Just four of the legendary winners of the World Championship
Just four of the legendary winners of the World Championship

Crucible champions: Every World Snooker Championship winner profiled including Alex Higgins, Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Hendry

The Crucible is hosting its 46th World Championship so we look back at all the previous winners since 1977.

John Spencer (1977)

Spencer will always occupy a special place in snooker's history. Three times a world champion, Spencer was the first to triumph at the Crucible when the tournament moved there in 1977.

When the Lancastrian first won the title, in 1969, it was a very different event, with the final held at London's Victoria Hall - legend has it that Spencer had to ask his bank for a £100 loan to cover the entry fee. Spencer claimed the title again in 1971, although the tournament was actually played between September and November 1970 in Australia. Answers on a postcard please.

By this time, Spencer was becoming better known to the public, having twice won Pot Black, the special new event shown by the BBC. And snooker was making its first tentative steps into the big time when Spencer, then 41, won at the Crucible. He beat John Pulman 18-16 in a dramatic semi-final, before seeing off Cliff Thorburn 25-21 in the final.

Spencer played on until the nineties, and remained heavily involved with the game. He had a spell as chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, and was a commentator with the BBC. Spencer died in 2006 at the age of 70.

Ray Reardon (1978)

Reardon was the dominant player of the seventies and ranks as an all-time great of the sport. The former miner and policeman won six world titles in that decade, including four in a row. The last of those in 1978 was by a distance the most high profile, when the Crucible hosted the tournament for the second time.

With the 1977 tournament being such a resounding success, the BBC greatly increased their coverage to take in the whole of the 1978 event. And millions of viewers were hooked. Welshman Reardon saw off Australian Eddie Charlton 18-14 in a gruelling semi-final, to set up a meeting in the final with South Africa's Perrie Mans. Reardon beat Mans 25-18 in the marathon three-day showpiece to make it a glorious six world crowns - he is still the oldest world champion, at 45 years and six months.

Reardon made his last appearance at the Crucible in 1987, and carried on as a professional until the early nineties. He remained involved with the sport after that, and spent some time coaching Ronnie O'Sullivan. Now aged 87, he still enjoys playing and watching the game.

Terry Griffiths (1979)

It was in so many ways a fairytale victory for Griffiths in 1979. The Welshman had a variety of jobs early in his life, including miner, bus conductor, and postman, while also enjoying a fine amateur career. Griffiths hadn’t even been a professional for a year when he came through qualifying to reach the 1979 World Championship at the Crucible.

A 13-12 victory over Alex Higgins in the quarter-finals gave Griffiths, then 31, belief he could go all the way. And he then edged out Charlton 19-17 in a gruelling semi-final. "I'm in the final now, you know," Griffiths said to the BBC's David Vine, a phrase that would become iconic in the game's history.

He needed one more push in the final against Dennis Taylor, and he performed brilliantly on the final day - which started with the scores level at 15-15 - winning nine of the ten frames played to land a life-defining 24-16 victory.

Griffiths would stay at the top of the game for many years afterwards, reaching another world final in 1988, when he lost 18-11 to Davis. He eventually stopped playing in the late nineties - his final Crucible appearance came in 1997 - but has stayed heavily involved with the game, coaching a number of top players and commentating for the BBC.

The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield
Click the image for more from Nick on the history of the Crucible

Cliff Thorburn (1980)

One of those players that fans of a certain age will always associate with snooker’s glory years. Thorburn's nickname was 'The Grinder', reflecting his careful approach to the game, but nobody was ever in any doubt that he was one of the top players of the eighties.

Thorburn became the first overseas player to win the world title when he triumphed at the Crucible in 1980. He enjoyed comfortable wins over Jim Wych and David Taylor in the last eight and four respectively, and came up against the game's great maverick, Alex Higgins, in the final. It was the first of the best-of-35 finals - those are still with us 40 years on. And Thorburn, with the help of some unwise showboating from Higgins, came from behind to win 18-16.

Thorburn went on to shine throughout the decade. He famously became the first player to make a 147 at the Crucible in 1983 - we were all wishing him 'good luck, mate' along with BBC commentator Jack Karnehm. He lost 18-6 in the final that year to Steve Davis. Thorburn also won three Masters titles at Wembley. He retired in the mid-nineties, but to this day adores the game, and is a regular and very welcome visitor to Sheffield for the closing stages of the World Championship.

Steve Davis (1981, 1983, 1984, 1987, 1988, 1989)

Simply one of the true greats of snooker, Davis totally dominated the eighties. Such was the sport’s popularity in those boom times, the Londoner wasn't just a well-known snooker player, but one of the most famous people in Britain. He even had his own Spitting Image puppet.

Davis claimed his first world title in 1981, beating Doug Mountjoy 18-12 in the final - remember him being nearly poleaxed by his celebrating manager Barry Hearn?

After a shock first round defeat to Tony Knowles in 1982, Davis made it three world titles with victories in 1983 and 1984 - beating Thorburn and Jimmy White respectively in the finals. He was an unfortunate loser to Dennis Taylor in the most famous snooker match ever played in 1985, and was then stunned by Joe Johnson in the final 12 months later. But Davis dusted himself down to beat Johnson in the 1987 showpiece, before comfortable wins over Griffiths in 1988 and John Parrott in 1989 to make it a magnificent six titles.

Davis soon made way for Stephen Hendry in the nineties, but the Englishman still had his moments, winning the 1997 Masters and even reaching the Crucible quarter-finals in 2010, when he was 52, beating John Higgins along the way. Davis eventually retired in 2016, but is still a commentator and pundit for the BBC at the big events, and is probably the sport’s finest ambassador. Plus of course, there's his unlikely second life as a club DJ. All very interesting, Steve.

Alex Higgins (1982)

Charismatic, mercurial, erratic. There's never been anyone quite like Higgins. His contribution to snooker could never be underplayed - he was quite simply a huge factor in its transformation from pleasant pastime to national obsession.

Higgins won his first world title in 1972, beating John Spencer 37-32 in the final. That match was played at the now demolished Selly Park British Legion in Birmingham, with some fans sitting on upturned beer crates to watch. The Crucible was a very different venue of course, and Higgins had already lost a world final to Thorburn in 1980 when he went all the way in 1982.

The semi-final against Jimmy White that year was a match for the ages, the remarkable Higgins break of 69 in the penultimate frame of his 16-15 win rightly revered by snooker fans of all generations. Higgins beat Reardon 18-15 in the final, his 'baby, my baby' tearful celebrations afterwards giving the sport one of its most vivid ever images.

The Northern Irishman never really got close to those heights again on the table, and his life away from snooker was sadly characterised by chaos and disorder. Higgins died in 2010 at the age of 61.

Dennis Taylor (1985)

Another of those characters that symbolised snooker's arrival in the big time. The whole country recognised those upside down glasses. Taylor had already lost a world final, in 1979 to Griffiths, and been beaten in three other semi-finals, when he took part in a match that captivated a nation six years later.

The Northern Irishman was 8-0 down to Davis in the 1985 final, but superbly fought back to trail only 9-7 after the first day. He kept pace with the Englishman all the way as the match approached its climax and he battled back from 17-15 behind to draw level at 17-17 and set up a deciding frame.

We've all seen the key moments a million times, haven't we? Especially Davis missing with that attempt to cut the black in - 'No', Ted Lowe memorably said in the commentary box - and then Taylor, almost visibly shaking, as red as a beetroot, approaching the table for the biggest shot of his life. He nailed it, and proceeded to bang his cue on the carpet and waggle his finger to say 'I told you so' - it was one of Sheffield's most memorable celebrations.

Taylor carried on playing later than most remember - his last appearance at the Crucible was in 1994, and he didn't retire until 2000. Now 71, Taylor, who started commentating in the eighties, remains a familiar voice for millions of viewers at all the big BBC events.

Joe Johnson (1986)

It's still hard to think there's ever been a bigger shock at the Crucible than Johnson winning in 1986. The Bradford man, who was something of a singer in his spare time, had never won a tournament before, and in his two previous appearances in Sheffield, was knocked out in the first round.

But the 150/1 tournament outsider was a man inspired in 1986. Everyone started to really sit up and take notice when Johnson brilliantly recovered from 12-9 behind to beat Griffiths 13-12 in the quarter-finals. He easily beat Knowles in the semi-finals, to set up a showdown with the great Davis.

Hardly anybody gave Johnson a prayer. But he simply potted Davis into submission in Sheffield that weekend, with one of the finest performances ever seen at that hallowed venue. Johnson fully deserved his 18-12 victory. The sight of him shaking his head in disbelief as he smashed in the colours in the final frame has stayed in the memory. "I hope that we can still be friends," Johnson said across to Davis while talking to Vine after the match.

Johnson actually reached the final again 12 months later, losing 18-14 to Davis. He did win a couple of other tournaments, but his career never got near those heights again - the Crucible in 1986 remained his only ranking success. He eventually retired in 2005, and is now a commentator with Eurosport.

Joe Johnson won the 1986 world snooker title

Stephen Hendry (1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999)

Many judges still believe Hendry is the greatest player of them all. There's no doubt he's the most successful player in Crucible history. In fact, his seven world titles in the nineties made him one of the finest winners in the history of British sport.

We knew from an early stage that Hendry would be special. He won his first ranking event, the Grand Prix in 1987, at the age of 18. And he was just 21 when he celebrated victory at the Crucible for the first time.

Hendry's first four world finals were all against Jimmy White - wins in 1990 and 1993 were fairly routine, but the 1992 and 1994 finals were epic. In 1992, he came from 14-8 down and claimed 10 frames in a row to win 18-14. Two years later, a Crucible classic for the ages went to a deciding frame, which Hendry pinched after White missed a black off its spot. Comfortable victories over Nigel Bond in 1995 and Peter Ebdon in 1996 then made it six world titles.

Hendry surprisingly lost in the 1997 final to Ken Doherty and in the first round to White a year later, but he bounced back to see off Mark Williams in the 1999 final for a seventh world crown. He later reached another final, losing 18-17 to Ebdon in 2002, and was still playing to a high standard when he surprisingly retired in 2012, having just been thrashed in a world quarter-final by Stephen Maguire. Hendry is now a forthright commentator and pundit with the BBC and ITV.

Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White faced each other in four finals in the 1990s

John Parrott (1991)

For some years, Parrott was right at the top of the game. He made his Crucible debut as a 19-year-old in 1984. And in 1989, he went all the way to the final. His first experience of the Sheffield showpiece wasn't a happy one however, as he was thrashed 18-3 by Steve Davis, losing with a session to spare. But that experience would serve him well two years later.

Parrott edged out Terry Griffiths 13-10 in a tight quarter-final at the 1991 tournament, before brilliantly beating Davis 16-10 in the last four. It was Parrott against White in the final, and the likeable Liverpudlian was just too good on that May Day weekend, winning 18-11. It was his finest hour. And it truly was a dream year for Parrott - later in 1991, he also won his only UK Championship title.

He never got as far as the semi-finals at the Crucible again in the rest of his career, playing there for the last time in 2007, before retiring a few years later. He is now an integral part of the BBC team at the triple crown events, and is something of a wider media personality too - for some years, he was a team captain on the BBC’s long-running quiz show A Question of Sport.

Ken Doherty (1997)

Doherty claimed his first ranking event in 1993, the Welsh Open, but one quarter-final in his four first Crucible appearances wasn't much to write home about. Then came 1997, a truly stellar year for the Irishman in Sheffield.

Doherty had already beaten Steve Davis and John Higgins before he easily dispatched Canadian Alain Robidoux 17-7 in the semi-finals. But now came the biggest test of all, against Hendry, who hadn't lost a match at the Crucible since 1991. Doherty was quite brilliant in the final however, winning 18-12 for a glorious success.

He was given a hero's welcome back in his hometown of Dublin. The city's Chief Superintendent told Doherty that Dublin's central police station didn't receive a single call on the last night of the final. That's the power of snooker, you see: it can even halt crime.

Doherty actually came the closest to defying the Crucible curse since Joe Johnson a decade before when he also reached the 1998 final, losing to Higgins. He was then runner-up in 2003, Mark Williams defying his spirited comeback to claim a narrow 18-16 victory. Doherty appeared at the Crucible as recently as 2014, and at the age of 50 he still plays on tour, while being a well-respected member of the BBC commentary team.

John Higgins (1998, 2007, 2009, 2011)

The first of the fabled Class of 92 - Higgins, Williams and Ronnie O'Sullivan - to claim the world title. Higgins was clearly destined for big things in the sport, having won his first ranking event as a 19-year-old, the Grand Prix in 1994.

He looked ominously good throughout the 1998 tournament. A superb 17-9 win over O'Sullivan in the semi-finals saw him through to the showpiece, and a meeting with Doherty, which he won 18-12. In the process, Higgins took over from Hendry as world number one.

It was then a major surprise when Higgins waited nine years to lift the trophy for a second time, beating Mark Selby 18-13 in the 2007 final. That set up a glorious few years for the Scot in Sheffield - he comfortably beat Shaun Murphy 18-9 to win the 2009 title and then showed all his experience to see off young pretender Judd Trump 18-15 in a thrilling 2011 final.

To his great credit, Higgins has continued to shine well into his forties, and rather remarkably, he has gone on to reach three more Crucible finals. They've all ended in painful defeats however, to Selby, Williams and Trump respectively. You'd be foolish to write off Higgins for the future - you suspect there's a fair bit of snooker life left in him yet.

Mark Williams (2000, 2003, 2018)

The silky smooth Welshman has always been a delight to watch. Here's someone who prefers to glide balls into the pockets. But his steel should never be underestimated either. Williams might not always be as heralded as Higgins or O'Sullivan, but he is undoubtedly one of the all-time greats.

Williams won his first ranking event at the age of 20, the 1996 Welsh Open, and then first reached the world final in 1999, losing 18-11 to Hendry. He went all the way 12 months later at the Crucible, his success in 2000 coming courtesy of two epic wins. First, he saw off Higgins 17-15 in a high quality semi-final, before coming from behind to beat Matthew Stevens 18-16 in the final. In 2003, Williams came out on top of the snooker world again, holding his nerve against Doherty to edge home in the final.

That really did look like his lot in terms of world titles, before a fairytale victory late in his career in 2018. Williams watched the 2017 tournament from a caravan, having failed to qualify, and he strongly considered retiring from snooker. But wife Joanne talked him out of that, and Williams enjoyed a fine season before turning it on in incredible fashion at the Crucible.

He beat Barry Hawkins 17-15 in an epic semi-final before taking part in what many see as the greatest world final of them all. Fuelled by kebabs and sweets, Williams edged to an 18-16 victory over Higgins, in a wonderful encounter. Fifteen years after his last Crucible success, he was king of the world again at the age of 43. He kept his promise to speak to the press without any clothes on, and has pretty much partied ever since.

Ronnie O'Sullivan (2001, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2020)

Arguably the best snooker player of all time. Hendry may have more world titles, seven to O'Sullivan's five, but it's hard to believe anybody has ever played the game with more natural flare. The word genius, which should be used sparingly, is appropriate here. Plus there's the longevity factor - O'Sullivan won his first tournament in 1993 and his latest in 2019.

When you consider he claimed his first ranking event at the age of 17, the 1993 UK Championship, it was something of a surprise that he waited until 2001 for his first world title. O'Sullivan beat Higgins 18-14 in the final that year, for a win that many suspected would open the floodgates for more to follow. And O'Sullivan had it all his own way in his next three world finals, easily beating Graeme Dott in 2004, and Ali Carter in both 2008 and 2012.

His finest Sheffield triumph surely came in 2013 - O'Sullivan had taken the whole of the 2012/13 season off, only to return for the Crucible. He beat Barry Hawkins 18-12 in a final of tremendous quality, O’Sullivan firing in six centuries, for his fifth title.

Suddenly, O'Sullivan had Hendry's seven world crowns in his sights, but then came his most damaging defeat in Sheffield, in the 2014 final. He lost a lead to Selby - remember him smashing that pink to middle and missing? - and went down 18-14.

He struggled to get that close to a sixth title in the next six staging, even losing to an amateur player, James Cahill, in the first round in 2019, but did reach the summit once more during the mostly behind closed doors event of 2020 - thanks largely to an unforgettable comeback against Selby in the last four - to give us all a much needed lift during the pandemic.

Ronnie O'Sullivan is world champion for a sixth time
Ronnie O'Sullivan is world champion for a sixth time

Peter Ebdon (2002)

Ebdon possibly doesn't always get the recognition and respect he deserves from outside snooker. The Englishman won his first ranking event, the Grand Prix, in 1993 and then reached his first world final in 1996. He had to give best to Hendry, losing 18-12, but six years later he ruled the snooker world.

It says so much about Ebdon's reserves of nerve and steel that both his semi-final and final in the 2002 tournament went all the way to a deciding frame. In the last four, he edged out Matthew Stevens 17-16, and then in the final he produced the gutsy snooker of his life to beat Hendry 18-17. That's still the last final to go all the way. The resilient Ebdon had contested 68 frames in the last five days of the tournament.

The Londoner also reached the showpiece again in 2006, when he took part in a final against Graeme Dott that gave a whole new meaning to the word gruelling. Ebdon went down to an 18-14 defeat, in a final that finished at nearly one o'clock in the morning.

The toughest of competitors, his grinding style has sometimes driven other players to distraction - remember O'Sullivan suffering in his chair in the 2005 quarter-finals? - but he is widely respected throughout the game. Ebdon, who turns 50 in August, last played in the World Championship in 2017 and is still on the main tour.

Shaun Murphy (2005)

Murphy was the first qualifier to win the tournament since Terry Griffiths more than a quarter of a century earlier when he went all the way in 2005.

In his two previous appearances at the Crucible, in 2002 and 2003, he had lost in the first round, and he was a 150/1 outsider in 2005. However, he rose to his task in brilliant fashion that spring. Murphy hammered Steve Davis 13-4 in the last eight, before seeing off Peter Ebdon 17-12 in the semi-finals. The final against Matthew Stevens was a typically dramatic Sheffield affair, Murphy coming from behind to win 18-16. Almost overnight, Murphy, who was then very open about being a devout Christian, went from complete unknown to recognisable public figure.

Some observers will insist Murphy has since underachieved, but he's certainly still had a terrific career, which has also included a UK Championship and Masters success. He reached two more world finals too - he was heavily beaten 18-9 by John Higgins in 2009 and then edged out 18-15 by Stuart Bingham in 2015.

After the worst season of his career in 2018/19, Murphy has been very strong during this current campaign, picking up two ranking titles. He's still well capable of another Crucible success before he hangs his cue up.

Graeme Dott (2006)

Possibly the most unsung Sheffield winner of them all, Dott's year of glory came in 2006. He had already reached a world final, being easily beaten by Ronnie O'Sullivan in 2004, before being the last man standing two years later.

Dott held his nerve to win a dramatic quarter-final 13-12 against Neil Robertson in the 2006 tournament, before seeing off O'Sullivan 17-11 in the last four. The final is the stuff of Crucible folklore, and not for entirely the right reasons. Dott against Peter Ebdon wasn't for the faint of heart. It just went on and on and on. Eventually, Dott sealed an 18-14 win at nearly 1am. Imagine if the final score had been 18-17?

Dott has had a strange career in many ways, only winning one other ranking tournament to go with his world title. He did reach another Crucible final, in 2010, losing to Robertson.

The redoubtable Dott is still very much treading the boards - he remains a Crucible regular, and reached the final of a ranking event, the World Grand Prix, earlier this year. A fearsome will to win and granite tenacity still characterises his game, and the Scot deserves greater credit.

Neil Robertson (2010)

Robertson is undoubtedly one of the top players of his generation. The Australian first claimed a ranking event in 2006, the Grand Prix, and had reached a quarter-final and semi-final at the Crucible before his year of triumph in 2010.

Robertson produced an amazing comeback in the last 16, coming from 11-5 behind to beat Martin Gould 13-12. He was fortunate to then meet a 52-year-old Steve Davis in the quarter-finals, winning 13-5. Robertson beat Ali Carter 17-12 in the last four, to set up a showdown in the final with Dott.

Unfortunately that final was somewhat overshadowed by a Sunday newspaper making damaging allegations against one of the game's top stars, John Higgins, but the show had to go on in Sheffield, and Robertson powered his way to an 18-13 victory.

It's something of a surprise that Robertson has only reached one semi-final in the decade since then - he's also won UK Championship and Masters titles to complete the celebrated Triple Crown set - but he's had a superb 2019/20 season so far, and more Crucible glory would certainly come as no surprise.

Mark Selby (2014, 2016, 2017, 2021)

The player of the decade just gone, Selby has to go down as an all-time great of the game. Three world titles in four years, not to mention multiple UK Championship and Masters successes, guaranteed him that status before he added a fourth last year.

Selby was already an eight-ball pool world champion by the time he reached his first Crucible final in 2007. Higgins was too good for him on that occasion, winning 18-13. Seven years later, he made the showpiece match again, and this time he came up against O'Sullivan.

Selby, fatigued after his marathon 17-15 semi-final win over Robertson, started slowly but fought back. A turning point seemed to be O'Sullivan missing a simple pink to middle in the final frame of the third session, allowing Selby to move 12-11 ahead. The Leicester man could see the finishing line, and he was inspired on the final night, sealing an 18-14 victory.

After failing to defy the Crucible curse in 2015 (naturally), Selby won the title again in 2016, this time beating Ding Junhui in the final, 18-14. At almost the exact moment he was clinching the win, his beloved Leicester City were crowned Premier League champions, a miracle 5,000/1 success and a memorable double celebration for Selby in Sheffield.

Selby made it three world titles when he came from 10-4 behind to beat Higgins 18-15 in a tremendous 2017 final. After a couple of years of relative disappointment since then, he bounced back with a fine 2019/20 campaign which culminated in a painful semi-final defeat to O'Sullivan.

Many felt it could take him a long time to get over the manner of that disappointment but the following year he got his hands on the famous trophy yet again.

Stuart Bingham (2015)

One of the Crucible's great fairytales. That's the only way to describe Bingham's 2015 world title win. The Englishman was something of a journeyman before blooming late on in his career - his first ranking tournament win came in Australia in 2011, when he was 35.

He certainly did it the hard way in the 2015 tournament too, beating O'Sullivan 13-9 in the quarter-finals and Judd Trump 17-16 in a titanic semi-final. The final against Murphy was a joy to watch, remaining unpredictable throughout. From 15-15 on the final night, Bingham produced when it really mattered, to win three frames in a row and close out an 18-15 victory.

"Winner, winner, chicken dinner," Bingham told the BBC's Hazel Irvine as he prepared for a long night of celebrations. Many of the newspapers had a smiling Bingham on their back pages the following morning. It was truly one of Sheffield's great stories.

Bingham has had his difficult times since that success, not least when he was given a six-month suspension for breaching snooker's betting regulations, but he has continued to pick up decent tournament wins along the way, including the Masters earlier this year. You suspect there's a fair bit more to come from him too.

Judd Trump (2019)

When the precociously talented Trump went all the way to the 2011 Crucible final as a 21-year-old, it seemed like the snooker world was his oyster. But his inexperience showed in going down to an 18-15 defeat to Higgins, and despite claiming the UK title later in 2011, a world crown eluded him in the years following.

However, Trump has just enjoyed the best two years of his career, seemingly helped by having his brother Jack along for company. A thumping victory over O'Sullivan in the 2019 Masters final gave him all the confidence he needed, and Crucible glory came his way a few months later.

Trump enjoyed plenty of good fortune in beating Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 10-9 in the first round, but from that point onwards, it looked like destiny. Trump saw off Ding, Stephen Maguire and Gary Wilson to set up a meeting in the final with Higgins – a repeat of the 2011 showpiece.

The Bristol man produced the finest performance ever seen in a Crucible a final, making seven centuries in a sparkling 18-9 win. Higgins didn't play badly, he was just blitzed off the table. And the brilliance from Trump has continued this season, with him claiming a record six ranking titles.

If the World Championship does eventually take place this year, Trump will clearly be a hot favourite. Could that curse finally be broken?

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