I was brought up on football. With a grandfather who, in the 1940s, played for Tottenham and Manchester United it was futile trying to avoid it. However, one thing stood in the way of me following suit – I enjoyed watching, not playing football. Even local hero Glenn Hoddle wasn’t enough of a driving force. Realising I wasn’t to be the football protégé they’d hoped, I was instead introduced to snooker. With my dad being manager at Harlow’s Lucania Snooker Club, access to a table wasn’t a problem. Table 11 became my go-to choice, because for some inexplicable reason it was a foot lower than any of the other twenty-six tables – perfect for my age-related stature.
'I woke to a good omen: a double-yoked egg!'
Aged eleven I’d already made a fifty break; my progression accelerated and, more importantly, I enjoyed it. My father nurtured my talent and a year later came my first century – a rare achievement for a lad my age. Better still, I was rated as one of the best juniors in the country. Aside from one other I was the only kid playing serious snooker, as it was considered an older man’s sport. Also, parents didn’t want their kids playing in snooker halls, which many considered (sometimes with good reason) to be hang-outs for unsavoury characters trying to shift knock-off gear. However, my dad, well known around town, ran a good club – I was well looked after.
The time came where I made the decision to put my all into the game. However, it came at a price – sapping most of my teenage years. While my pals were out, I was in the perpetual darkness of a snooker hall – day and night. Andrea, a girlfriend I had at the time, stood by me for a while, but my commitment to the game meant we split up soon after my fifteenth birthday.
I turned professional, which meant being sponsored and paid to play snooker – what a life! Everything was taken care of; I was in a bubble. Until my late twenties, I dedicated myself to the life of a professional snooker player, by which point I’d reached 85th in the world rankings. Eventually, though, my devotion to snooker slipped as a result of the lifestyle that comes with it. Between 1992 and 1997 I was in Blackpool for three months every summer. There was a lot of time between games that needed occupying and party town Blackpool, with its multitude of pubs and nightclubs, was the perfect antidote for boredom. As time went on so my hedonistic tendencies increased. My personality trait of wanting to be the life and soul of a party meant my game suffered. The ensuing lack of dedication meant that after six losses on the run I dropped to 140th; conversely, six wins at that point would have put me around 60th.
'Harlow has taken a knocking ... we've got a chance to mend it.'
All this happened at an odd time for snooker as its popularity and prize money tanked with the ban on cigarette-company sponsorship. I took on various jobs to supplement my snooker earnings.
In 2001 I met and settled down with a girl from Chester – and she instantly grounded me. Soon came the decision whether to carry on playing snooker or earn a proper wage. To be honest, I was getting bored with the game anyhow; no longer did I want to travel up and down the country. Sadly, in 2007, after being made redundant, the relationship I once treasured came to its logical conclusion.
Without a relationship or the buzz of playing snooker, I needed something to fill the void. Unfortunately, what I chose wasn’t of the wholesome kind – I went off the rails. In 2010 I headed home to Harlow and sought therapy to help me resolve my problems, many of which were associated with the wrench of leaving snooker. By 2015 my life was back on an even keel; I was now ready to be happy again. That Christmas Eve I woke to a good omen: a double-yoked egg – something I’d never had before.
That night, before I went out, I said to my mother, ‘My luck’s in tonight’ – I didn’t realise how true those words would be. As I entered the pub, there she was – Andrea, who I’d not seen in thirty years! We clicked and picked up where we had left off.
The days I remember, when kids would queue out the door and around the back of the library just for two free hours of snooker, are long gone. My ambition was to bring serious snooker back to the town, which is why in 2016, with the help of Andrea, I established my own snooker club. Any trace of the tired-looking snooker club I took over, which before that was first Embers, then Benny’s, nightclub, has gone.
Harlow has taken a knocking in the press recently. The murder in The Stow last summer, which happened just yards from my club, a week before I opened, was tragic – no other word for it. But it shouldn’t mean we give up on the town – we’ve got a chance to mend it.