This is a transcription of part of the SkySports series ‘Steve Davis and Friends’ which took place in 2000 where Steve Davis chatted with past legends of the game. I found this interview fascinating and it makes a good read, more so than a good watch I think. See what you think and remember at the time of the interview Reardon had still to work with Ronnie O’Sullivan, the big 4 were dominating the game of snooker and there were talks of a breakaway group forming to rival the WPBSA.
Steve Davis: It’s nice to have a true champion on the programme and one who was proud of it too
Ray Reardon: I love snooker, it was a hobby and a past time but it’s like food really… if someone were to say “Could you live without snooker?”… I couldn’t, no. I’ve got to find time for snooker. As a young lad I played all the sports but I always found time for snooker, it just fascinated me. I studied it and I studied the players that played it in those days – Joe Davis, Fred Davis and so forth, and they were my idols I suppose.
SD: Well you were my idol in the 70’s
RR: That’s very kind of you
SD: But there was nobody else to follow with all due respect to Alex Higgins and John Spencer
RR: There were some good player around
SD: Yes there were but if you’re looking around you look at who’s dominating and you were certainly doing that. You say you love the game, but also on the other side of the coin, something that you also get addicted to is the winning?
RR: Oh yeah, you’ve gotta be a winner!
SD: You’ve gotta love the game but how much of it is loving the winning more than loving the game?
RR: I retired 10 years ago now and I retired mainly…a couple of reasons really, one that the cue had gone and then the eyes start to go and you wore contact lenses and then the glasses (the big ones like Dennis wears)… but the main reason for retiring really was…. I couldn’t win! I only played to win. I didn’t play to come second. I didn’t want to know what you’d win for finishing quarter-finalist or last 16, no, I had to win it. And if I can’t win it then… (raises pitch and waves) bye bye! And I went!
…but you started that didn’t you? You’re the one who put me on that trend!
SD: Well I wouldn’t say it was me…
RR: Yes, you came along at the back end of the 70’s and early 80’s you were having your major success…and I saw someone who I thought I was when I was young, doing exactly the same thing… more dedicated than I was. I always thought you were a better tactician of the game, you were better all round, you were more…you said I had a killer instinct, well [motions to Davis]
SD: Well you were considered in many ways a very strange player by modern day players, and what you’d do – and I used to watch a load of snooker, all the players – and what you’d do… it always seemed like: Ray Reardon – let them get off to a nice start… yeah you can pot a few balls, get 50 points in front if you want, but with 2 or 3 reds left, they wouldn’t sniff another ball!
RR: But that’s the idea of the game though, surely?!
SD: (laughs) well it is I suppose but it seemed like it was PLANNED!
RR: No of course it wasn’t planned but I always thought that if there’s enough balls on the table then it doesn’t matter if he’s 66 in front with 5 reds on the table, he’s got no advantage over me! If I need 5 reds and 5 blacks then I’ll get ‘em.
Steve Davis and Ray Reardon
SD: Do you watch snooker now?
RR: Yes! Not as much as I used to though.
SD: Do you think there’s much difference in the game? Same game or is there something else you have to have?
RR: We’d have to go back to when you started really, and then after that Hendry came along, and then you get your others coming along like O’Sullivan, and you all the great ones in between, your Jimmy’s and so forth and Alex’s and what have you and your Terry’s.. I could go on but I don’t want to leave somebody out but they’re all great players.
SD: My judgement of what has gone on since your era was that a) a mistake didn’t cost you so much, but also you didn’t have to take so much of a risk because you were always going to get chances. I’ve been playing for 4 decades myself but now I’m in a situation where I have to go for more balls than I like, because if I don’t then somebody else is going to pot them. How do you feel?
RR: It’s a very good question that is! (looks perplexed at having to answer)
SD: If you were playing today against the likes of Stephen Hendry or Mark Williams, knowing full well what they can score, would you as Ray Reardon think “well, I’ve got to get in first”?
RR: (thinks hard)….no
SD: (smiles) so you’d let them hang themselves?
RR: In my era, the one that came along besides Alex, was Jimmy White who was a better potter than Alex… Alex was a better defensive player than Jimmy, more shrewd… clever player was Mr Higgins then…. And Jimmy came along and he could pot them from anywhere. And I always say people can still pot them from anywhere and they still can, but if you put then under that bottom cush all the time, and you leave it so they’re in trouble if they miss it, they may make them in the early part of the match, but when it gets to the back end of the match and they come under pressure, they’re not going to make it. And the secret is, when they miss it then yes, then you’ve got to pot all the balls. So you are right in one aspect, but I’d only attack if I thought I was going to win the game in doing so. I wouldn’t take the risk and say “I’m going to pot this and hope to get on the black or pink.”
SD: When you first started, who did you have to learn from?
RR: That’s a good question (thinks)….at the age of 16 I was invited to play in an exhibition against the then amateur champion of Wales (1948 by the way), he was a guy called A J Ford and I’d just come back from the final of the youth championship of Great Britain, and I got this invite to play the exhibition, and I was really looking forward to it! Best of 7 frames. My dad and I caught the bus down there, and there was A J Ford, shook hands said hello… and then after the first game knew I was going to get whacked! Absolutely annihilated! And I loved it! Because I saw a style of play I’d never seen before. It was a stun/screw game around the black area – the short game, and he was lethal at it!
SD: And the reason for that is the white ball doesn’t move any distance to go wrong.
RR: That’s right. And I go back on the bus (I lost 4 nothing) and my dad says to me in his Welsh voice “Well good god boy, what happened?” and I said “Dad, didn’t you see it? He played a different type of game to me, I’ve never seen it before… but I know how to do it!”
(Reardon goes on to explain how when he got home he didn’t play anyone for 2 months and just practiced this new found short game around the black).
RR: 6 months later I entered the Welsh amateur championship and I played him in the final, and I beat him! And I retained that title for 6 years and I played him 4 times out of the 6 finals.
(Discussion follows about Reardon turning professional, he says he wasn’t interested at the time because there was no money in it. He then recounts an experience of being a minor who was buried during a mine collapse and had to recount games of marbles played with his brother to help him through the ordeal. He said the experience stood him in good stead for playing snooker – after all it’s only a game! He then went on to work in the police force.)
SD: [referring to the start of the professional era] So you and John Spencer were the upstarts who infiltrated the ‘old brigade’?
RR: Yes and Gary Owen and then David Taylor
SD: David Taylor the ‘Silver Fox’ as well?
RR: Yes that’s right and then came along the likes of Graham Miles and Dennis Taylor.
SD: So you were very much in to generating your own tournaments in a way? How would it go?
RR: It was very difficult in those days…
SD: No manager?
RR: Well no, there were no managers in the game then… well there was no money in the game for anyone in any case.
SD: So how was it kick started?
RR: By mainly John Spencer turning professional. And then I joined and so did Gary Owen and David Taylor and we went to a meeting of the then WPBSA Ltd and we were more or less turned down.
SD: Who would say no?
RR: Well we won’t go into that!
SD: The players older than you! OK fair enough!
RR: We were flabbergasted! We weren’t going to take any living away from any of them because there wasn’t anything to take! So we said “Thank you very much gentlemen, very kind of you to invite us here… it’s cost us about £20 to come here for you to tell us you’re not going to accept us when you could’ve just told us by post” so I turned to John, Gary and David and said “OK we’ll just form our own association and won’t invite them to be a part of it” and as we were about to leave they said “Hold on a minute, OK you can be professional”!
SD: Just like that?
RR: Just like that. Then we said “OK, we want to get the World Championship going again.”
SD: How many players?
RR: Yes. So then what we said is we’ll all put in an entrance fee and we’ll play for it. Winner take all. And whoever’s is drawn out first will arrange it in their home town! And we’d have a %age of the gate to make sure we earned something you see…. £100 entrance fee… that’s a third of my kitty! And who won it? John Spencer!
SD: Where did you come?
RR: I lost to Fred Davis, it was 25-24!
SD: 25-24 to Fred Davis!
RR: In the Tungstell British Legion Club, Stoke on Trent. It was brilliant! I learned so much about tactics… and the following year I drew him again and beat him.
SD: So the two things for you then that were massive… Pot Black, and the Embassy World Championship?
RR: Pot Black came in ’69, and I won the first one. But of course it didn’t go out until the May/June of ’70. And of course in ’70 I became World Champion.
SD: So it all happened overnight?
RR: I had the double whammy if you like, yes. I had my dream of being World Champion, then a month two months later they’re showing Pot Black and I’d won it!
SD: Which was the most important to television viewers?
RR: Pot Black
SD: more than the World Championship?
RR: Yeah because they didn’t see the World Championship on television! They only saw a snippet of it…
SD: On Grandstand or something like that?
RR: Yes about half an hour or something.
SD: What was the World Championship best of…
RR: er….75….38-35 against John Pulman, here in London
SD: Must’ve taken 5 days?
RR: The week, yes
SD: 2 sessions a day, slogging your guts out, nobody saw it… Pot Black, one frame, a success!
SD: (laughs) well that’s just ridiculous!
RR: (talking about World Championship final) it was a place off Southampton Road, Bloomsbury Hall… packed! Must’ve been 1000 there… and who saw me win it? Young Alex Higgins!
RR: He’s come up to me, and I’ve just won! I’m elated! I’m delighted! I’ve just achieved my life’s ambition to be World Professional Champion, that’s what it’s all about… and he says to me “I’m playing you next Tuesday”!
SD: How old was he?
RR: He’d be 18 – I don’t know if I’d be playing him or not! He says so! And there was a guy with him with a little thing under his arm which we’d call a filofax today but it was a little book then… what was his name… Brodrick – he had a manager! First manager on the scene…
RR: He told me I’m going to be playing him at Oswaldtwistle – mining town… so Tuesday comes along and I’ve heard about Alex but I’ve not seen him play but I’ve heard how exciting he is, how prolific his play, how he does things in a different way… and I’m looking forward to it very much. It was somebody new coming into the game you see, I’m already getting old, I was 38! And here’s a young lad 18 who I can really associate with because he’s got the ambitions I had when I was 18. It’s wonderful!
So anyway we go to Oswaldtwistle which is a mining town and I’m a minor!
SD: You’ve got support
RR: Oh I’ve got tonnes of support! So the games going along and he’s playing shots I’ve never seen before! He’s doing things with the white, it’s fizzing all over the place…there’s side on it, there’s deep screw it’s just sizzling around the place… and I was there thinking “well there’s a much shorter way of getting there than that!”
And suddenly he’s gone onto the table and he’s scored 68… and there’s 1 red left, and I can’t win, and he’s broke down on this last red and this voice comes out from the audience [adopts posh English accent] “68 in 1 minute 32 seconds”!
No one had ever said anything like that before. Putting time to how long it takes to pot balls. Now I thought that was ace! I mean, it’s only show business at the end of the day, and I thought yes! I mean he certainly didn’t have a stopwatch, he’s just picked a number out of the sky. So me being who I am, I went to the table and potted the red and said “one red, one second”!
SD: Out of those 6 World titles, which is the one that gave you the most pleasure?
RR: (mulls for a few seconds)… ’75 in Australia
SD: It was held in Australia?
RR: I reckon there was a possible 8 world titles in me, I should have won 7
(RR suggests to SD that he won’t go into that here but will have a chat about that after the programme)
RR: Australia, 61 frames.
SD: Eddie Charlton was your rival, but not your biggest?
RR: Oh no, John Spencer, Alex Higgins, Dennis Taylor
SD: But Eddie Charlton always thought he should be World Champion…
RR: Yes, he must hate me! But he doesn’t really… he just doesn’t like me, that’s all!
SD: So was it the case – and once again this could be my selective memory coming in – but was it the case that Eddie Charlton orchestrated the World Championship to be held in Australia to give himself the best possible chance of beating the likes of yourself and John Spencer, to win the World Championships?
RR: well…I wouldn’t…yes… I wouldn’t exactly say that but I wouldn’t go against it either… I would say there’s a good 40% truth in what you say!
SD: So all of a sudden you’ve all had to traipse off to Australia…
RR: What it was… Steady Eddie eh?
RR: erm… I played a lot in Australia. I toured with Eddie in Australia, I went there 12 times so I was indebted to Eddie in many ways but when I played him in ’75, he was 29-23 up best of 61 (first to 31)
RR: So I won 7 on the trot to go 30-29 up…
SD: 7 on the spin? So he collapsed?
RR: How can I say this… only people like yourself would understand this…
SD: In front of a packed Australian crowd?
RR: (carrying on from before) only good players will know it, but there are times when you go to the table… irrespective of what the score is, or the tournament is, that you hit the buzz… something happens to you. You become oblivious to anything, they could drop a firecracker at the side of you, you wouldn’t hear it… people could wave to you in front of you as you’re playing, it wouldn’t make any difference. You’d be focussed. And you’d be really keyed up, and your heart would be pounding, you’d be trembling from your head down, but you’d be in total control… of the cue ball. You know, it’s yours, you talk to it and you put it exactly where you want it. And that’s what I had.
SD: Eddie’s tearing his hair out…
RR: Well he did tear his hair out didn’t he? Literally, in the end…
RR: So I got to 30, and then he won the 60th
SD: He relaxed a bit, or you took your foot off the pedal?
RR: I’ve gotta tell you this… it’s his break off
SD: Last frame?
RR: Last frame. Now you say about tables? How they could suit him, to give him the better chance of winning… it doesn’t guarantee you of winning but…
SD: A table that suited Eddie?
RR: Yes. Sort of… a dead baulk cushion for instance.
(Davis laughs, Reardon nods and winks at him)
RR: I mean, how can you get him in trouble? You could hit it as hard as you like and it goes bom..bom..bom… [motions movement of white ball not bouncing off baulk cushion].
(Davis in hysterics at this point)
SD: So we’re saying, he hits a loose safety shot and it flies back up the table, once it hits the baulk cushion then it’s not coming back up the table for you…
(RR makes sounds of a dead cushion and the pair of them laugh)
RR: And he’s done the perfect break off right in line with the green, tight on the baulk cushion. On a Brunswick table, and it’s difficult to get your hand… (hand movements to demonstrate the curve of the Brunswick table which is more curved than flat therefore making it harder to place bridging hand in right position). So I can’t pot a ball, and I can’t stay up the table [i.e. dump shot] because there’s a ball come up behind the black and I don’t want to leave it on. And there’s a thin in-off in the corner pocket… so thin you’ve gotta hardly hit it… and I make it!
SD: You play a deliberate foul?
RR: No, it just went in off!
SD: Oh ok, fair enough
RR: It’s probably the best shot… I’ve ever played in my life!
SD: The only way to get back down the table!
RR: Nunawading Stadium, Melbourne. 4000 people in those days. 3999 Australians… and me! I didn’t have many fans but that’s fine. I was playing in front of his audience.
SD: Gone in off, 4 away…
RR: And all the crowd went “AAAhhhhhh” [Reardon then enacts his feigned bemusement even though he was very chuffed with his shot]. And as I looked up the table, there’s nothing on. [emphasises] Nothing on. So Eddie rushes to the table… and he looks at me, and I’m looking somewhere up there (points upwards). So he plays a safety, right tight on the cushion behind the yellow. And he’s opened the balls up. And I still can’t pot a ball. And I can’t stay up [i.e. the dump shot]. And I play another in-off, on this side (points to opposite side).
SD: Another shot in off?
RR: Impossible – so thin… unbelievable! Straight in the pocket. And the crowd went “Waaahhh” and I went “Ooohhh” and now I’m looking over there (points behind himself) and Eddie runs at the table. And there’s one red on. It’s a straight dig into number 1 pocket. And he’s got to stop the white dead, and the pink goes in the opposite corner.
SD: But he hasn’t got an easy leave?
RR: If he misses it, he loses. But if he gets it, he wins. What’s he going to do?
SD: Does he take it on?
RR: I’m thinking “Hahahaaa” (smiles to himself with dirty grin)… he’s never won it has he? Can he do it? …and suddenly he says “play again”. He put me in.
SD: Really? Right.
RR: So Eddie now, instead of sitting down he’s gone and stood by his chair. He always sat down, but this time…. And I walked to the table, and I could see what the situation is, and I look at him and smile and says [nods] “Hi Eddie”….thank you… Zap, straight in! He’s the best straight ball player in the business.
RR: Cos he never put any spin on the ball, he was right down the middle, he was accurate… and he wouldn’t take it on. And he lost. And as the red went in, he fell over, into his chair, then he was lying on the floor so I put my cue on the table, went over to him and helped him up…
RR: Oh Yeah! And I said “Are you alright?” because I thought he’d hurt himself you see. “Yeah” he says, “I’m alright” so I put him in his seat, then I went back to the table, put a bit of chalk on my cue and then… made a 70 odd or whatever it is, and we shook hands.
SD: That’s incredible! Oh, that’s amazing.
RR: That one, that was something.
SD: Of all the players that have ever played the game of snooker, and obviously you can’t judge this because you are you… there’s never been a player that’s intimidated the opposition more…
RR: That’s not quite true really…
SD: How do you know?!
RR: Because you had it
SD: No! You intimidated me! From the moment you walked into a snooker room with cue in hand, you’d be the master of the room.
RR: Ok, agreed.
SD: Is this something that came naturally to you?
RR: I didn’t know I was doing it so it wasn’t premeditated, no.
SD: There was a time when Ray Reardon was untouchable to play. You’d get one chance in a million to play him and you’d be so nervous… Steve Davis or whoever, but now there are so many tournaments that players play each other so often.
RR: Well times have changed. I remember playing you down at Romford, and Barry used to bring us all down to play you. Good manager Barry. Very astute man. Very very good, great for the game also by the way. He did lots of things for our game – elevated everybody’s earnings as well.
But… he brought all the players down to play you, and that was really something really. Because that’s something you can’t buy – experience.
(Reardon goes on to explain to Davis how he could see him develop with the experience of playing other players until he was the one who had the authority and who owned the room).
SD: I remember going through a period of time where so many players were tapping their cue on the side of the table because they were Alex Higgins fans, and all of that?
RR: Yes isn’t it amazing?
SD: This brings me around to perhaps the sorest subject which you mentioned earlier on about the 7th World Title that you thought was yours.
RR: It’s not the one you think it is.
SD: (smiling) Is it not the final in ’82?
RR: No it’s not ‘82
SD: Did you not feel that ’82 was yours?
RR: (thinks)….Yes I did when I got back 15 all.
SD: You actually had Alex Higgins as your opponent in the final, and we know that he’s a good safety player.
RR: Yes. I’d like to see those last few frames again.
SD: To see where it all went wrong?
RR: No I know where it all went wrong. I played a safety shot and I nicked the green and it went in-off. That cost me a game, and in the next one I nicked the brown and went in-off in the opposite corner, the yellow pocket. And then in the last game he made a hundred and something.
RR: But it wasn’t that one, it was the two in-offs. The nick on the green then the nick on the brown on a defensive shot and they both went in-off to the pocket.
SD: Which would’ve been a marvellous achievement because there’s only one person that I can think of who won the World Title in different decades and that is Alex Higgins. You would’ve rightfully I think been 7 times World Champion.
SD: So come on, tell us about this 8th one!
SD: You’re not going to tell me are you?
RR: No it’s a secret
SD: You retired from the game when?
RR: Officially I’d say ’91 but I stopped really in ‘89
SD: Fed up of getting bashed over the head by every player coming through or not? More of a case of not wanting to go through the rigmarole of going through the qualifying events?
RR: There were a few things really. I got over the cue business because there was another cue that I’d had along. But I had a problem with my eyes.
SD: You used to wear a card dealers shade.
RR: I always had a problem with my eyes. Like a stigmatism or something. I’m not making an excuse because I won my world titles with it so it can’t be that bad. But as you get older it deteriorates a little bit. And I used to rub my eyes till they went pink. And then I got contact lenses.
(Reardon goes on to explain how he went direct to the inventor of contact lens to sort his eyes out)
RR: They went well for about 3 or 4 years and then the left eye rejected. And I had to go to glasses. Oh glasses! Wow!
SD: No good?
RR: If you can’t see they’re wonderful
(this cracks Steve Davis up)
RR: The thing about it is, with contact lens you’ve still got your eyes. Your peripheral vision, you can relate to the corner pocket and the cut ball. With glasses you can’t see the corner pocket and cue ball and cut that ball in. When you’re cutting a ball in you can’t see the pocket. Oh that’s difficult!
SD: Great achievement for Dennis Taylor to win
RR: Oh absolutely. I’m not blaming the glasses but coming off contact lenses then having to cope with glasses when you’re in your early 50’s… you can’t do it. And then they system had changed and you had to qualify. I mean in the bowling alley. I called it the bowling alley.
SD: 20 table set up at Blackpool.
RR: They were these lanes weren’t they really? But I think they’ve got it a little bit better now because the players sit audience side. Whereas before you used to sit this side looking out to the audience. So now it’s nicer, you’re aiming at the back wall.
SD: But of course for someone who’s a showman as well…
RR: Yes there’s nobody to talk to. There’s no atmosphere. I couldn’t get motivated. And it wasn’t me. And I thought “No, I’m going”. I didn’t want to hang on and finish all the way down the ladder. I’ve gotta win, if I can’t win I won’t go.
SD: What was your last match?
RR: Actually I don’t know…’91…
SD: Who was it against?
RR: Mind you if they keep going the way they’re going with this breakaway group and all that… I reckon if the top 64 go I think I’ll start again
SD: Get back in there?
SD: Was it a sad day when you retired?
RR: No, I let go. How could I be sad? I owe so much to this game. I’ve got a passion for this game and I still have, I love snooker. I have a few people in the game still ask me “Show me how to do this”… and they say “What do I owe you?” and I say “You don’t owe me nothing. If you want to know anything just give me a ring and I’ll help you”.
SD: Marvellous. Well it’s been a pleasure.
(Interview ends with a bit of chatter between the pair).