Snooker: The Anniversary - Hail an extraordinary Joe

44 years ago Joe Davis made the first officially ratified 147 maximum break
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The Independent Online
JOE DAVIS'S 147 break at Leicester Square Hall, London, on 22 January 1955, was snooker's equivalent of Sir Roger Bannister's four-minute mile.

Fractions have been progressively shaved from the best time for the mile just as snooker's official break record crept up in ones and twos to Davis's 146. Only the ultimate - 15 reds, 15 blacks, and all the colours, 147, stood beyond.

Four-minute miles have become commonplace; so have 147s in practice - Willie Thorne has made almost 200 - and exhibitions. There have been 25 on the WPBSA circuit, five by Stephen Hendry; Ronnie O'Sullivan earned pounds 165,000 in bonuses for making one in five minutes, 20 seconds at the Crucible two years ago; Kevin McCollum made one in Division Three of the King's Lynn League.

Davis's was made at the age of 53, not in a tournament but against Willie Smith, a veteran with whom he was playing a week's exhibition of billiards and snooker one week before Leicester Square Hall, the home of the professional game, was due to close.

It had 220 plush fauteuil seats. Ted Lowe, later the doyen of commentators, was the manager. Davis was a one-third shareholder, as was Bob Jelks, a tablemaker, and Sidney Smith, whose own claim to immortality, snooker's first ever total clearance, 133, unfortunately slipped off the news agenda as it was made on the evening of Edward VII's abdication.

Anyone who played Leicester Square Hall was on a percentage of the gate for his match, 20 per cent for the leading lights except for Davis, who was on 30 per cent. An almost papal audience with Davis was needed before a newcomer was allowed into the professional coterie. His word was law and when television came along it was with him that negotiations were conducted.

It was a cosy little world. Most of the Leicester Square season was filled by the News of the World handicap tournament, a round-robin in which each match lasted three days. Older players tended not to retire but simply to receive more start, up to 30 points a frame from Davis. The prize fund was pounds 1,500, of which the winner pocketed pounds 500.

After holding the world title from its inception in 1927 - through his initiative - to 1946, Davis chose not to risk his reputation by playing in the championship even though the prospect of losing, except possibly to his younger brother, Fred, was minimal. With the best player not in it, the championship lost credibility and with the public growing weary of the same old permutations snooker was on the skids.

Leicester Square Hall's fate was sealed when the Automobile Association decided to increase the rent beyond the figure which snooker could support. A week before it closed, Davis settled into a red-black sequence against Smith which struck trouble when he badly misjudged his positional shot from the 13th black for the 14th red.

Intending to leave a short pot down the cushion to the nearest pocket, he left the cue ball the wrong side of the red, which he now had to send 10 feet at a narrow angle to a distant baulk pocket. Whenever he subsequently set up this shot out of curiosity, he seldom potted it first time but in that now-or-never moment he did.

It was not the first witnessed 147. A New Zealand hustler, Murt O'Donoghue, had made one in front of 130 people in Griffith, New South Wales in 1934. But it was the first on a table with pockets of championship specifications with a qualified referee officiating.

Pettily, the now defunct Billiards Association and Control Council, who then ran both the amateur and professional games with a patrician hand, withheld ratification. The professionals had introduced the "play-again rule" (not adopted by the BA and CC until 1958) and it was argued that the break had not been made under the official rules.

They relented in 1957 but this was simply academic topping. Everyone already knew the significance of the psychological barrier Davis had cleared that Saturday afternoon 44 years ago and how much the fulfilment of his last remaining ambition meant to him.