The former Sheffield snooker professional giving the next generation of players a break
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Stephen Harrison MBE, who played professionally from 1992 to 2004 and now runs a snooker academy for disabled youngsters, says more needs to be done to help potential future champions at the start of their journeys.
He tells The Star: “It's great that the professional game is doing so well but I would really like to see more at grassroots and youth level.
"Years ago, there were 900-odd clubs in the UK but it's not there anymore. The only way you are going to progress the next champions in the UK is by getting people playing at grassroots.”
Stephen enjoyed his best moment as a professional when he beat former World Champion Alex Higgins.
His father Ray – a former professional footballer with Sheffield United forced to retire aged 17 through an injury which left him in a wheelchair – was also crowned 1985 Paraplegic World Snooker Champion.
Stephen says: “With Sheffield being the home of snooker we need to be leading on this and maybe having an academy of our own which focuses on young people.
“We need to get something happening in our city. We have got all these professionals but let's get young people playing.”
Ding Junhui, one of the sport’s best players, is based in Sheffield and recently opened an academy for fellow professionals while 2021 Masters champion Yan Bingtao also lives in the city and practices at Vics Snooker Academy.
Wisewood-based Stephen, 48, adds: “Many professionals are my age. There’s a lot of good Chinese players coming through but we need to get some in the UK.
"I want to push this sport and I want people to recognise it. There’s players out there who want to play, they just don’t get the opportunity.”
He claims to have made no fewer than 22 147 breaks since picking up a cue aged just nine. These days, however, he spends more time in the chair watching others excel.
Working with Sheffield City Council, Stephen Harrison Academy uses snooker to support 58 people aged eight to 18 with a range of disabilities.
Stephen says: "They are not just having a game of snooker, they are learning without knowing it. What you get, especially with autistic children, because they are concentrating and focusing they pick up the game really well. It focuses their mind on something very positive.
“Just because they are disabled it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the same chance to play. I would love to get it back into the Paralympics."
Numbers and letters are painted on the balls so kids can pick up basic educational skills by playing games to reach a numeric total or spell out a word.
The academy opened a new centre in Attercliffe in February and is supported by 19 volunteers who themselves benefited from Stephen’s tuition as kids.
The dad-of-four adds: “It’s like being a part of one big family. Some kids coming through might have had challenging times but as they get older I can see them passing on the skills learnt to younger kids.
"Feedback from parents says it’s great for respite, it helps them and it helps their children because they are doing something positive.”