Pot star Dennis ready to clean up at ‘home’

By Chris Flanagan

Pot star Dennis ready to clean up at ‘home’

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IT is more than a decade since Dennis Taylor moved out of Blackburn, but the affection remains strong.

If most around the country associate Taylor with his native Northern Ireland and that 1985 World Championship victory over Steve Davis, still the most watched programme in BBC Two history, the man himself will always feel a deep connection with East Lancashire.

“I lived there for 37 years,” he says. Lots of happy memories.”

Taylor moved to north Wales in 2002 but he will be back in town on Saturday for a legends night at King George’s Hall, when he and Jimmy White are due to take on Davis and Stephen Hendry in an exhibition match.

He returns regularly to the area to see his daughter, whose house is only a stone’s throw from Blackburn Rovers’ Brockhall training ground.

Many of his family are Rovers fans, with Taylor dividing his love between Blackburn and Manchester United.

“It’s a bit unusual, there are not many people who support Blackburn and Man United,” he chuckled.

“My sons used to laugh at that because they’re still Blackburn Rovers supporters, although they don’t live in Blackburn now.

“Back home in Northern Ireland a lot of people were all Manchester United supporters. My boyhood hero was George Best.

“Then when I moved to Blackburn I would go down and watch them as well.

“I haven’t been to a game there for ages but one of my grandsons has played for his school at Ewood, in fact my granddaughter has scored a goal at Ewood.

“My grandchildren all play football at Old Langho. My daughter still lives there, near where the training ground is.”

Taylor wasn’t a bad footballer himself in his youth but he is glad that he chose snooker instead – even after an opportunity arose for a trial with Rovers.

“I didn’t go,” he said.

“I played a lot of Gaelic football at county standard and some soccer before I moved to England. Then I played for Waterside Paper Mill, where I worked.

“But I didn’t pursue the football, we used to play in the summer time back in Northern Ireland.

“Prancing around in the mud didn’t appeal to me, I thought I’d play a bit of snooker and I think I made the right decision!”

Taylor quickly found himself in a snooker hotbed when he moved over from County Tyrone.

“I learned to play the game at the old post office in the centre of Blackburn,” he says. “I moved to Darwen when I was 17 and stayed with an aunt, then moved on to Blackburn.

“I had four aunts who lived in Darwen so that was the only reason I stayed. It was like home from home.

“My aunt Sheila, who is no longer with us, was like a second mum to me.

“I had some friends who moved over to Manchester but I remained in the Blackburn area.

“I worked for about 18 months in Waterside Paper Mill in Darwen, doing 12-hour shifts to earn some money.

“Then I did a variety of jobs in the office at Darwen Paper Mill, and after that I worked in the centre of Blackburn at a place called Relay Vision. I used to work in the shop selling televisions, washing machines and all sorts of things.

“Then I managed a snooker club in Preston before I became a full-time professional.

“Blackburn and Lancashire was the big snooker area back then. There were more good players in that area than anywhere else in the country.”

He actually received assistance from the Lancashire Telegraph and snooker columnist John Taylor, nicknamed ‘Cueman’, on his way to the top in the sport.

It was the Telegraph writer who coined Alex Higgins’ famous ‘Hurricane’ nickname, after Higgins had joined his fellow Northern Irishman in Blackburn.

“There used to be a competition called Find A Champion for the Telegraph,” he remembers.

“Cueman John Taylor used to write a column in the Telegraph and he organised it. I’d get invited along to play one or two frames against John Spencer, who lived in Radcliffe and became world champion.

“It was on John Spencer’s recommendation that I was accepted into the professional ranks about a year after Alex Higgins.

“I played hundreds of frames against Alex, he moved over to Blackburn because he knew I was there.

“I met him when I was 18 and we practised a lot together along with Jim Meadowcroft from Bacup. We learned our trade together.

“We played at the Benarth Snooker Club, opposite the old Cavendish club. It was the old post pffice but it was called the Benarth because it was owned by people called Ben and Arthur.

“I helped to fix Alex up a little flat in Preston New Road as well, and put a television in for him.”

Taylor made his World Championship debut in 1973, backed by many from East Lancashire.

“Anyone who turns professional, the first World Championship you play in there’s always a coachload of people who want to go and see how you do,” he said.

“After that I went to see a fellow called Michael Murray who worked for Lion Brewery before it became Matthew Brown, and I did about 15 shows for them.

“The money went towards me going to Australia to play in the World Championship in 1975.

“I did shows for Lion Brewery and Matthew Brown right until I won the World Championship, which was a big help.”

Twenty nine years on, Taylor still looks back on his World Championship victory over Davis with immense pride.

“There wasn’t the same fuss in Blackburn as there was in the town where I came from in Northern Ireland, I don’t think they realised at the time what I’d achieved,” he said.

“But it was certainly a bit special.

“Steve has won six titles and he says he will remember that more than the ones he won.

“They celebrated 50 years of BBC Two recently and that came out as the number one programme.

“We were just lucky to be involved in it.”

Taylor’s playing commitments are now restricted to the legends tour, as he focuses on commentary with the BBC.

“A couple of years ago when I played in Blackburn I managed to make a century break,” he smiled.

“I would imagine it’s going to be Jimmy White and myself against a couple of easy opponents, Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry.

“They’ve only won 13 world championships between them, but Jimmy and me will sort them out!

“It will be great to be back playing in Blackburn.”