One of the fresh faces on the World Snooker Tour for the 2023/24 season is rising Scottish prospect Liam Graham.
The teenager from Glasgow earned a two-year card to compete on the professional main tour through his victory in the European Under-21 Championship in March.
Graham is attempting to make a breakthrough alongside a number of other young talents from the United Kingdom, including Stan Moody and Liam Pullen.
For someone who has only been playing the game for around a decade, it’s remarkable the progress that he has already made in his short career.
“I got into snooker through my granddad and my dad,” Liam Graham said in an exclusive interview with SnookerHQ.
“When I first hit a ball, I was about six. Then I kind of started playing a bit properly from about nine.”
“I started playing tournaments and stuff, and I was starting to get to a decent level then by that stage.
“You don’t really think about turning professional at that age, I just realised I was better at snooker than I was at football.
“Between going to the snooker club and going to football training, I was always like I’d go to the snooker. I just enjoyed it more.
“My dad used to play in a wee pool team for a while, and that was about it. My granddad would probably have been more into snooker than my dad.
“He’d watch it on telly all the time, it’d be one of the only things he’d watch. He took me everywhere when my dad was working.
“Every day when I came back from school, he’d be waiting there to take me to the snooker club.
“He’d sit there and wait, and then moan at me every time I missed a shot.
“My granddad has actually got dementia now, so I wanted to get on before he kind of didn’t have a clue, you know.
“When I did get on, he knew what it meant and what it was. He was glad that I’d made it and was going to make a job of it.”
International amateur glory for Graham earlier this year came shortly after a third appearance in the Snooker Shoot Out in which he says he was “robbed” against Cao Yupeng, his opponent again in next week’s British Open qualifiers.
Just over a month later, he defied a bizarre bout of illness to emerge as the European under-21 champion in Malta and successfully gain his pro ticket.
“It was a weird one, because I played horrendous the whole week,” admitted Graham, who beat Iulian Boiko 5-2 in the final.
“I actually couldn’t tell you about one match where I played well. I was really unwell, I was getting sick during my matches.”
“In my first two games in the knockout rounds, I was 3-1 down twice and I literally couldn’t stop shaking.
“I was so sick, and it was actually to the point where I was so close to conceding in both of the matches because I was that ill.
“It was up until the semi-final, and the only match which I felt maybe 50% okay was the final, which was handy enough!
“Obviously for my family it was big, and all my mates at home were buzzing for me to get on (the main tour) because they know how much I’ve put into it.
“It was nice that way, but it was a weird one because it was such a deflating feeling as well if you know what I mean.
“You’ve worked towards a goal, since whenever you’ve started playing basically, and you’re thinking all you want to do is be a pro snooker player.
“Then you get it and you’re like, ‘oh, is that it?’ You expect so much, and it’s not quite what you think.”
Still on the hunt for his maiden match win as a pro, Graham lost in the opening stages of both the Championship League and the European Masters this summer.
He understands that it might take him a while to settle into his new surroundings.
Even so, Graham is already of the opinion, like many others, that the tour should revert back to the old tiered system to give lower-ranked players a fairer opportunity.
“I think it should be a tiered system, that’s my opinion.”
“Say I draw a top 16 player for so many events in a row, and then the player above me or below me draws somebody of our own rank each time, it’s not really the same.
“He’s actually playing a different level of opponent to me even though we’re on the same tour.
“If it was a tiered system, then you’d play everyone within your own rank until the second or third round. It would make it a lot fairer.
“It makes the Worlds and the UKs (which incorporate draws under the tiered system) so much bigger for the lower-ranked players.
“Because players will be thinking, if we can’t beat players in those tournaments of our own rank, what’s our chances of beating somebody in the top 16 in the other events?
“I’m really good friends with Fraser Patrick – I’ve practiced with him my whole life since the age of 11 – and he ended up drawing a top 16 player for about six events in a row.”
In that respect, Graham realises the importance of surrounding himself with some of the sport’s star names in practice.
The 18 year-old is a regular practice partner of Stephen Maguire, who alongside John Higgins he counts as one of his snooker heroes from Scotland.
Several times a year, Graham also travels over to Northern Ireland to rub shoulders with the likes of Mark Allen and Jordan Brown in County Antrim.
“You get too comfortable at home in your own surroundings, so I like getting out of my comfort zone a wee bit and trying new things.”
“I just feel like there’s a wee bit of something different when you go there. I’ve played there for donkeys now, but it’s still just a wee bit extra.
“If I go over, I’m there anywhere between a week and a month each time, so I’d probably be there for three months out of the year in total.
“The funny thing is,” referring to the advice received from the older professionals on the circuit, “and every pro will tell you this because they’ve been there for a long time.”
“They all say to ‘just try and enjoy it as much as you can.’ It’s the most frustrating advice ever, because it’s impossible to just enjoy it each time.
“I just don’t think things are like that, to totally enjoy something every time when you’re getting thumped is impossible.”
Graham, who also regards former Scottish professional John Rea as an important figure in his snooker upbringing, was beaten 5-1 by Duane Jones in the recent European Masters qualifiers.
Yet a stagnated opening to the current campaign has left it difficult for the rookie to find any rhythm.
“It doesn’t really feel like it’s started yet. I’ve played horrendous the first two events, it’s just one of things and I’m trying to get used to it.”
“I’m not really 100% comfortable yet in the new environment that I’m playing in, it’s just different.
“You go to Q Tour and stuff and you’ve known everyone for so many years – you know them inside-out because you’ve seen them every week.
“Then you’re going and practicing at these events, and you’ve got ranking event winners next to you instead of a load of amateurs.
“It’s just a different thing, it’s not the same. Even the conditions are different, because it’s new balls, new cloths, new refs every time. It’s weird to get used to.
A relaxed talker who exudes self-confidence, Graham knows that positive results will come with the right attitude and approach, though.
“I just need to keep working on it, because the wins will come. I’ve never really been one to panic too much.”
“If it comes this year and I do well, then brilliant.
“But if it happens next year, I’ll probably still be ten times the player I was at the start of this year. I’m not really going to worry too much about it.”
Liam Graham plays Cao Yupeng in the British Open qualifiers on Thursday, August 17th.
Featured photo credit: Mark Robinson