffiths travelled to Toronto for the Canadian Open and duly progressed all the way to the final, beating a young Kirk Stevens in the last four.

Home hero Cliff Thorburn was the reigning champion and defended his crown after an epic encounter that lasted the distance and ended 17-16.

A couple of months later, Griffiths was in another title decider and again would painfully experience defeat in a decider.

The UK Championship was quickly becoming an established fixture on the calendar and to do the double alongside the World Championship would have been a rare feat.

However, John Virgo held on for a 14-13 triumph despite squandering an 11-7 advantage and having two frames docked for arriving late for the third session.

While it should have been Virgo’s career-defining moment, the Englishman was deprived of much recognition as the final frames were not shown live due to a strike at the BBC.

An undeterred Griffiths, meanwhile, continued in his quest to finally add more silverware to his cabinet.

The Masters returned to the Wembley Conference Centre in February and once again Alex Higgins was in the final – the third year out of four in a row that the Northern Irishman would contest the last two.

Like the year before, however, Higgins missed out on glory as Griffiths prevailed with a 9-5 scoreline, contributing a tournament-high 131 break in the process.

It marked the first time in the Crucible era that a player had held the World Championship and Masters trophies at the same time.

The following week, the Irish Masters took place for the third time at Goffs in County Kildare.

In 1980, eight players were invited to play with Griffiths and fellow Welshman Doug Mountjoy advancing beyond the initial round-robin phase and into the final.

Once again Griffiths needed all the allotted frames but, on this occasion, he managed to survive the decider to claim the top prize with a 10-9 victory.

Earlier in the 1979/80 snooker season, Griffiths and Mountjoy had teamed up with world number one Ray Reardon for the inaugural World Challenge Cup.

A forerunner to the World Cup, three-player teams from Wales, England, Northern Ireland, Australia, Canada, and the Rest of the World competed for the inaugural international team title.

The formidable Wales line-up didn’t lose a match, beating Canada and Australia in the early stages before hammering an English unit comprising John Spencer, Fred Davis, and Graham Miles 14-3 in the final.

Despite being in top form, Griffiths naturally became the latest victim of what would eventually become known as the “Curse of the Crucible”.

As the sport continued to expand, there were 24 players at the venue stages of the World Championship for the first time.

The top eight were seeded through to the last 16, but five of them lost their opening tie to opponents who had already warmed up with an early win.

One of those to capitalise was a young Steve Davis, the then 23 year-old making his second appearance at the Crucible and demonstrating his potential by upsetting Griffiths 13-10 to reach the quarter-finals.

It was the first, but it definitely wouldn’t be the last, time that Davis would have Griffiths’ number at the Crucible over the next ten years.

Yet, the “Nugget” subsequently lost to Higgins, who was in the midst of a terrific spell of form.

Higgins won a handful of smaller events in the second half of the 1979/80 snooker season, and many expected the “Hurricane” to land a second career world title when he faced off against Thorburn in the showpiece finale.

Like the UK Championship final, coverage on the BBC was again interrupted, this time because the host broadcaster cut to show the breaking news of an Iranian Embassy siege in London.

Higgins led 9-5 but Thorburn won six frames on the spin to overturn the deficit into a two-frame advantage.

In a ding-dong battle, there wasn’t more than a single frame between them from Thorburn leading 11-10 and parity at 16-16.

But in the end, the “Grinder” lived up to his nickname, taking the final couple of frames for an 18-16 success – also marking the first time that the World Championship final took place over the now familiar best of 35 frames.

With the triumph, Canada’s Thorburn became the first player from outside the UK in the modern era to capture a world title.

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1980/81 Snooker Season–>


  1. Carl Hungness

    Great historical stuff, keep it coming.Appreciate your knowledge and dedication.

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