Judd Trump’s success at the UK Championship has seen him portrayed as the man to recreate snooker’s glory days, a winner who is also a character in the mould of Alex Higgins, Jimmy White and Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Indeed, just before his first match at York a couple of weeks ago he decided to use his Twitter account – where he bills himself as “part-time snooker player, full-time international playboy” – to reveal that he was going to play some “naughty snooker” during the Championship.
But, as we meet in the Romford club where he has just finished practising, it becomes clear that all this is just a tease by the 22-year-old.
“My mate Adam Duffy (also a professional snooker player) came to watch me and, before my first game, we were having a laugh. We thought it would be funny to tweet about being naughty and stuff like that, try to get it into as many interviews as possible. It was just a joke to start with and it’s taken off from there. The press began describing it as naughty snooker but there was no particular shot that was naughty, not really.”
He is puzzled when I mention to him that Barry Hearn, the entrepreneur trying to revive snooker, mentions his “crazy hairstyle” as providing the right image to attract young people to the game. “I don’t know what he’s talking about,” says Trump as he brushes his hair to check it is still in shape. “Maybe for the older people, this hairstyle is crazy but this haircut is normal for my age group.”
Trump accepts that, like snooker’s entertainers, he likes to engage the crowd. “I play a lot quicker, in quite an attacking style, play a few little crazy shots sometimes that other players wouldn’t take.
“A lot of the players are just there to win, and win even if it’s not pretty. I am aware of the crowd, the need to get them motivated and involved. I try and put on a show for the crowd and make sure they enjoy it.”
But this is where, he insists, any links with Higgins and O’Sullivan end. Higgins was undermined by a nasty streak of self destruction, White by his hedonism, while O’Sullivan’s love-hate relationship with the sport has seen him threaten to quit snooker numerous times, most recently after being defeated by Trump at York.
Trump has no fears of going off the rails. “I’d say I’m quite well behaved! It’s just the way I’ve been brought up, really. I don’t think I’m like that.”
The gratitude he expresses for his lorry driver dad, Steve, and his dinner lady mum, Georgina, is the sort that would make any parent want him as their child.
“My parents played a massive part,” he says. “My dad was working all week, Monday to Friday, long days driving up and down the country. Then he would come home at the weekends and take me to competitions. I first started going to competitions when I was eight, 14 years ago now. He never had any time off. He dedicated his life to me, for doing what I want to do.”
And this family support is bolstered by a group of friends who come to watch him play, even at the far corners of the world. “It does get quite lonely, especially when you are going abroad so, in the last couple of years, I decided to take my school friends from Bristol to tournaments. I can take my mind off it and just enjoy myself off the table. If I take someone to China, I pay their fare but over here I don’t.”
In April, his victory in the China Open, his first ranking tournament title, saw Ryan Summers, an old friend from Bristol, amid the many Chinese. Fourteen made the journey to see him lift the UK crown in York, where he beat Mark Allen 10-8 in the final.
The year also saw Trump finish runner-up to John Higgins at the World Championship, having defeated reigning champion Neil Robertson in the first round at The Crucible. Those successes have seen Trump rise to No5 in the world and he has no hesitation in stating his goal. “I want to be No1 by next year when I’m 23.”
It was a lack of success after turning professional that made him leave his home in Bristol for Romford, where he shares a flat with upcoming player, Jack Lisowski.
Trump had been welcomed into snooker’s professional ranks in 2005 with the sort of fanfare that golf gave Tiger Woods when he turned pro.
If his amateur record was not quite in Tiger’s class, it was still impressive: winning his first English Under-15 Championship at the age of 10 and reaching the World Under-21 Championship semi-finals, aged 14. That was the year he also became the youngest player to have a 147 break in competition, beating O’Sullivan’s 15-year record. “I knew I’d be the youngest to do it so there was a lot of extra pressure but I held myself together and made it. That’s one of the best records I’ve got. It’ll be tough to beat in the next 20 years.”
After all his achievements in the amateur game, the professional circuit was a wake-up call. He says: “I thought it was probably going to be a little bit easier than it was. There’s a lot more players than you realise and it’s hard to get to the top of the game. The first three or four years I found it tough. I felt I wasn’t really progressing as I should and there was no one to practise with and no one to improve against.”
In the 2009-10 season, he even failed to progress beyond the last 32 in any tournaments. It was at this low point that, in Bahrain, he met Django Fung, a Hong Kong Chinese who has made his home in England for some 30 years.
Last January, Trump joined his snooker academy in Romford and he could not be more pleased with how his career has taken off.
“I just seem to have shot through now. The facilities are excellent. It’s completely for practising, no distractions. You get on with your work, practise hard and get ready for competition. It’s not like a normal snooker club.”
This is no doubt helped by being set in an office block and it looks like a place for people with laptops and files not snooker cues.
One of the attractions of moving to Romford was that Fung also manages O’Sullivan, Trump’s boyhood hero. “I have wanted to be the next Ronnie O’Sullivan since I was eight.” Now the two men often practise together, which has meant Trump is no longer in awe of his idol, as proved by his victory over the three-times world champion this month. “When I was younger, playing Ronnie would’ve brought the most pressure. Not any more.”
And he echoes Steve Davis who has said that, should O’Sullivan retire, snooker would not miss him, even though Trump believes his one-time idol will be around for some time yet.
“The game doesn’t need Ronnie. The game can cope without him. There’s a lot of top players coming through. Within the next couple of years, there’ll be someone to take over from him. He’s always talking about quitting the game so I don’t think he enjoys it as much as I do. But I still think he’s got a hunger and I think he’ll still be around for a long time.”
Much more than O’Sullivan, Trump sees his main opponents as Higgins and Mark Selby, the world No 1. “They both play a different game to me. Mark’s a little bit more negative, play good safety and he’s a little bit slower. John’s tough, just an all-round great player, the most consistent of the last 10 or 15 years. But I don’t really fear anyone any more. I just want to be the best in the world, to get to the top of the game and dominate it for as long as possible. That’s always been my aim since I was little.”
And just to make sure that nothing distracts him from this objective, he does not have a girlfriend, having parted company from his last one before winning the China Open.
“It’s just too much of a distraction, travelling the world all the time and trying to keep someone else happy as well as me. I’ll still have a lot of time for marriage and stuff like that, maybe in five or six years.”
No doubt by then he will have achieved his goal of world domination.