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Joe Johnson: The man who stunned the Crucible

Jo Carter April 15, 2010
Joe Johnson was a 150/1 outsider for the 1986 World Championship © Getty Images
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Having never previously won a single match at the Crucible, Joe Johnson became an overnight celebrity when he became world champion in 1986 as a 150-1 outsider.

After beating Steve Davis 18-12, Johnson became the only player to win the Snooker World Championship having never previously won another ranking event.

As the World Championship kicks off at the Crucible on Saturday, we take a look back at the career of the man nicknamed 'The Shoe'.

"I was thrown into the limelight and I couldn't believe how crazy things got," Johnson said of his victory. "I couldn't go anywhere without being recognised, and it wasn't just in the UK. It took a long time, maybe three or four years for things to calm down.

"It was great for the first few months but it did take some getting used to. I had gone from a mere nobody to a celebrity overnight - I was on every TV programme going. I never got a minute to practise. I enjoyed it though; it's what every snooker player wants."

Johnson was a top-16 player going into the championships, but had failed to make his mark after turning professional in 1979. It was not until 1985 that he won his first televised match, and was a 150-1 chance for the world title.

"One memory that stands out for me was my quarter-final against Terry Griffiths," he said. "I was leading 9-7 going into the final session having never beaten him before - for obvious reasons, he was a better player. He then won five frames to lead 12-9, but I then made four century breaks to win 13-12.

I had gone from a mere nobody to a celebrity overnight - I was on every TV programme going. I never got a minute to practise.

"That was really encouraging for me - I had never beaten him before so to have beaten him in the quarter-final of the World Championship, making all those big breaks reinforced my view that I could win."

A year later, Johnson came agonisingly close to breaking the 'Crucible Curse'; no first-time champion has ever successfully defended his world title. Johnson was given no chance of defending his title, but he reached the final where he played Davis for the second year running.

This time, Davis had his revenge, winning his fourth world title, but it was his second final appearance a year later that Johnson is most proud of.

"It was particularly encouraging for me in 1987, as I beat Stephen Hendry and Neal Foulds to get to the final, and it reassured me that I hadn't done it by fluke or I was lucky the year before," he said.

"The year after I won I just kept thinking to myself, 'Was I a bit lucky?', so I was delighted to have got to the final again. It was probably more proud to reach the final the second year."

When he retired in 2005 after breaking his ankle, Johnson was 53, the oldest player on the circuit, a record he is keen to hang on to.

Johnson became a household name after his 1986 triumph © Getty Images
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"I was 53 when I was forced into retirement," he said. "I was the oldest player on the circuit at the time. Steve Davis is only 51 so I'm ahead of him at the moment - anything you can beat Steve Davis at is a feather in your cap."

Johnson now owns two snooker clubs in West Yorkshire as well as running three coaching academies. He also commentates for Eurosport and is currently working with Barry Hearn to establish a senior world championship event which begins in May.

"I have never been busier since I retired - I'm still involved in the sport and I really enjoy it," he said. "I teach the kids for free - it is my way of giving something back.

"I've managed to sign all the top senior players for the seniors event - Davis, John Parrott, Jimmy White, Ken Doherty, Peter Ebdon, Alex Higgins, Dennis Taylor and myself. I am really proud to have put together eight big names playing in the same tournament - that's seven world champions and Jimmy White. It's probably the pinnacle of my career organising this."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk