This year’s Betfred World Championship marks 40 years since Welshman Terry Griffiths lifted the famous trophy in 1979.
By Simon Cromie
Griffiths interviewed by Hazel Irvine during the 2017 Crucible 40th anniversary celebration
Then a qualifier for the tournament, Griffiths was hardly fancied as a contender for the title, but over the course of a remarkable championship the young man from Llanelli swept aside all before him, eventually emerging a 24-16 winner over Dennis Taylor in the final.
Some four decades on, Griffiths still recalls vividly the excitement and sheer unlikelihood of his dramatic triumph.
“There’s a lot of great memories for me,” he reminisces. “When I won the World Championship I was overwhelmed really. I was an amateur player a few months before, and I just wanted to have a go at playing against the best players in the world, and if it didn’t work out I’d just go back to work. Everyone there was saying, ‘oh it’s his first time, I hope he wins,’ so I had a lot of support.”
To watch the last frame of that 1979 final is to witness the attributes for which Griffiths was renowned. The smooth, elegant stance and cue action, the changeless, no-quarter-given expression upon his face, belying the undoubted nerves which must have been coursing through his veins. The 71 year-old believes that staying in the right frame of mind was the key to his success all those years ago.
“I had a very good temperament,” he says, “and throughout that tournament I had no thought of winning. That is the best place mentally you can be. Of course, Dennis was definitely expected to beat me because of his experience. For me, once I won the first round match against Perrie Mans I was just hoping I’d earn some exhibitions down the line. That’s why I went to the World Championship, to get some money to pay the bills! Next thing you know, I was champion of the world.”
To win the world title at such a tender stage of a player’s career brings its own set of pressures and new experiences. Griffiths still remembers the rollercoaster year which followed his World Championship success.
“Everything changed just like that,” he says with a snap of his fingers. “After I won the World Championship I found out there weren’t that many tournaments to play in. I only had two events to play in at that time, and so I was doing a lot of exhibitions — I did 65,000 miles in my first year. I was away a lot of the time, and my two children used to ask me when I was coming home again, so I found that side of things hard, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
“It was a huge thing to happen to me. One thing I’ve realised now is that you don’t truly understand what’s happening in life until it becomes a memory.”
On the radio mic with Gareth Blainey of BBC Wales
In the time since his retirement from playing in 1997, Griffiths has become one of snooker’s most respected coaches, offering his advice to a plethora of different players including eight world champions.
It is perhaps fitting that 40 years on from his own moment in the sun, the Welshman has decided to take a step back from his coaching duties on site at tournaments, opting to work only from his club in Llanelli from now on.
“It’s just that I’m getting older, and I’m not handling things as well as I used to,” Griffiths explains. “The travelling aspect is the worst, but also the pressure when I’m with the players. I feel a lot of pressure if they’re not playing well. Those are the main things. I’ve been driving around on motorways for 40 years, when I was playing and then when I was coaching. It’s a long time, you know?”
While there is a degree of sadness just detectable in Griffith’s voice, it’s clear that he is a man content with his lot in snooker: “I think it’s my time. I’ve made quite a few big decisions in my career and I’d never change them. Once I make a decision, that’s it. I never have regrets. There’s no point in it. My body is telling me that I need to be at home more, and so I think this is the right decision for me.”
Griffiths deep in conversation with Mark Allen
Those who will bear the disappointment of Griffiths’ decision most will be the players currently under his tutelage, which include Ding Junhui and Mark Allen, but they will undoubtedly count themselves blessed to have been able to glean the old master’s expertise for several years.
“I think a few of the players I work with – it’s not what they wanted,” Griffiths admits, “but a few have told me that they’ll come down to my club in Llanelli on an hourly rate. They can come and go when they need, and I can help with them, so they’re pleased with that.
“I’ve been with Mark Allen for about 15 years, so he was obviously disappointed. I’ll miss him and I’ll miss them all — I’ve been with many of them for quite a number of years — but home is my place now.”