Between them, the two blokes sitting in the bar at the Mountbatten Leisure Centre in Portsmouth have won the World Snooker Championship 13 times. In the Eighties and Nineties Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry bestrode a sport that regularly had as many as 20 million Britons transfixed in front of their television screens. On the day they meet The Daily Telegraph, however, the pair are playing in front of a couple of hundred diehards at the Seniors World Championship. And Davis reckons it is a pairing that should never have happened.
“By rights he shouldn’t be here,” he says, pointing his thumb at the still fresh-faced Hendry. “For this tournament there always used to be an age limit of 45. He’s 44, yet somehow he gets invited. Ken Doherty’s screaming. He’s only four months younger and he’s been told he’s not eligible. It’s absolutely outrageous they’ve let him in.”
“I got a call from the chairman about three months ago asking me to play,” says Hendry, by way of explanation. “I said I’m not old enough. He said, 'No the rules state as long as you’re 45 in the season you can compete’. So here I am.”
“That’s the most anyone’s got out of him in a decade,” says Davis of Hendry’s answer. “Boring sod.” Hendry rolls his eyes heavenwards and pretends to fall asleep.
The pair’s light-hearted bickering is being replicated all round the bar, which is the players’ green room for the tournament. There’s Tony Drago joshing with Joe Johnson. Dennis Taylor is sharing an apparently uproarious story with Willie Thorne. For the snooker nostalgist, it is like the grand old days again. Even Jimmy White is supposed to be playing. Though he was last seen heading off into the Portsmouth nightlife the previous evening, with a determined look on his face.