Watch Harvey Chandler. He takes up his place on the World Snooker Tour this summer – earned with a sensational victory at the amateur European Championships in February – but he has only just turned 23.
Two years of the pro-circuit lie ahead – televised tournaments and the game’s biggest names are waiting for him on the other side of the green baize.
Watch Harvey Chandler. This is the Raunds lad who was being nurtured for his goalkeeping talent by Rushden & Diamonds and Walsall until at the tender age of 15 – cool as a cucumber – he quit because there was something else he knew he could do.
Watch Harvey Chandler at the table, he’s relaxed as he approaches and dips and shoots. It looks like he knows what he’s going to slot away before he even stands up. He’s chalking his cue on the way, he’s aiming, the points are racking up. In minutes he’s nailed a maximum break.
Watch Harvey Chandler but you won’t see the jobs packing boxes, sleeping on the sofa at his mum’s or his dad’s or the months in the wilderness when he couldn’t afford to travel to the amateur competitions. Those pressures, all the pressures, seem to be a million miles away when he’s at the table whether he’s suited and booted in a competition or clearing the table at his local club in shorts and trainers. It just comes naturally.
That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been plenty of hard work honing and nurturing a talent that was first spotted by a man Harvey describes as his mentor in the early days.
Malcolm Yax, 87, is a Geordie living in Raunds and was looking after the tables in Harvey’s local club when he spotted the tall teenager potting balls.
Harvey said: “I went in there one day on the off chance and bumped into him and we went from there.
“He was telling me to keep my head still on the cue and not get up all the time. All we were doing from a young age was sorting my cueing out. Just the action for six months.
“I used to get there at 10 in the morning for the juniors and all the juniors used to leave at 12 and he would stay there until three or four o’clock because he saw I had a bit of ability and he wanted to help out.
“I could see myself improving rapidly. Ten months later I had my first century at 18.”
It was a Karate Kid style training regime where rather than letting Harvey play full games of snooker Malcolm would initially only allow him to practice with two balls.
Malcolm said: “Once he was down I put my hand on his head to keep it down. Oh, bloody hell. Keep your head down. I used to make him practice cueing straight. He was a good pupil.”
Malcolm was perhaps an unlikely coach because he had cut his teeth playing billiards and as a young man did not have much time for the multi-coloured world of snooker.
He said: “I was anti-snooker, billiards, I hated snooker. Where I was brought up in the northeast in Geordieland in the miners welfare there were two tables. One of them you would not dare play snooker on it, it was billiards but snooker is a wonderful spectacle no question.
“Billiards, if you don’t know the game… it’s the same thing. I used to know the snooker and billiards coach Jack Carnham very well. He would say you don’t teach people to play snooker or billiards you teach them to cue. If you can cue you can play anything.
“There was a belief that if you played snooker your touch was too heavy for billiards. Load of bunkum.”
He remembers Harvey used to come to club with his dad.
“He had a great hulking father, not a bad player, great cue power. We used to do coaching up there, ten kids used to come. There was two, one was Harvey, if I can be brutally honest I thought Lewis had more natural ability but I was wrong. Harvey had that stickability.
“We spent a lot of time doing the spot stroke. The great secret of this game is hitting the ball in the bloody middle.”
Harvey gives Malcolm a huge amount of credit for setting him on the right path.
“It’s down to Malcolm, because my technique is so stable and compact and good, I’m really fast as well. I’ve had 147s in 6 or 7 minutes.
“My dad used to take me everywhere to play snooker. I didn’t even want to play to be honest. I found it boring. I was into football at the time. I’m a Man Utd fan but by the age of 15 I quit football. I was offered another contract and I turned it down and took up snooker. I knew what I wanted to do. I was happy.
“I’m 6’4, that does help a bit, I don’t have to get the rest out so much. The game just comes naturally to me, I just get down and play while a lot of players have to think before they take the shot. I get down, I’m natural.”
Another name that means a lot to Harvey is Colin Mitchell who came up with sponsorship about a year ago when Harvey’s career was floundering through lack of investment.
“I wasn’t playing because I didn’t have the money to fund it all. I stopped playing tournaments and I was just down the club playing snooker against idiots. He gave me a ring and said I can’t let your talent go to waste. I am going to sponsor you. He’s put me in every single event from March and I went professional in February.”
Sporting interests run in the family, Harvey’s brother plays rugby for Kettering alongside his role as a retained fireman.
“He’s brilliant but he thinks snooker is boring,” Harvey laughs but their is clearly an appetite for winning games in their genes.
So far Harvey’s success has seen him with a custom made cue and his own table at the Windmill Club. Anything is possible now he is playing amongst the pros.
“I’m so competitive, I’m the worst loser. I never want to lose at anything. Some people are like that aren’t they? If you aren’t a bad loser you obviously don’t care enough. That’s how I see it.”
Pics by Dave Ikin