“If I had to make the choice between married life and playing snooker, snooker would win.”
The Early Years
When you think of snooker, one name resonates across the ages more thatn most and that name is Ray Reardon. Ray was formerly a miner who sustained an injury in a pit accident after being trapped under rocks for three hours. Due to lack of work, he then moved with his parents to Stoke where he carved out a new career in the police force.
However beyond this humdrum life, lay a skill that he had nurtured since the age of 15. That was the cue skills of a snooker player. Playing against other greats of the valleys such as the late great Cliff Wilson, Reardon was able to amass an impressive amateur career, retaining the Welsh amateur title from 1950-1955.
His big break, no pun intended, came in 1964 when he regained the Welsh Amateur title by defeating John Spencer 11-8. As a result, he was offered to go on a tour of South Africa. This tour was so successful that it led to a subsequent tour and Ray making the decision to quit as a policeman and turn professional in 1967.
Subsequently, Reardon’s professional career took off winning the first Pot Black tournament in 1969 and his first of 6 World Championship titles by beating John Pullman 37-33 in the final.
Reardon was a grafter who decided to travel the length and breadth of the country playing at holiday camps. Butlin’s and Pontins became his bread and butter and established his name as a play and a new phenomenon of being an entertainer.Dracula was born!
“Snooker is just a game after all..but to a snooker player, it’s essential”.
Ray brought some humour to the sinister baize that had been lacking. He spoke to his opponent during the match and joked with the audience. Not only did this lighten the mood but it engaged the audience. People started to come and watch him play because they knew that they would be in hysterics or on the edge of their seats.
“If you think Alex Higgins and Jimmy White are a bit nippy round the table, then Ciff Wilson would have had your eyes popping out of your head in the 1950s.”
Reardon was one of the first players to take the game abroad, visiting countries such as Melbourne, Australia where he beat Eddie Charlton in the 1975 World Championship final. Charlton had led throughout the match but Ray won seven in a row before Charlton took it to a decider. A frame which Reardon won to lift his fourth title after beating Graham Miles the previous year.
The 1970s and 80’s
Ray dominated the game in the 70’s, winning most of the silverware, appearing with Eamonn Andrews on This is your life, thanks to a recommendation from Clive Everton and merchandising the first snooker cues and table with his name brand.
As the 70’s ended so a new guard of players emerged to challenge the Reardon dynasty and although Ray was to reach the Crucible final again, he would never lift the silver lady again. Players such as Terry Griffiths, Cliff Thorburn and Alex Higgins made sure of that.
However the early 80’s would bring a few more title, the most prominent which was dubbed Reardon’s “Indian Summer” was in 1982, drubbing Jimmy White 10-5 in Players Professional Tournament, reaching the final of the B&H Masters and winning the Yahama Organs International Masters.
The most prominent memory of Ray was when he reached the 1982 World Championship final. His opponent was the late Alex Higgins. Higgins was attempting to regain the title ten years after winning the trophy in 1972.
Both players admired each other and the match itself was going Reardon’s way until the last session. Thanks to a late surge, Higgins was able to take the game by the scruff of the neck and win. Ray was to witness a phenomenon first used in this match where Alex called for his daughter Lauren to be brought onto the floor, an occurrence that is now commonplace in most sports.
Following this run though Reardon lost his father and noticed a decline in his eyesight, despite experimenting with various glasses, he was unable to recapture his former glory, retiring from the sport in 1991 after dropping to 127 in the rankings.
Since retiring, Ray moved to Brixham in Devon becoming the President of his local golf club and enjoying life away from the spotlight. However, he did return to the game briefly for the 2005 World Championship when he coached/ mentored Ronnie O’Sullivan to victory. Reardon praised Ronnie saying:
“Ronnie O’Sullivan is the most naturally gifted player the game of snooker has ever seen”.
Now in his eighties, Reardon can be proud of his contribution to the game, acting as an early trailblazer, being involved in the first televised tournaments, the use of colour for Pot Black and moving the sport from cramped working men’s clubs to the big arenas.
Reardon may have been jovial but was a deadly long ball potter and churn out frame wins to win matches. A Welsh wonder who will never be forgotten and a man who shares a surname with my Grandfather. Although both from the valleys, sadly not related.
Recently Barry Hearn introduced a new series of events called the Open series. Played in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, each trophy had a trophy named after a prolific player from that country. The Welsh Open, yet to be played is dedicated to Ray Reardon citing the fact that he remained number one in the world from the introduction of rankings in 1976 until 1981. Reardon said of the tournament:
“It’s quite something. I’m ecstatic about it. It’s a real honour.”
Although the game may have changed since Reardon played, his presence remains in the sport. Many players cite him as one of the top ten players to ever have graced the sport and I would agree.
When you have time type his name into You Tube and watch some of his old matches. At his height, Reardon was able to combine high scoring and long ball potting with clever safety play. He literally had the cue ball on a piece of string and Could create a large break/ frame win from a difficult pot.
Like so many players of his era, Ray crafted his trade from many years of playing in small venues. The Canadian Open from the early 70’s, again available on YouTube, shows how cramped these matches were. The players and the table were literally centimetres from the audience. Long before the smoking ban, players and spectators smoked at matches and events were sponsored by cigarette companies. Players played through clouds of smoke and often sat on the steps rather than seats.
Wales has always been a hotbed of snooker for many years. Reardon joins the likes of Cliff Wilson, Doug Mountjoy, Terry Griffiths, Darren Morgan and Mark Williams. Seen as a pastime to offset the arduous labour of their day jobs, snooker became an acquired skill, Reardon always had the talent but needed to grow as a player before he could compete competitively and win tournaments and silverware.
Unlike today prize money was very low and the snooker season short with tournaments confined to the United Kingdom. Players such as Reardon had to play the exhibition circuit in order stay match fit and to earn a half decent crust.
Endurance was key to any final played as they lasted a week rather than a day. Frames were long with the long game played instead of short, attacking play.Many said Reardon won matches because he intimidated his opponent. In an interview with Ray, Steve Davis said:
“No you intimidated me! From the moment you walked into a snooker room with cue in hand, you’d be the master of the room”.
In the same interview from 2010 Reardon was asked if it was a sad day when he retired? Reardon gave a stoic response saying:
“No I let go. How could I be sad ? I owe so much to the game. I’ve got a passion for this game and I still have, I love snooker. I have a few people in the game who still ask me “Show me how to do this”…and they say “what do I owe you?” and I say “You don’t owe me nothing, if you want to know anything just give me a ring and I’ll help you”.
Reardon remains the oldest player to win a ranking tournament at 45, a feat that may only be broken by John Higgins or Ronnie O’Sullivan in the modern game. Yet like these players, he admitted that…
“the only reason he went to holiday camps was to make money”
Ray hated holiday camps privately giving his brother a job as his driver after briefly working in one and made sure he never did again by using a contact to train him as a table fitter. He was annoyed that his brother could give up a job in the Stoke potteries to become a barman in a holiday camp near Bognor Regis.
As a policeman, Reardon earned £1000 a year but following his tour of South Africa he was able to purchase a three-bedroom bungalow for £4,200 but this money came at a price. Ray had to travel 960 miles per week in order to earn this money.
To conclude, Ray Reardon was a player who was ahead of his generation and dominated the sport for over twenty years. He inspired many new players and branded a style of play that was sleek but also ruthless, capturing his opponent in either tight snookers or low scoring frames. A Welsh potter who will always be remembered and never forgotten.