Ray Reardon has today turned 80, a grand age for a grand man of snooker.
Reardon was one of snooker’s first TV stars, a formidable figure with jet-black hair and a widow’s peak which led him to be nicknamed ‘Dracula.’
It was apt for one of the game’s toughest match-players, a man with a seemingly endless resolve and very definite killer instinct.
Reardon was born on this day in 1932, between the two world wars, in Tredegar, a coal mining town in Wales.
The son of a miner, at the age of 14 he was down a pit where he was buried for several hours in a rockfall. After this, he knew mining wasn’t for him.
The Reardon family relocated to Stoke where he would eventually become a policeman, pounding the streets as a bobby but already dreaming of snooker glory.
Already Welsh amateur champion, Reardon almost won the 1956 English amateur title. He led Tommy Gordon 7-3 in the final at the end of the first day’s play but, with his first shot of the second, his tip flew off and he lost 11-9.
This was unfortunate but Reardon had always been savvy. When he met John Spencer, who would go on to be a great rival but never a close friend, in the English amateur final in 1964 the organisers asked each to send a photograph for the tournament programme.
Reardon duly sent off a picture of him wearing his snooker gear, looking a million dollars. Spencer, far more naive, sent the first photo he could find, which was him in swimming trunks.
Reardon won 11-8 and a few years later he turned professional, though this was not then the door to riches it later became.
It was hard work: flogging around the fledgling exhibition circuit in holiday camps of the UK, demand increasing due to a programme on the BBC’s new colour TV service. Pot Black would change everything.
Now, players were recognised. The World Championship reverted to knock-out format after several years as a series of challenge matches. Reardon lost 25-24 to Fred Davis in the first round in 1969 but beat Davis, Spencer and, in the final, John Pulman 37-33 a year later.
As world champion his profile rose and he could supplement his tournament earnings, such as they were, with a steady income in exhibitions.
Reardon had the mindset to dominate. He was determined but he was also acutely aware of the importance of psychology in snooker. He knew when he had an opponent on the ropes. Like his alter ego, he knew when to plunge his teeth into their necks - figuratively speaking - and not stop until they were finished.
Reardon won six world titles in the 1970s as the game grew into a professional sport with television interest rapidly increasing.
Perhaps his greatest of these came in 1975 at the Nunawading Basketball Stadium, Australia, where he recovered from 29-24 down to beat home favourite Eddie Charlton 31-30 in the final.
Reardon’s Crucible success of 1978 at the age of 45 was his last in the World Championship, although he reached the final again in 1982, losing only 18-15 to Alex Higgins. His last Crucible appearance came in 1987.
He had been snooker’s first world no.1 in 1976 and that year won the Masters and several other titles, although he had far fewer tournaments in which to play in his heyday compared to those top players who followed in his wake.
Reardon was still playing to a high standard into his 50s. He is the oldest ever ranking event winner, capturing the 1982 Professional Players Tournament at 50.
In 1988, he whitewashed the then imperious Steve Davis 5-0 in the British Open at Derby.
But Reardon’s eyesight was failing. He never took to spectacles and tried contact lenses. At the qualifiers he wore a visor to cut out the glare of the lights.
His career declined and, a proud competitor, he retired from tournament play in 1991.
Like most players who have drifted into snooker politics, Reardon’s board membership did not end well. He got mixed up in the Rex Williams regime at the end of the 1990s, which ultimately culminated in him and Williams being expelled from the WPBSA, although they were later reinstated.
I got to know him a little at around this time and found him to be both charming and eccentric. He was full of old stories, such as how Alex Higgins was drunk for at least three sessions of their 1976 world final, but also seemed interested in the modern game.
In 2004, Reardon was asked by Ronnie O’Sullivan’s father to give his son some advice. The two clicked and Reardon was in O’Sullivan’s corner when he won his second world title.
These days, Reardon is happily retired in Devon. He enjoys good food, wine and golf, a nice lifestyle which may explain why he is so well preserved.
Reardon is a name evocative of snooker’s first flowerings as a television entertainment.
Before Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins, he was top dog, the man to beat, the player everyone else wanted to be.
Like those other early players he helped foster the interest in snooker which led to the professional circuit as we know it.
For this, and his great record of achievement, we should wish him a very happy birthday.