The year is 1982 and Alex Higgins is positively Gascoignesque: openly sobbing and haunted by shadows, a maverick at the brief height of his game before self-annihilation strikes again, and again, and again. It is 1984 and Steve Davis is positively Djokovician: a sporting super-robot with an air of perfect invincibility who has you half-beaten before you even start playing him. It is 1990 and Stephen Hendry is ascendant: a sporting superstar in the modern mould – clean-living, spotlessly personalityless, and unbeatable, for a time – and then, just like that, it’s all over. Sport goes in circles, Gods of Snooker (Sunday, 9pm, BBC Two) teaches us, and one day a new game will rise and an existing one will fall. John Virgo will be there throughout.
I cannot recommend this three-part series enough. Last week’s episode saw the early rise of snooker as a televised prospect – the triple-threat of the sudden availability of colour televisions; David Attenborough (!) inventing the single-frame TV snooker tournament Pot Black; and the whirlwind rise of charisma lightning bolt Higgins – when it was mainly a game played by studious ex-coppers and former miners in slightly extravagant shirts. But this week’s follows the 80s boom – a dizzying portrait of a decade where Barry Hearn could put six snooker players and Chas and Dave in a room and come out with a million-pound hit record – and it’s spectacular. Watch Gods of Snooker and marvel that anyone made it out of the 80s without making enough money to buy a yacht. I am phoning up elderly relatives this evening and asking why they didn’t think to put out a Steve Davis-themed aftershave in 1986. A little bit of foresight and I might have been driving a Porsche now.
It helps that Gods of Snooker is brilliantly made, combining the best bits from the two finest docs of recent years – The Last Dance’s sports-as-memory bit, pairing talking heads from those who were there with high-emotion, winning-after-years-of-trying footage over a stirring ambient soundtrack; and Bros: After the Screaming Stops’s clear-eyed assessment of the 80s, a decade full of rebels making and spending more money than has ever been made or spent. There are images in Gods of Snooker that stop the heart with a very particular form of British nostalgia: a working men’s club car park where each patch of tarmac shows up a slightly different colour after an hour of rain; a pub landlord tuning a stuttering TV in a room full of men in thick spectacles; a fizzy beer pulled artlessly into a pint pot at a Pontins resort.
The best documentaries make you care about something you’ve never thought about for one second in your life, and it is fair to say Gods of Snooker succeeds on that front, too. You cannot fail to be captivated by archive footage of Jimmy White spinning a ball around a table before, suddenly, decades later, the same man is in a hotel room telling you exactly how much of his winnings he spent on crack. It is impossible not to watch all three hours without thinking: “I should start a WhatsApp group and see who fancies a trip to the Crucible next year.” And, frankly, I will see you there. I’ll be the guy in the vintage Steve Davis T-shirt I paid way too much for on eBay.