Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first ever Pot Black episode, which was aired on 23rd July 1969. It was legendary Welshman Ray Reardon who picked up the inaugural title, beating John Spencer in the final of the one-frame event.
To commemorate the occasion here is a look back at that victory and the career of snooker’s Dracula…
Reardon was one of the driving forces behind snooker’s rise in popularity during the 1970s. In a sport which has been hallmarked by great champions – from Joe Davis in the pre-war years to more recently Ronnie O’Sullivan – Reardon was the first player of the modern era to take a stranglehold on the game.
His route to snookering stardom was certainly humbler than today’s superstars. Having grown up in the coal mining community of Tredegar, he left school at the age of 14 to follow in the footsteps of his father and work in the mines. During his time as a coalminer, the Welshman spent every spare moment he had in the local Workman’s Institute honing his snooker skills.
Eventually Reardon moved his family to Stoke on Trent, where he became a policeman. Despite being one of the most prolific amateur snooker players on the planet, it wasn’t until the age of 35 that he turned professional. It was around that moment that the profile of the game took a dramatic upturn.
In 1969, the then controller of BBC Two, David Attenborough was searching for a new programme to showcase the advent of colour television. The one-frame Pot Black programme was commissioned and was an instant success. Overnight snooker had become household television around the country and it was Reardon leading the baize-based bandwagon.
Reardon said: “I was fortunate enough to win the very first Pot Black. It was a funny experience because it was filmed in November time of 1968 and wasn’t shown on television until May of 1969. I had to keep it quiet that I’d won, you weren’t allowed to disclose it. When the programme came out, it was great publicity for me because I won my first world title not long after, a double whammy.
“Everyone who took part in it was gambling really, because it was the main snooker on television. Your reputation was determined by a one frame match. You could do yourself more harm than good entering it. The guys who lost often struggled to get exhibition work. I was lucky because it was a great thing for me winning the first one.”
The Welsh Open trophy has been named in honour of six-time World Champion Reardon.
Reardon’s maiden world title, which came a year later, was over a considerably longer distance. He faced the seven-time World Champion John Pulman, in a marathon best of 73 encounter, at the Victoria Hall in London. Reardon emerged from the clash as a 37-33 victor.
“It was a very different sort of game because it was a week’s worth of play,” said Reardon. “It was very enjoyable, I didn’t get tired during it. I often hear people nowadays saying they are tired. I’ve never seen a tired winner. I’ve seen a tired loser, but certainly not a winner.”
The Welshman would go on to win a further five world titles, including a 25-18 win over South Africa’s Perrie Mans at the Crucible Theatre in 1978. His last appearance in the world final came in 1982 and was a memorable meeting with the enigmatic Alex Higgins, which he lost 18-15.
From that point on, Reardon began to struggle with his game due to his eyesight deteriorating. His final match came at the 1991 World Championship, where he called time on his storied career following a 10-5 defeat to Jason Prince. The next world title he was involved with wasn’t his own, but that of a player he was mentoring: Ronnie O’Sullivan. Reardon mentored the Rocket in the lead up to the 2004 World Championship. With Reardon’s help, O’Sullivan clinched the second of his five world titles. The six-time World Champion felt that he could add another string to O’Sullivan’s bow.
“The problem was that he didn’t enjoy the tactical side of the game. He was a nice aggressive and open potter who thought he could just pot all the balls and win. Of course that was exactly what he did most of the time. But you want to be the best you can be. You want to be impregnable. He became that as a result of developing his tactical game. Suddenly he liked tactics and enjoyed it. It was a very gratifying feeling.
“It was fabulous to work with him. It gave me an extra ten years on my life. I felt as if I was playing again and it was a real buzz. I had the privilege of watching the best player I’ve ever seen up close.
“When I finished playing Steve Davis came along and I thought he was the best. Stephen Hendry then came along and I felt he was the best. They were the best of their era and I was the best of mine but when he is on form, Ronnie is the greatest of them all.
“If I was playing today I would definitely hold my own, but I wouldn’t dominate. Nobody does now because the standard is so high. There are a few outstanding players that win more often than others, but nobody just completely takes over. That will never happen again.”