Snooker legend Ray Reardon at 90: ‘Proud of Wales, proud of myself’

As he celebrates his 90th birthday, former World Champion Ray Reardon says he is “proud” of Wales and himself as he looks back on an illustrious snooker career.

Reardon won the World Championship six times in the 1970s and was the first player to be ranked number one in the world when the rankings were introduced in 1976.

“That’s why I turned pro, to be number one,” he says.

In the same year he was Masters champion and among his other titles he won the BBC Pot Black twice, in 1969 and 1979.

Born on 8 October 1932 in the coal mining community of Tredegar, Reardon left school at 14 and followed his father Ben into the mine at Ty Trist Colliery.

After the pits closed in south Wales, the family moved to North Staffordshire in 1956 and a year later Reardon had a terrifying experience at Florence Colliery in Stoke-on-Trent.

While working underground the roof collapsed and he was trapped for three hours.

Reardon was immensely relieved that his hands were undamaged as he was rescued.

“When they came to rescue me they started shoveling and I thought if a shovel goes in it will hit my fingers and cut my fingers off,” he recalled.

“I was really worried about it, so as soon as I felt a bit of freedom I wiggled my fingers, just to let them know I was still alive because they didn’t know.”

Reardon gave up mining and joined the police in 1960 before becoming a professional snooker player in 1967.

Three years later he won the World Championship for the first time and secured five more World titles in six years: 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1978, when he beat Perry Manns in the final.

This was the only title he won at the Crucible Theater in Sheffield after the sport’s biggest tournament moved there in 1977. In 1982 he lost to Alex Higgins in the final at the Crucible.

Awarded an MBE in 1985, Reardon retired in 1991, but in 2004 he helped Ronnie O’Sullivan win his second World title, acting as O’Sullivan’s coach and mentor.

“When I saw him on the table the first day I was picking him up, he was something special, without a doubt the best player I had ever seen,” says Reardon.

O’Sullivan celebrated by wearing a pair of false teeth as a lighthearted homage to Reardon, who was nicknamed “Dracula” because of his protruding teeth and dark “widow’s peak” hairline.

The two are still in touch and Reardon describes their relationship as “pure friendship”.

He also has no doubt that the current World Champion, who equaled Stephen Hendry’s record of seven World titles in the modern era this year, can beat that record.

In 2016 the Welsh Open trophy was renamed the Ray Reardon Trophy in his honor and he presented it to Stuart Bingham in Cardiff the following year.

Also in 2017 Reardon returned to the Crucible to take part in a parade of players who had won the World Championship there for a 40th anniversary ceremony held in Sheffield.

“It was great, emotional,” says Reardon.

“It’s easy to respond to that when you’re welcomed so warmly. I loved it.”

Reardon still plays snooker – “very badly”, he jokes – and, with the same smile that captured the hearts of millions who watched him dominate the sport in the 1970s, feels very lucky to be in such good health at his age. of the 90s.

“I had hip surgery recently. I have a little limp, but other than that I feel good. How lucky is he?”

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