Among the more intriguing insights into an election that seems to be taking longer than a Cliff Thorburn 50 break is the fact that Ed Miliband is a snooker fan. Which doesn’t mean he was a Steve Davis fan. Davis was ‘boring’, Miliband told the Guardian recently. The sentiment was widely shared during Davis’s 1980s heyday. Indeed, the writers of Spitting Image found him so dull they nicknamed him ‘Interesting’. Hence the hostage-to-fortune title of what is by my count Davis’s third volume of autobiography. Will the leader of the opposition find anything in the book’s turgidly ghostwritten pages to modify his opinion? One fears not. Yet if Interesting isn’t exactly unputdownable, nor is it unpickupable. If nothing else, the book makes clear what it was about Davis that so many people disliked.
Like everyone else only more so, snooker players can be divided into cavaliers and roundheads. A player so reliable that for the best part of the Thatcher decade he was odds-on favourite to win any tournament he contested, Davis fell squarely into the latter category. Alas for him, the majority in the snooker audience have no time for the care and caution with which the roundhead game is played. They prefer the cavaliers —romantic wrong ’uns of the Jimmy White and Alex Higgins variety who, like the average amateur, will never play safe when they can risk everything on a table-length double.
Davis is baffled by the adulation the cavaliers inspire. For one thing, how can the public prefer one player to another when they ‘don’t really know any of us’? More importantly, while the likes of White and Higgins are ‘outstanding’ shot-makers, outstanding shots don’t ensure victory. Nor do patience and planning and practice, of course. Still, in the long run — the run that snooker, with its multiple-frame format ,favours — the patient and practised stand the best chance of coming out on top.
Davis came out on top more than most, as his book’s yawnsome litany of fixtures and results (and exclamation marks!) reminds you. He is in no doubt about whom he has to thank for his record-breaking run. Over and over again he acknowledges his father — not only for teaching him the game but for knowing ‘what should be done and how to go about doing it’. And once having been told what to do, Steve always did it. Even when he disagreed with his father, ‘After a good night’s sleep, I often conceded that he was probably in the right.’ I’m sure he was, though I don’t expect Davis will win many new fans by saying so. The cavalier contingent would far rather have Higgins head-butting tournament directors and threatening to have opponents shot than anyone mature enough to acknowledge that dad only wants what’s best for you.
But even when other people don’t, Davis the diplomat knows how to handle them. After momentarily griping about Ray Reardon’s indulging in some Stephen Potter-style gamesmanship against him early in his career, Davis insists that the beating he subsequently took only helped clarify his belief that his only real opponent was himself.
Until Stephen Hendry came along, anyway. Hendry dominated the 1990s in just the way that Davis had the previous decade; and Interesting is at its best when Davis wonders whether he was too late in responding to the new kid on the baize’s style. Hendry had modelled his apprenticeship on Davis’s Stakhanovite regime, after all, but he had realised what Davis perhaps never could: that if you have the best core game in the business, you can afford to take the odd risk. If Davis elaborates on such insights in the snooker ‘Bible’ he now promises us, he may yet write an interesting book.