Changing of the guard – to the delight of one place in particular

#Snooker #Soccer

1985 was a particularly trying year in some ways. Both my maternal grandparents passed away, I underwent major surgery – just some of plenty in those years – and, as far as can be deciphered, there were other significant hurdles to be negotiated. All of which made it a year to forget.
It seems strange against that backdrop, then, that what for many at the time would’ve been an obscure sporting occurrence has endured as the one fleck of positivity from that time. Specifically, Dennis Taylor’s annexation of the World Snooker Championship against Steve Davis. With him eventually potting the black which strove to defy gravity.

Youthful innocence – or plain misinformation – added a poignant layer to Taylor’s triumph close to home. My grandfather slipped away to the farmyard above whilst watching snooker and it took me many years to cop on that, as he died in November, it couldn’t have been the showpiece at the Crucible Theatre. It was, in fact, the UK Championship.

Still, it’s a source of great pleasure to have that unforgettable from among a compilation great sporting moments narrated by the great Jimmy Magee. Observance of that unforgettable happening – even now – is to realise what a great era it was on the green cloth. Populated by the likes of Taylor, Davis, Alex Higgins, Terry Griffiths, the luckless but lovable Jimmy White and Willie Thorne.

Though, honestly, it was some years later that my interest in snooker was awoken again. Firstly, owing to the snooker game show Big Break – fronted by Jim Davidson and John Virgo – but mostly because the entirety of the UK Open in Bournemouth was taken in on television having been off school sick.

Even by then, things had changed. The dominance of Stephen Hendry was in full flow at a time when his greatest challengers were John Higgins and John Parrott and Alan McManus and – maybe most significantly – Ronnie O’Sullivan whilst not forgetting our own Ken Doherty. Who, it could be argued, began the end of the Hendry era when toppling him to take the top gong in 1997.

Seeing Davis bow out after the latest Crucible 17 day marathon smacked of closure. You were tempted to think it was the last of that generation bowing out. Yet, the uplifting excellence and gritty determination of McManus for much of the tournament’s duration gave lie to that. Which to me is as it should be. Snooker is perhaps the example of why, in terms of sports, age shouldn’t matter.

Still, that matters have moved on again is undeniable. The recent displays by McManus and Higgins and Ali Carter prove they still have plenty to offer. Surely, too, it would be foolhardy in the extreme to consider The Rocket a spent force following his relatively early exit. But a changing of the guard is evident – across a couple of sporting spheres and to the delight of one place in particular. With O’Sullivan eliminated, thought process would’ve dictated that it amounted to an unexpected opening for players such as Judd Trump or Neil Robertson or Stephen Maguire or Ding Jonhui. They all fell by the wayside as well, however, with possibly only the latter performing anywhere near would’ve been expected.

Then again, maybe there’s just something in the air for Leicester folk at present. Years back, my focus in terms of sport and that city would have centred on a highly successful rugby union team who often sailed close to the wind (The ‘Hand of Back’ will never be forgotten) and the uprising of sorts orchestrated by Martin O’Neill at Leicester City and facilitated by players such as Neil Lennon, Matt Elliott, Muzzy Izzit and Steve Walsh almost undoubtedly punching above their collective weight.

Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri

Since then, the fortunes of the football club have oscillated wildly. Before, it must be said, stabilisation was brought to the club by Nigel Pearson during two spells there. All of which made the decision to dispense with the services of the rugged character last summer all the more difficult to fathom.

Anyway, as the fortunes of the football club fluctuated and the rugby team no longer appeared to be the force of old, it has been the world’s best snooker, Mark Selby, to fly the flag for the city at the highest level. Indeed, his recent garnering of a second world title in three years leads to thoughts that he may be about to enjoy a spell of dominance within the sport which could rival that of Hendry.

Now, in any other year, as far as sport in one city would be concerned, nothing would top it. This has been no ordinary year for sport in Leicester. Nor as a consequence for the entire sporting world. When the Dunboyne ladies won the All Ireland Club JFC last December, it was opined that Hans Christian Anderson would struggle to conjure such a fairytale. Well, he’d be totally goosed with this Premiership season!

Where do you start? Claudio Ranieri, the coach, dismissed as a ‘Tinkerman’ in other places, restoring joy to and faith in what sport should be about. Jamie Vardy, factory worker turned title talisman and burgeoning international talent. Or simply the club itself, not all that long ago hurtling towards oblivion.

What does the future hold for them? Could they ever have as good a season again? Who cares, their triumph will be the sports story of 2016.

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