Seven-times World snooker legend Stephen Hendry talks to Scottish Rugby
1990 was quite the year for Scottish sport. The best there ever was? An iconic Grand Slam in rugby aside, the country celebrated glory by way of qualifying for football’s World Cup in Italy; Scots won 22 medals at the Commonwealth Games in Auckland, including a second Gold for 10,000m runner Liz McColgan; and Stephen Hendry, the dominant force in snooker for a decade, lifted the first of his seven World Championship titles.
The latter of those achievements came just a month after the first listed. Scotland had beaten England, and the odds, to claim only a third Grand Slam, and against their fiercest of rivals. The hundreds of thousands who claimed to have been at Murrayfield to see Tony Stanger score the most famous of Scottish tries is a story within itself.
While the country delved into a celebratory stupor on the back of that Calcutta Cup triumph and all that came with it, a 21-year-old snooker player born in South Queensferry was in the embryonic stages of becoming the youngest world champion of all time.
30 years on from defeating Jimmy White 18-12 at The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, Hendry says that while Scotland’s Grand Slam didn’t play a direct part in his own foray into being a champion, he was aware of it having happened: “I can’t believe it, it seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?” he recalls.
“I would certainly have noted it, something like that happening. Scotland don’t win that many big things in sport, so it was big news at the time. It was a massive achievement by the Scotland national rugby team, there’s no doubt about it.”
Scotland’s 13-7 victory over England was notable in many ways, not least because they went into the tie as huge underdogs, their opponents having seemingly only needing to turn up in order to claim their own clean sweep of 5 Nations wins. As Hendry adds, it can take time to get the better of an opponent: “When I first turned professional, for the first few years I think Steve Davis beat me 16 times in a row before I managed to get one over him for the first time! So in sport if you’ve got a bogey opponent or bogey team, it’s tough psychologically to get over that hurdle sometimes.
“You have to have that self-belief to forget previous results and concentrate on the next one rather than dwelling on the last one.”
Refusing to dwell is precisely what that 1990 team did from the off, Finlay Calder setting the tone for the game with his barnstorming launch into the English pack in the same manner as Hendry became famed for splitting his on the baize.
Three decades may have elapsed since these seminal moments, but the public ability and hunger to talk about them to this day remains. Where were you when Scotland won the Grand Slam? Where were you when Stephen Hendry won his first world title? Sports people can pinpoint their whereabouts for things that live long in the memory.
But why do these spectacles, much like Dennis Taylor’s, endure? “Because they’ve been there for so long, they’re placed in people’s minds at the same time every year,” says Hendry.
“The sporting public know when the Six Nations is happening in the calendar and they know when the snooker World Championships happen. They’re always big events and people look forward to them so much.
“I think it [the resumption of sporting events] is so important. Sport brings everyone together doesn’t it? People love to watch that live interaction, that live thrill of someone trying to beat their opponent. If you take that away, life becomes pretty dull.”
With the sport as we know it on hold for now, and avenues being crept down in order to find a solution that restarts the global calendar, Hendry succinctly state what many are thinking: “Everyone is crying out for live sport of some sort at the moment.”
With patience and time, that notion will become a reality for fans of rugby, snooker and everything else besides.