The latest chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.
As a new decade dawned in the sport, there were an unprecedented ten ranking event titles to fight for during the 1989/90 snooker season.
There was one major story line this term – well, two – but we’ll get to that a little later.
Beforehand, let’s talk about the supporting cast of characters as snooker considered life beyond its original boom of the 1980s.
John Parrott triumphed at the European Open for a second time while there were three first-time ranking event winners during this campaign.
Mike Hallett won the Hong Kong Open to begin the 1989/90 snooker season, while later there were triumphs for Steve James and Bob Chaperon.
Chaperon’s March success in the British Open was a landmark occasion for a number of reasons.
It marked the last time that a Canadian emerged victorious in a professional ranking event.
Chaperon only ever reached a career-high of 25 in the world rankings, but he beat the likes of Hallett and Neal Foulds in reaching the final, where he duly upset Alex Higgins with a close 10-8 scoreline.
The same month, Higgins teamed up with Dennis Taylor and Tommy Murphy to reach the final of the World Cup – where, as it happens, they faced Chaperon’s Canada.
Canada, also featuring veteran Cliff Thorburn and newcomer Alain Robidoux, won, but the event was otherwise remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Higgins had by now succumbed to multiple failed marriages, years of self-abuse, and constant battles with the media, so when his ultimate implosion occurred it probably wasn’t all that much of a surprise.
In-fighting with teammate Taylor resulted in Higgins threatening to have him shot, but worse was to come at the 1990 World Championship a short time later.
The “Hurricane”, upon losing his first round clash to James, inexplicably punched an official before an infamous post-match press conference and was subsequently banned for the entirety of the 1990/91 season.
When there weren’t headlines generated by the volatile two-time world champion, the focus was predominantly on snooker’s changing of the guard.
Steve Davis had won in Sheffield in 1989 to add a record-equalling sixth world crown to his tally, but the emerging force was undoubtedly Stephen Hendry.
By the time the UK Championship of the 1989/90 snooker season came around just before Christmas, the pair had already bagged a brace of ranking titles each.
Indeed, Davis had overcome Hendry to claim the International Open and followed that up with a chastening 10-0 thrashing of Dean Reynolds in the final of the Grand Prix.
The “Nugget” looked imperious again as usual, but everything was about to change.
In Preston, Hendry conquered Davis to capture the UK Championship title for the first time in his career.
The Scot had beaten Davis before, and Davis would come out on top in several battles between the duo after, but that 16-12 scoreline at the Guild Hall to wrap up the 1980s was a signal of what was to transpire in the decade ahead.
Hendry immediately defended his Masters title in London, and the then 21 year-old went to the Crucible as a heavy contender for glory.
A repeat final against Davis looked likely when Hendry comfortably reached the title decider, but the Englishman instead lost a gripping semi-final to his other major rival of the time – Jimmy White.
In defeat, Davis had failed to make an appearance in the last two in Sheffield for the first time since 1982.
Hendry and White would instead take up the mantle of being ever-presences at that stage for the next nine years.
For White, who had triumphed in the prestigious World Matchplay invitational in December, it represented an opportunity to fulfill his destiny of becoming world champion.
Often left in the shadow of Davis’ widespread achievements and a constant victim of his exuberant lifestyle, the “Whirlwind” finally had the opportunity to break out on his own ahead of the chasing pack.
It was unfortunate timing then that a winning machine even more relentless than Davis had come along on the scene.
Hendry, who labelled White as his boyhood hero in the game, was ruthless under pressure and triumphed 18-12 to become the youngest ever world champion and a Triple Crown winner – in doing so also replacing Davis as the world number one.
There would be countless more moments of elation for Hendry, and many more examples of despair for his popular opponent, but more on that later.
I think what triggered the final feud between Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor was an argument over the highest-break prize. There should never be an individual high-break prize in a team competition. As always, Higgins reacted appallingly. I was a passionate fan of his as a boy in the early 1980’s, but later turned against as I grew older and realised what kind of a person he was.
I still loved Alex !
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