From a deconstructed table football table to the big time: the Donny Dynamo Chris Keogan
When it comes to talent at snooker being a case of a mis-spent youth, the story of Chris Keogan is the contradiction.
An articulate university graduate, he mixes life as an up-and-coming professional snooker player with a part time teaching assistant role at Hungerhill School.
Success in both sides of his life required plenty of hard work. A mis-spent youth it was not.
Even his introduction to playing the sport he loves came through a certain degree of ingenuity.
And the fact he managed to succeed at all given the manner in which he started is a marvel.
“My grandma had a table football table and for some reason, I used to take the legs off and make a table on the floor with them, leaving gaps for the pockets,” the Sprotbrough potter said.
“I used the balls as snooker balls and whichever pocket I was going for, I’d pick up one of the legs from the other end and use that as a cue.
“I don’t know why. I must have seen it on TV.
“That is my first memory of playing snooker.
“I don’t really know how good you can be doing that.
“Back then, it was just about the enjoyment of it.
“I just loved it.”
From inauspicious beginnings, Keogan now finds himself, at 24, as a carded player on the World Snooker Tour, set to play in the UK Championship in York this week.
He trains alongside 15 other professionals, including former world number one Ding Junhui, at Sheffield United’s Academy in Shirecliffe, constantly working on improving his game.
And earlier this year he became the first individual sportsman to be welcomed into the Club Doncaster setup, which began life when Doncaster Rovers purchased Doncaster RLFC.
Though relatively young, his journey to professional status has been long.
“My dad took me to the working men’s club when I got to be about 12 and I was playing a frame or so a week,” he said. “We’d put 20p in the light and when it ran out, that was game over.
“At 14 or 15, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue.
“Through various circumstances and people, a meeting with the coach Steve Prest was set up in 2005.
“He was Shaun Murphy’s coach and Shaun had just become world champion.
“Me and Steve got on like a house on fire and I ended up working with him until he sadly passed away in 2009.
“When I met Steve in 2005, that is when I really started playing properly.”
The former Ridgewood School pupil earned his tour card in May and now faces a battle over the next two years to retain it.
Seeded events place the highest ranked players against the lowest. The world number one will face the player rated at 128 for example.
Breaking through and climbing the rankings is incredibly difficult for a newly-qualified player and Keogan admits he would not have been ready for Tour life any earlier.
“I came very close to getting on the Tour two or three years before I did,” he said. “I lost in the final of the European play-offs 4-3. That was hard to take.
“But I don’t think I was ready back then.
“I learned a lot and I think it was a blessing in disguise.
“I’ve been working towards getting on the tour since.
“Snooker is massive mentally and the higher you go, the more it is.
“You don’t know what it’s like until you’ve actually experienced it. The thoughts, feelings.
“You’re so irrational in those situations and you’ve got to try to bring yourself out of it.
“It’s still going to be the case now I’m playing on the tour.”
Ending his first two years inside the top 64 would see him qualify for another card. A good run in one tournament would catapult him up the rankings.
But he admits doing so will be difficult.
“I was under no illusions how hard this was going to be,” he said. “It is tough. There are no free matches.
“Everyone says it, but you don’t know how good the top players are until you play them. When you’re on the receiving end of their safety shots, you think how has he got it there and how do I get out of that one?
“I’ll keep adapting, keep working hard and I’ve still got the belief.
“The first year for me is all about learning as much as possible, absorbing everything I can.
“The second year, that’s when the emphasis will be more on results.”
Like anyone to have picked up a cue with any real ambition, Keogan’s dream is to play in the World Championship at the Crucible in Sheffield.
“It’s the dream of dreams,” he said. “Tennis is Wimbledon. Snooker is the Crucible.
“I’ve been to the worlds loads. It’s so unique. There’s no describing it.
“It’s special. I’ve been to a lot of sporting events, that’s just something else.”
Before qualification for the Crucible begins in the spring, Keogan has the UK Championship to concern himself with.
This week’s tournament sees Keogan come full circle, from passionate fan to player in one of the sport’s most prestigious tournaments.
His first experience of live professional snooker came at the UK Championships at the Barbican Centre in York.
And today he will walk out at the same venue to play world number 12 Ali Carter, fulfilling one of his childhood ambitions.
“I’m looking forward to playing in the Barbican,” he said.
“I think that was my first taste of live snooker, Hendry v Higgins in a semi-final.
“It’s my local tournament I think, 20 minutes on the train.
“It was always going to be a tough draw. I’ve not played Ali and I’m looking forward to it.
“I’m the biggest snooker fan there is. I loved watching it on TV and a kid.
“And even now, whenever I’m at a tournament, it’s what I want to do, I want to go and watch it.
“I’m a snooker fan who is a snooker player.
“I’m living the dream.”
Does that sound like a mis-spent youth to you?