1985/86 snooker season
Snooker Seasons

1985/86 Snooker Season: Thorburn vs White

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

In the immediate aftermath of the black ball final, the sport’s popularity in the UK and Ireland was never higher and the 1985/86 snooker season threw up many more compelling storylines.

Much of the campaign seemed to revolve around four players – world champion Dennis Taylor, world number one Steve Davis, Canadian Cliff Thorburn, and the popular young cueman Jimmy White.

The latter had been an emerging force on the circuit since 1981 and triumphed at the Masters a year earlier as a local boy from London.



But success in the events that had been recently upgraded to ranking status had so far eluded the then 23 year-old.

White counted Davis among his conquests en route to the final of the first ranking event of the 1985/86 snooker season, but ultimately came up short against Thorburn in Stoke.

The “Whirlwind” led 7-0 and Thorburn needed four snookers in the eighth frame, but he eventually retrieved both deficits to pull off a remarkable comeback.

For Thorburn, who edged Taylor in the last four and was in good form having just emerged with the Scottish Masters crown, it represented his second and last ranking title following his World Championship glory from five years previously.

A few months later and shortly into the new year, Thorburn and White clashed again – this time for the Mercantile Classic.

White, on this occasion the recent winner having sealed glory in Pot Black, again counted Davis among his victims as he proceeded to take another shot at a maiden ranking success.

A dramatic battle went all the way to the deciding frame and it looked as though the “Whirlwind” had blown it when he needed a snooker with just the pink and black remaining.

However, an unexpected miss from the “Grinder” gifted the penalty points to his opponent and granted White with one last opportunity, which he fully seized to prevail 13-12.

In early February, it was Thorburn vs White III, as the pair fought for Masters honours at the Wembley Conference Centre.

Between them, they had won the event for the last three years and reigning champion Thorburn grabbed a famous hat-trick of victories by outlasting his challenger, who again downed Davis at an earlier stage, 9-5.

When the “Nugget” wasn’t losing to his countryman, meanwhile, he was generally finding himself raising more silverware aloft.

Davis gained revenge on Taylor by edging the Northern Irishman 10-9 in the Grand Prix final, before denying Willie Thorne at the same hurdle of the UK Championship.

Thorne’s botched blue at 13-8 in front has gone down in legend as one of the most famous misses in the history of the game, with the affable Leicester man subsequently squandering his advantage to eventually lose 16-14.

Thorne never properly recovered from that defeat and would experience the same result in numerous other finals during the 1985/86 snooker season – including the British Open to Davis and the Irish Masters to White.

Many onlookers would have expected, then, that the destiny of the 1986 World Championship would be determined by the fortunes of in-form trio Davis, Thorburn, and White.

In some ways, that was true as the former gained revenge on White for all those earlier defeats by winning their quarter-final bout, before overcoming Thorburn 16-12 in the last four.

ICYMI: 1984/85 Snooker Season

As he contested a fifth World Championship title decider in six years, practically everyone expected the dominant force to coast to victory against 150/1 outsider Joe Johnson.

Nobody told Joe, and looking back destiny did indeed seem to play an integral part after the Bradford boy overturned a 12-9 reverse against Terry Griffiths to prevail in their gripping quarter-final that lasted the distance.

Johnson, playing Davis for the first time in his career, trailed 7-4 in the final but won eight out of the next nine frames and never looked back.

As shock world champions go Johnson is arguably the biggest, but he ultimately proved to everyone a year later that his run was no fluke.

Another notable occurrence at the 1986 World Championship was a debut appearance for an up-and-coming Scot named Stephen Hendry.

The 17 year-old became the youngest qualifier and lost to Thorne in the opening round, yet as he was applauded out of the arena, many were already aware of his potential greatness.

Featured photo credit: Snooker Island



Creator of SnookerHQ and a journalism graduate, David has been actively reporting on snooker since 2011. He has been published in national publications and has appeared on BBC World News and on talkSPORT radio as an analyst.

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