Return to ‘magical’ Crucible is sweet for Johnson

Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson
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It Is fast approaching 30 years since Bradford’s Joe Johnson stunned the sporting world by beating Steve Davis at snooker’s ‘Theatre of Dreams’.

His 18-12 shock win in 1986 – the year of Maradona’s infamous handball at the World Cup and when Madonna dominated the pop charts – saw Johnson become the only Yorkshireman to be crowned world champion in the modern era.

It is an accolade he still holds, even though it is over 20 years since he picked up a cue in anger at the Crucible.

But the 61-year-old is set to play at the famous Sheffield arena next Thursday as part of a Snooker Legends night along with seven-time Crucible winner Stephen Hendry, the 1991 world champion John Parrott and the pin-up boy of snooker in the Eighties, Tony Knowles.

“When I first got offered the chance to play again at the Crucible, it brought back all those memories from 1986,” said Johnson, who was a 150-1 outsider and had never won a match in Sheffield before that year.

“I never thought I would get the chance to play again in that venue in front of my family and children – it will be a very special moment indeed.

“I can’t wait, I never thought I would go back there. I haven’t played since 1991-92. I have been back to commentate, but never played there since.

“I am thrilled to be going back, especially with Stephen Hendry,” he said.

“The Crucible is very compact, and it has those little stars in the roof. It’s like a dream when you go play there.

“Even in the audience it is special. I remember being mesmerised watching Terry Griffiths play Alex Higgins back in 1979, I was sat in the audience.

“I had just got to the final of the world amateur championship, and went to watch. I was debating whether to turn professional or not.

“And then when I saw the Crucible, the magical atmosphere, and that match – Griffiths won 13-12 – it just got me hooked and I turned professional the year after. It’s a beautiful, magical place.”

Twelve months after his 1986 triumph Johnson again made the final, Davis gaining revenge with an 18-14 win.

Johnson is asked about his Crucible fairytale most days, but revealed he also suffered some dark days at the home of snooker.

“I have got to have good memories, haven’t I?” he smiled. “I get asked about winning the final most days, probably like Dennis Taylor gets asked about that black ball.

“What a lot of people don’t realise is I had nightmares there as well. I lost 10-1 to (Dennis)Taylor once.

“That was the most soul-destroying couple of days of my life really.

“My dad had had a heart attack in hospital, the same day as I was playing. I was going to pull out, I just could not concentrate.

“I remember sitting there, getting beat, and wishing I could call it to a halt.

“I have had both sides of the feelings, the euphoria and the agony.”

Johnson – who owns a snooker club and academy in Barnsley – runs a Saturday morning coaching academy for youngsters, aged 7-17, at Cue Gardens in Bradford.

“It’s just my way of putting something back into the game,” he said. “It’s very successful, I have been doing it for about 15 years now.”

As Johnson looks to discover snooker’s next bright star, he admits there is little sign of a future Judd Trump or Ronnie O’Sullivan on the horizon – players with the zest and natural talent to blow away the opposition.

“There are players coming through, but there’s no one of that quality coming through.

“There is some good quality, but nobody of outstanding quality like Judd Trump or Ronnie O’Sullivan.

“Barry Hearn’s changes have been good for the players, good for the game, good for everybody I think.

“Not everyone agrees with it, but I certainly do.

“I wish I was starting out again with all the match practice that is available now; no wonder everyone is playing so well.

“With the amount of match practice they get nowadays it takes away the fear they get of playing in matches.”

While there will not be fear when Johnson takes those familiar steps into the Crucible arena next week, there will certainly be a wave of nostalgic emotion for Yorkshire’s king of snooker.

Tickets for the Snooker Legends night at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, on April 10, 7pm, are available on 0114 249 6000 or via www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk