Snooker players fall into the categories of deadly sharpshooters, cunning tacticians, precise long-potters and charismatic entertainers.
At a time when the sport went global, Ray Reardon dominated the scene
and embodied all four.
The Tredegar-born snooker legend talks coal mines, dodgy nicknames,
and being ‘number one’ with Inside Welsh Sport.
Ray, is it true you worked in the coal mines of Tredegar from the age of 14?
“Yes, I was down in the mines from the age of 14. But I’ve always played snooker, I entered in the boys and junior championships of Wales from the age of 12. I never won anything though!”
Did you ever dream at that stage that you would go on to become a six time Snooker World Champion?
“Well I never won a title for 10 years. It was a valuable experience though, I just kept saying I’d win the next one.”
What opportunities were there at the time in Tredegar for young snooker players wishing to practice and improve?
“No, we weren’t allowed to play anywhere! You couldn’t go into a pub and play and that’s all they had in Tredegar. You weren’t allowed to go into the Mining Welfare Institute until you were 16, but because I was a miner and my father was too, the foundation made an exception. We went down on a Thursday for a couple of hours before the run of the mill came in.”
So did your Father play snooker?
“Yes, he had four bothers and they all played, they often encouraged me.”
You really rode the wave of TV popularity that Snooker endured during the 70s, and really dominated the sport through the decade. Do you feel that the larger than life personalities of characters such as yourself and Hurricane Higgins are responsible for raising the profile of snooker to where it is today?
“Well Hurricane Higgins came along, Dennis Taylor came along. We did raise the profile. Round about 1974, with the cross-over to colour coverage on television, it was a time when Canadians came over. Players even came over from Africa to raise the profile truly world wide.”
Do you feel Snooker as a viewing spectacle has changed since your career, many of the current players are sometimes accused of not bringing enough showmanship to the game? There were certainly a lot of entertainers in the 70s.
“Well, look at the ages of the players. They’re younger, that is all that’s changed.”
Really? You feel that’s the only change?
“Same size table with the same amount of balls on it, the pockets are in the same place!”
Some people say there are less ‘characters’ in the modern game…
“I suppose there are less characters really. I don’t blame the players for that, but they’re young, they have time to generate personality. Nobody really wins it regularly, that’s a problem, they are all young lads with managers and agents. Those managers and agents don’t really let them show their personality, the young players aren’t allowed to give their own version of what happens in the game. They’re instructed what to say and do, I don’t agree with that, you should be allowed to give your opinion on things. Players don’t get a chance to get together after the game and chat about what happened after a pint like we did.”
Was that more common when you played, was there more of a sense of comradery?
“Well you haven’t got a Pot Black anymore, we had 8 or 10 invited players who used to get together often. But the standards of the modern game have gone up, dress standards have lowered though! Players don’t even wear ties anymore because they say it’s too restrictive. Nonsense.”
When you turned pro, snooker seemed to enjoy a new wave of popularity, did you feel partly responsible for this?
“I started in 1967 and there was nothing happening then, there were no world championships. I turned professional when John Spencer did, then Gary Owen and Dennis Taylor. That changed everything, we brought it alive again. Spencer won it in 1969 and I won it the next year.”
And then you also won Pot Black in…
“…1969. It was the first one! It didn’t hit me at the time because I won it in October, but it wasn’t aired until May of 1970. Well that was straight after the World Championship so it was sort of a double whammy.”
Is it possible to explain the feeling of being “world number 1”? It’s something that every sportsman dreams of, whether professional or amateur.
“Well when I made it to number one I kept the title for 11 years. Even though I didn’t win it every year I became number one because I won all the other titles as well, and that’s what kept me up there. It felt fantastic to be the world champion. If you became world champion then number one was next on the check list, but the championships were the main thing because the best of the best were there.”
And out of all your titles and accolades, do any hold a particularly special place?
“Definitely the first, but they were all very special to me. 1975 in Australia was special because I played Eddie Charlton in the final. Out of 4000 people, about 3996 of them were Australian and me and 3 others were probably the only Welsh. I liked that of course, it spurred me on and gave me adrenaline. At one point I was 29-23 down, I came back to win it 31-30. That felt special.
It did look special! Was that when Ray Reardon began to take off as a brand? My grandfather even used one of your signature cues in the local leagues during the 70s.
“Oh really? He has great taste. Well that happened straight away actually, in 1969. I went to South Africa on a tour with a guy called Ken Shaw, he promoted me throughout South Africa and also got my name onto a cue to be used by thousands of people all over the world.”
How did it feel to be nicknamed Dracula by your fans, this must have been part of the Ray Reardon brand?
“Well that came through in 1974, in the World Championship final against Graham Miles. I was sponsored by a company called Marsdon international, they gave me a red jacket and black cloak to wear in the final. I threw it over my shoulder rakishly because the inside had a red lining, and with my teeth as sharp as they were in those days I was nicknamed Dracula. I loved it, it was excellent. It was very important to me, and all done in good taste.”
Do you have any regrets from your career, or is there anything you wish you did differently?
“In the game? No. I maybe would not have gone on the long 5 month tours. I would stick to two or three weeks because I think that breaks your marriage up. You’re away too long from your family, you know? Other than that I wouldn’t change anything. I never got involved in the politics of the game, so I have no regrets there.”
Did you draw on your playing experiences when mentoring Ronnie O’Sullivan?
“Well, I’ve never seen a better player than he is. I’ve never seen a better potter, better cueist, or a better tactician. There were only certain areas where I was able to help him. As a result of that, the year I went with him I got him the world championship. We worked on psychological factors as well, like how to compose yourself and what to do when you’re sitting down. I was excited and honoured when he asked me, it bought me another 10 years in life and made me younger.
You’re quoted as saying ‘I cannot remember anyone asking “Who came second?” Can you?’ is it this determination to win that led you to success in Snooker?
“That’s right, I never heard anybody asking who came second. Who won it yes, but not second place. But the first time I ever played in a final I did come second, that was the championships of GB in 1948.”
Ray now prefers the golf club to the snooker cue, and happens to be working off of a better handicap than this young journalist. He is the president of Churston Golf Club in Devon where you can play a round with Dracula himself. In a statement on the club website, Ray invites members of the club to chat to him if they see him, showing the snooker hero’s warm nature. A true gentlemen and legend of the sport.