Early signs of promise
Born in Tredegar, Wales on 8th October, 1932, Ray Reardon spent his early years entrenched in the life of a coal-mining community. As was the expected course of action for a young man in his position, he finished his education at the age of 14 and entered into a life of work in the mines.
Although his working hours would be taken up in this role, it was in his leisure hours that he developed the special talent at the game that would eventually go on to make his name in the world.
Spending hours at the local snooker club, it soon became apparent that he was displaying a more than average talent at the game, and it is rumoured that, in order to protect his hands, he would always wear a pair of gloves down the mines to preserve them for the evening’s entertainment. It was this care and appreciation of his talents that would lead him on to become one of the best snooker players the game has ever seen.
Change of direction
Reardon’s career in the mines did not last long. After suffering a near-disastrous accident underground, he took the decision to leave the mines and instead joined the police force. Although snooker remained a large part of his life, he was still unprepared to take the step that would see him turn professional.
However, his amateur career was going from strength to strength. Between the years 1950 and 1955, he won 6 Welsh Amateur titles in a row, which clearly showed that he was already becoming one of the leading young figures of the sport in Wales. Throughout this time he entered into a friendly rivalry with Cliff Wilson, another up-and-coming Welsh player. However, it would be Reardon who would go on to the greater glory.
In 1964, he built upon his Welsh Amateur titles by winning the English Amateur title, and it was these high-profile victories that finally led him to the decision to turn professional in 1967. This was not an easy decision for Reardon. He had a steady job and a family to support, and making the move to turn pro, when he did not even own a house, was a difficult and daunting one.
Success, however, came swiftly. He made his first appearance at the World Cup only two years later in 1969, and won the first ever Pot Black, the made-for-television snooker tournament, in the same year.
This brought him instant recognition, and set him up as one of the players responsible for bringing snooker to the attention of the masses throughout the 1970s, capitalising on its rise to prominence around the world.
Style of play
His style was precise and deadly. Known as a great tactician, he mastered the safety game, and was perhaps the greatest to do so until the emergence on the scene of a certain Steve Davis. His entertaining personality never had a negative effect on his game, which he took incredibly seriously, and he seemed to switch effortlessly between these two contrasting personas.
The glory years
In 1970 he won his first World Cup. It would be the first of many, as he went on to dominate the competition for the next half decade, including the four straight wins from 1973-76. His skill was unparalleled as he played for 17 World Cup matches without defeat. In 1976 he also took home the prestigious Benson & Hedges Masters trophy, capping off a remarkable run of form and success.
However, the 1976 World Cup final victory over Alex Higgins also saw the greatest controversy of his career. Both players had won their respective draws, and due to the format of the title in those days, Reardon then had to move to Wythenshawe to play the final, where Higgins had been playing for the entire tournament.
Reardon was given an hour’s practice on the table to get used to it, but this did not seem enough for him. He picked up on so many supposed problems with the table which had to be addressed, that many saw this as unfair to Higgins. Others, however, would simply say that he acted within his rights, as Higgins had certainly enjoyed a great deal of practice on the table which had perhaps given him an advantage. As it was, Reardon took the trophy with relative ease.
Reardon’s popularity rocketed, and as such he became worthy of a nickname. Although he was a great crowd pleaser due to his entertaining style of play and his personality, he ended up taking the slightly sinister name of ‘Dracula’ due to his distinguishable V-shaped hairline, and it stuck for the rest of his career.
The later years
Reardon’s unbeaten run in the World Cup came to an end in 1977, when he lost to John Spencer in the quarter finals. Such an event can have a negative impact on a player’s character but, determined not to be put down, he came back the following year to triumph once again and win his sixth World Cup title. In doing so, he became the oldest player at 45 years and 6 months ever to lift the trophy. Although he would never recapture the glory of his golden years, his playing days were still not over. He went on to prove this by taking the Pot Black title once more in 1979.
His achievements speak of a remarkable career. He became the first ever Number 1 ranked player when records began in 1976, and kept a firm grip on this title until the 1980/81 season. However, by recapturing the title once more in 1982, he became one of only a select handful of players ever to reclaim the top spot, firmly marking his name amongst the best of the game.
However, in that same year his father died, which seemed to have a negative impact on Reardon’s game. In a double blow, his vision also began to deteriorate at around the same time, which forced him to begin wearing large and slightly comical glasses. As a result of these two factors, his form never really got back to the glory days of the previous decade.
In 1985 he was awarded the MBE for his services to snooker, recognizing the fact that he was arguably the greatest player that Wales had ever produced.
He still enjoys involvement in the game, albeit in a more behind-the-scenes role. He has lately been working with Ronnie O’Sullivan, who he has claimed to be ‘the most naturally gifted player the game of snooker has ever seen’. And with Reardon’s masterful skill behind him, O’Sullivan certainly enjoys a huge advantage over his competitors.
Reardon’s philosophy can be summed up in his own words. ‘I cannot remember anyone asking "Who came second?" Can you?’ It is this determination to win, combined with his incredible skill, that has led him to his position of one of the all-time greats.