Reprinted complete and substantially unchanged from “World Snooker with Jack Karnehm No.2” by John Carty and Jack Karnehm, Pelham Books, London (1981) © John Carty 1981 – 2014. All rights reserved.







‘Don’t tell me you’ve got a snooker story. There’s only one story in snooker – Ray Reardon beat somebody, and that’s not news.’ So said the sports editor of a national newspaper in 1976 and in his own misguided way he summarized the complete and utter dominance of the game that Reardon had attained in those days.

Ray had won the world professional championship for the first time in April 1970, beating John Pulman 37-33 in the final, but he held the title for only six months because the championship was staged again in November of that year in Australia and Ray lost to John Spencer, who went on to win the title.

Although Ray was a world champion, a noted player and a ‘man of respect’ he seemed an unlikely superstar. John Spencer had a livelier, more modern image and he was the darling of the fans and the newspapers, who called him ‘King John’.

Spencer was one of the lads, a fact much appreciated by the inner circle of snooker supporters, while Reardon was a former policeman, a fact which some fans did not appreciate and which caused them to hold back their adulation, perhaps fearing that he’d ‘take down their particulars’ if they applauded too loudly.

In those days it was a struggle for any man to establish himself in a full-time snooker career, and although by 1972 Ray was a good earner, his early days of hardship were not far behind him and he knew that one world championship win would not keep him at the top of the tree. The danger that he could slip back into the ranks and be just another professional player was never far from his mind.

Ray was immensely lucky that his wife Sue – probably the most efficient wife in snooker – was able to play an active part in his early professional years, looking after the business side of his life. She posted advertising circulars, dealt with his bookings and coped with the growing volume of fan mail with warmth and attention to detail that not only allowed Ray to concentrate on his snooker but also constituted a great public relations exercise for him.

Promoters, agents and managers could trust Sue, and this businesslike handling of his affairs (quite unusual in snooker at that time) did as much as anything to tell the world that this was a professional man.

In 1972 the spotlight turned from Spencer and Reardon to Alex Higgins and the unpredictable young Irishman attracted more publicity from more sources than snooker had ever known. Not all of that publicity was good, not all of it pleased the older players, and even as early as 1973 Alex was being fined the equivalent of $400 by the WPBSA (the world governing body) for alleged bad behavior, turning up late at matches and, as Ted Corbett, then of the Daily Mirror put it, ‘for being Alex Higgins’.

But, like it or not, the publicity generated by Alex created a new awareness of snooker and it attracted promoters and public in increasing numbers to the benefit of all players.

Reardon, the professional man, played on. He was the man to fear in any tournament. No one minded playing Alex – ‘He gives you so many chances’ – but the players could see that Reardon had tightened and polished his game, which had been hard enough to beat anyway.

In the 1973 world final Reardon had the worst possible start, losing the first session 7-0 to Eddie Charlton. He came back to win the next three sessions, but by the eighth session the television lighting had been installed. Ray was very unhappy with the effects of the lighting and couldn’t see properly. In those days the professionals had not had much experience of playing under television lights and the TV technicians had even less experience of snooker.

The result was that the lighting was very fierce and, of course, much more widely spread than the customary three light bulbs under a table shade. The heat from the television lights also dried out the table and when a TV crew arrived for any snooker final their lights would alter the speed of the table.

Even when the players could see the balls they couldn’t do so much with them but had to roll balls and play them under-strength because the table was so fast. Nowadays the television lights are installed at the beginning of a big tournament so that there is no great change in the conditions throughout.

However, in that 1973 final Ray was not happy with the lighting and told the tournament director so. The lighting was reduced and Ray went on to take his second world title, beating Eddie by 38 frames to 32.

The incident with the lights is very characteristic of Reardon. He is not a man to suffer imperfections gladly and his career has been littered with protests and complaints about poor tables, unsatisfactory conditions or inept referees.

There was a period in snooker’s growth when organizers thought they had done well enough to stage a tournament at all, and that players should overlook inconveniences like beer crates instead of seats or scoreboards obscured by someone’s coat.

In general, the players suffered in silence and they were afraid that any complaint in a big tournament might lead to the sponsors withdrawing the following year or, just as bad, not inviting the complainer next time.

Reardon would have none of that: taking his example from Joe Davis – not a man to suffer defects gladly, or at all – Ray insisted on speaking up when things were not to his liking. On occasion this caused bitter rows especially when, in as in the Watneys Final in Leeds in 1975, he demanded the removal of the referee and marker following some confusion about the score in his match with Alex Higgins.

The referees in those days were non-professionals, working for virtually nothing, with no recognized means of redress, and it was thought to be unfair of Reardon to pick on them. The answer to that was to improve the quality of refereeing generally, not merely to offer the referees sympathy.

Again, in 1976 Reardon’s objections to referee Bill Timms in the final of the world championship led to Timms withdrawing ‘due to illness’ during the final and being replaced by John Williams. In this same championship Reardon, who had played all his earlier matches in Middlesbrough, arrived for the final stage in Manchester and complained about the television lighting (which was bad) and the table (about which other players were unhappy but had made no complaint). Reardon asserted that the table was not level and demanded that it be ‘put right’.

This insistence on improved conditions caused bad feelings and resentment against Ray, who stood unmoved and unwilling to accept less than the best. He made enemies, no doubt, but when professional players today consider the near-perfect conditions at the Crucible Theatre and other big championships, where promoters have taken every factor and contingency into account, do these players cast their minds back to those days of not so long ago and mutter ‘Thanks, Ray.’ They probably don’t, but they should.

But back to 1973, and Ray was on top of the world again. He was in constant demand and was one of the most popular players to visit countries like Australia and South Africa. In 1974 he began to look invincible as he took the world title for the third time, beating Graham Miles in the final.

In 1975 the world championship was played in Australia and no one had any doubt as to who would win it. Eddie Charlton, who claims he can never play his best in England and was the best prospect to topple Reardon, reached the final and indeed looked certain to win the title.

Ray took a lead of 19-17 but Eddie took eight frames in a row and led 28-23. Reardon put the pressure on Eddie, and leveled the match 30-30. A break of 62 in the last frame gave Ray the title, depriving Eddie of what was probably the best chance in his life of winning the world championship.

At this time probably only Alex Higgins and Eddie Charlton genuinely believed they could beat Reardon. Everyone else, especially the lower rated players who have to be beaten on the way to the final, were defeated before they lifted a cue against him. John Spencer, his friend and close rival, was starting to lose ground. He still had all that natural flair – more than Ray had – but John had a carefree attitude to life and perhaps also to his game. In the many great matches these two played, Ray was emerging as the winner.

Ray Reardon hypnotized opponents. They played shots they should not have played, would not have played – but they were up against ‘The Man’ and it affected them all. And the balls ran for him, whether by luck or cunningly concealed judgment, it was sometimes difficult to tell.

John Pulman, watching Ray beating a revived Fred Davis in a 1976 Pontin’s final, demanded to know to which god Reardon prayed. It was not, of course, luck. Nor was it purely professional skill. The winning ingredient in Reardon was character. He had a determination and will to win unequalled since the heyday of Joe Davis. There was an authority about him that made him a man apart. He was hearty and congenial in the company of other players, but he was Ray Reardon and there was a cautious edge of respect in the attitude of the other players.

In 1977 Reardon’s reign as champion came to an end when he was beaten 13-6 in the quarter finals of the world championship. John Spencer, showing a grim resolve that had been too long missing from his game, went on to win the world crown for the third time, beating Cliff Thorburn in the final.

Reardon had arrived at the Crucible as a heavy favorite and it was a brave man who would predict any other winner. Joe Davis himself predicted Thorburn as at least a finalist. But Reardon did not have the same sharpness that had kept him on top. The pressure of his high earning life may have taken its toll, too much time spent on the road and on television, not enough spent on practice.

In 1978 however, Reardon was still favorite to win the title and he came through for his sixth win, beating Pierrie Mans of South Africa in the final. The previous year had been a hiccup; the Reardon supremacy was now established. Or was it?

In the UK Championship in November of that year he was beaten 9-6 by Willie Thorne of Leicester, a match in which Ray had been a 7-1 favorite in the betting. In the 1979 championship he lost 13-8 to Dennis Taylor in the quarter final. Other major titles were won by other players.

When the 1979 UK Championship came around Reardon, no fan of short matches, was unwilling to give up a lucrative exhibition contract sponsored by General Motors and for the first time in his pro career did not take part in a major British championship.

He was, of course, still high in the ratings, still a top box office draw, and no one would run a big tournament without inviting Ray Reardon. But he was no longer two frames ahead before he started. Once players realized he could be beaten like anyone else, his defeats became more numerous.

In the period from May 1978 until February 1981, when he won the Welsh Professional Championship at Ebbw Vale, Reardon won no major individual titles. This period was marked by the rise of aggressive new players like John Virgo, Willie Thorne and Patsy Fagan, who were treating Ray as just another player. In this period John Virgo publicly called Reardon and Spencer ‘yesterday’s men’.

The bubble of invincibility had burst and as the eighties dawned there were Doug Mountjoy, Steve Davis, Jimmy White and others gaining prominence, making it unlikely that the previous conditions, when top players knew all the strengths and weaknesses of each other’s game, would ever return. Today there are too many players to allow this, they’re too good – and they have no respect for their elders!

Can Reardon rule again? The word ‘rule’ best describes what Reardon did at his peak. He did not just win; he was not ‘just’ world champion. He was, in his supremacy, majestic, and he towered over others as surely as a monarch on his throne with his courtiers below.

It is unlikely that anyone will again dominate the game so thoroughly and for so long as Ray did – even if all the signs now exist to show that one young man in London could.

Can Reardon win the world title again? The answer to that is a cautious ‘yes’. And if he doesn’t win? He has written his place in the history of snooker. He is assuredly one of the best match players the world has ever seen. His record will not be easily surpassed. Reardon showed an entire generation what must be done to play like a champion, to live like a champion. That will be his legacy.

But even more, Reardon is a professional, and the term attaches to him with a special significance: his conduct, his bearing, his personality and character did more than those of any other man to raise the status of professional snooker players to the high level of public regard they enjoy today.

 © John James Carty  All Rights Reserved