When sportsmen slap scribes!

Joe Davis (right), the legendary snooker superstar, with another great of the game, Willie Smith. Davis could fly into a rage at times.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY Joe Davis (right), the legendary snooker superstar, with another great of the game, Willie Smith. Davis could fly into a rage at times.

Ted Corbett recounts the time when he was assaulted by sports personalities, one of whom didn’t like what he said, while the other misunderstood what he wrote.

I was watching the world championship snooker the other day when I remembered the most dramatic and dangerous moment of my sporting life.

Forty years on I can barely believe it happened. Joe Davis, then in his 80s but still a square and chunky man with a powerful personality, beckoned me to sit with him at a table in the restaurant where the world championships were being played. Frankly, I was rather pleased. He was still one of the great men of snooker who had from 1920 until long after the Second World War taken the crown whenever and however he pleased.

He was the first great snooker player, in the days when as his pal John Pullman used to joke, “some players were so slow they needed a fortnight to complete a week’s match” and certainly the world final in those long-off days lasted 175 frames. Just imagine sitting through that.

I sat down and we began a one-sided debate on how great the old days were and how wretched some of the present day players had turned out to be. It was one-sided because I could not get a word in edgeways but at last I managed to say: “Surely some modern players are better than those long ago.”

It was my first substantial contribution to the discussion in 15 minutes but it riled Davis. He leaned across the table, his eyes blazing and hit me a smart crack across the cheek. Quite hard. “You nasty young man,” he bellowed. “You are a Communist and every word you write proves it.”

(I have often wondered since how such remarks as “Alex Higgins missed a black off its spot but still won the final frame easily” could be interpreted as Communist doctrine but Davis and I never had the chance to resume our conversation and no one cared to enlighten me.)

Then he got up and left, smiling smugly like a man who had achieved a lifetime ambition. I had not time to debate whether it might be right for a lissom 40-year-old to retaliate against someone old enough to be his grandfather, particularly an icon of the game.

A friend consoled me. “It’s a generational thing,” he said. I begged to differ. It was a John Pullman thing. He had made the same remark about my left of centre politics and I guess he had repeated his witty repost to Joe Davis. They were great friends although Pullman was years younger than either of the Davis brothers, Joe and Fred.

In those days — either when Joe, or Fred, or John was champion — snooker was a poor sport. It could not always recruit enough decent players to make the world championship realistic and on one occasion Pullman and Rex Williams toured South Africa playing one another for the title.

Crowds grew smaller with each seven-frame session and eventually no spectators turned up at all. True sportsmen both, they tossed to see who had won the session 4-3, drank a glass of champagne to celebrate, carefully packed away their cues and went back to their hotel.

You might think that, from this sudden outburst of fury, that I have led an adventurous sporting life in two forms of Rugby, football, snooker and cricket. Far from it.

There was an incident in my extreme youth when York, the club whose activities I reported, signed their most important player in years and I duly turned up and invited the captain, a coalminer with muscles on his muscles, to be pictured with the new boy. Instead of agreeing — as he had done to every one of my requests to that point — he hit me so hard with his forearm that I staggered into the newcomer and knocked him to the floor.

The truth behind this blow was that my pals in the team — I had played with some of them as an amateur — had told their skipper that I had accused him of dropping the ball at just the wrong moment. It was a gross exaggeration of my finely crafted sentence but he never saw my paper and took it that I was to be regarded as an enemy from that moment forward.

(I had written that “it was such a bitterly cold Easter Monday that even the normally safe hands of the captain failed him to the extent that he dropped the ball a yard from the try line.”)

Apart from those two minor skirmishes, it has been a peaceful life. I have just read the obituary of a TV reporter who said the highlight of his career was being kidnapped by a rebel gang and the tale of another brave member of my profession who was also kidnapped and threatened with execution every time an American plane flew overhead.

Instead I made friends of many players, including a bunch of Scottish players with Manchester United, several fast bowlers and not a few wicket-keepers. Nice people, most sporting stars. I received a note from one, inquiring about my health and the welfare of my partner Jo only a couple of days ago.

Yes, like everyone else I had a blazing row with Ian Botham, but he was one of four who gathered round one afternoon when I went into a TV box and said I had to write a piece about the 1983 World Cup in England. “I’m afraid, I can’t remember a thing about it,” I said.

Botham was quick to help. He pointed at David Gower and grumbled: “I remember what he did in that tournament. Ran me out at Taunton, before I had faced a ball, on my own ground. Very nice. I’ll never forget that. Write as much about that as you like.”

So I did and both of them are still friends.