Steve Davis and the ham sandwich

I am not sure if Steve Davis or Joe Davis — no relation, by the way — or Stephen Hendry is the greatest player of all time. It does not matter a jot. In his twenties Davis was so much better than the rest he was unbeatable, writes Ted Corbett.

It is 30 years since I shook hands with Steve Davis, then the world snooker champion, said I hoped we could keep in touch and went off to be a cricket writer.

Oddly enough I have not seen him since — apart from a few times on television — but about once every five years or so he comes back into my life when he writes a piece in a newspaper or magazine recounting the way I spoiled his life by saying that he ate a ham sandwich in the middle of a match.

At the time — his first world championship in 1979 — I was pretty pleased with the piece. It was true in every detail. No-one else had written the story, Davis was the champion of the future and my paper was about to sign him to write a weekly column.

In truth of course the column would be written by me. Yes, I was The Ghost long before Roman Polanski turned a Robert Harris novel into a film. In fact a complete Test team — people like Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Clive Lloyd and Geoff Boycott — all owe their literary reputation to me.

But more of that some other time.

Anyway the ham sandwich exclusive clearly got to Davis since every so often someone will ring me and say: “What did you do to Davis? He is writing about you and the ham sandwich again.”

So I was not surprised when I saw yet another article about him in which he protested that “some bloke from the Daily Star” witnessed his defeat in the first round at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, and could think of nothing better to write than that he had ordered a ham sandwich and eaten it between shots.

It is fairly insulting that he could not remember my name even though around about that time I saw him daily, went to the extravagant parties his manager Barry Hearn threw and was on first name terms with his brother, father and mother. Still, let's forget about his obsession with ham except to ask whether, now that he is a millionaire several times over, 52 years old and a television pundit he would dream of eating his lunch in mid-match.

Since those far off days Steve has run the gauntlet of a typical celebrity life. At one time he was known as Steve “Interesting” Davis because, if you see what I mean, what he said was anything but interesting.

We members of the tiny snooker press group used to wonder what he would do after he won every title that was available to him; now we know. He simply played on. Perhaps you understand the “Interesting” bit now.

He always turned up for the world championship, lost early on and then slipped into the TV studio to explain why it was other players were losing.

It was a pattern we expected to repeat itself as long as he could hold a cue but you know how it is with sport. Sometimes the side from the bottom of Division Ten beat the world champs and as a fan of the FA Cup in which such minnows often defeat the Great White Sharks I applaud that.

To be fair it does not happen too often in snooker.

This year Davis did not just win his first round match but went on to knock out the world champion John Higgins in the second round and so win a place in the quarterfinals.

It was an enormous shock. Certainly Higgins, who was about as far out of form as any man can be without retiring, did not expect to lose. The expression he wore at his post-match interview said it all.

It was “what the hell is going on here?” It may take him a full year to recover — if he is lucky.

At the same time Davis was grinning to himself; and why not. That beautiful cue action was still holding up, he had shown greater staying power than Higgins, a toughie from Glasgow and the pots were flying into the pockets.

It was an example of sheer guts, the determination to win against all the odds. Knowing the family history as I do, I realise that Steve had inherited his love of sport and courage from his dad, and concentration from his mother, a school teacher with a shrewd eye and a sharp turn of phrase.

“Just watch Steve when the match is going against him,” she once said to me. “He wears what I call his Old Stone Face. It is set like the face on one of those statues on Easter Island and it means ‘watch out!'”

I can speak volumes for the Davis concentration. He once borrowed a fiver from me in case he had to pay to use a table for practice. We did not meet for a while but when we did he was practising. To be fair he was always practising. I walked into the room behind him as he was about to pot. He saw me in a mirror, stopped halfway through his stroke and said: “Ted. Here's your fiver. I didn't need it. Thank you.” Then he got down and potted the ball. Well, he would, wouldn't he?

From what I could see on TV, he still has the same concentration, the same skill and if the stamina is not quite what it ought to be, just remember he is heading for his old age pension.

I am not sure if he, or Joe Davis — no relation, by the way — or Stephen Hendry is the greatest player of all time. It does not matter a jot. In his twenties Davis was so much better than the rest he was unbeatable. Anyone with a soul must have been sorry when he went out in the quarterfinals this year.

Now if only he had ordered another ham sandwich...