Jackson Page: 15-year-old snooker prodigy's pro hopes & parents' pride
As excuses for missing school go, playing in the third round of a ranking tournament against the world’s fourth best snooker player is a pretty good one.
On Thursday afternoon, Jackson Page was meant to be taking part in a physical education lesson at Ebbw Fawr Learning Community in Blaenau Gwent.
Instead, the 15-year-old from Ebbw Vale found himself in front of the television cameras at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena, playing former world number one Judd Trump for a place in the last 16 of the Welsh Open.
Having beaten Jason Weston and John Astley in the first and second rounds, Page attracted a big crowd; the locals curious to see if this improbably bearded schoolboy could continue his improbable run.
However, his match against Trump – the winner of six ranking titles – proved a bridge too far for the Welsh teenager.
Page was brave in his shot selection and eager to match his opponent’s attacking instincts, but was ultimately outclassed as Trump ruthlessly raced to a 4-0 win.
“It was great out there but there were a lot of nerves and pressure too,” says Page, remarkably calm and level-headed for a 15-year-old.
“It’s been great – I’ve loved every minute of it. My friends have been proud of me and enjoyed watching me. Now it’s back to blazers and ties.
“No-one likes school really. When I’m there I just can’t wait to get into the snooker hall.”
Luckily for Page, his teachers recognise his potential and are happy for him to forego as many lessons as is necessary for him to pursue his snooker ambitions.
After a week in school, Page will travel to Cyprus for the European Championships, where winning the under-21 or senior competition would give him the opportunity to turn professional.
With Page in Cyprus will be his mother Clare, who along with father Andrew, has been integral to his snooker development.
Being the parents of a budding player has meant driving him from school to the local snooker hall every day, then for a whole day of practice on Saturdays and usually a tournament on Sundays – of which Page enters about 33 a year.
“We’re so proud, we just can’t believe it,” says Clare.
“We came down here with no expectation. He did, he had expectation because he’s got all the confidence in the world.
“We were just thinking we’ve got a couple of days off work, we’ll come down with him, and my head was mostly down because I couldn’t watch.”
Andrew was the first person Jackson saw as he left the table after his first and second-round wins, and he begins to well up as he reflects on his son’s achievement.
“It’s emotional. Even seeing him walk out on the big stage, you get a lump in your throat,” says Andrew, his eyes glistening as he struggles to restrain his tears.
“When that last black went in – I don’t know if it was the first round or the second, I can’t remember – I was the first one out of there, before anyone could see me crying.”
The pride, warmth and sheer enthusiasm with which Page’s parents speak is infectious. They joke that it is just as well they have only one son – as they would simply not have the time to support another child as lovingly or committedly.
‘Prize money? Maybe I’ll buy a burger’
Page, while equally amenable and friendly, is more reserved. His is a temperament made for professional sport.
Perhaps it is a quality he has gleaned from two-time world champion Mark Williams, who is from Cwm – just a couple of miles away from Ebbw Vale – and has been helping Page train.
“He’s very laid back, which is a good trait to have,” Page says. “I’ve played with Mark on the practice tables a few times. You learn off him and get tips off him.”
Williams, a former world number one with 18 ranking titles and about £5m in prize money to his name, will be a valuable influence as Page aims to establish himself.
The financial rewards for leading snooker players can be great and, this week, Page got a taste of things which might be to come.
Reaching the third round of the Welsh Open earned him £3,500 – a far cry from the pocket money or paper rounds with which most 15-year-olds have to make do.
True to form, the measured Page plans to put the majority of that sum in the bank. Surely, though, after such a remarkable week, he can afford himself a little treat?
He ponders his options, smiles and says: “I might get a McDonalds later.”
What they say
Former world champion Terry Griffiths
“When I saw Jackson play, it reminded me of when I was 15 years of age and how I thought about playing. He just loves to be there.
“He takes on shots that other people turn down because he’s excited at that age and to win two matches as he has done is exceptional.
“He’s a tremendous potter, he’s got no fear at all.”
Former world champion Mark Williams
“He’s played a few pros already and beaten them. I didn’t do that when I was 15. What he is doing is incredible.
“He is a very fast player, he will slow down when he’s older, but he is only 15. He keeps winning under-21 tournaments, so he doesn’t need to change too much.”
Deputy phase director of Ebbw Fawr Learning Community, Paul Freeguard
“We are very, very proud of his achievement, but not surprised, as he is an under-18 world champion.
“The other pupils are following the tournament, they are all avid fans now. They are getting time to catch up and watch him.
“He will have exams when he comes back, same as everyone else, so he will be expected to catch up on the work he has missed.
“Jackson will make a professional career out of snooker so it would be unfair if we hadn’t supported him. But I couldn’t tell you why he doesn’t like history or English, but luckily he’s doing well in those subjects.
“He will get a hero’s welcome when he returns to the school.”