Family life helps settle long-distance potter Robertson

Neil Robertson has come a long way since he arrived in England and had to borrow a waistcoat just to play.

IN THE FRAME: Australia's Neil Robertson ahead of the UK Championship at York Barbican Centre. Picture: James Hardisty.

For the 32-year-old Australian is the most successful player from outside of Great Britain and Ireland. When he lifted the UK Championship 12 months ago, Robertson joined an elite group of just nine players to have completed snooker’s ‘triple crown’ of the Masters, World Championship and UK Championship.

It is all a far cry from the early days, when the Melbourne-born teenager travelled halfway round the world – with little money but huge dreams – looking for his big break.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“I hardly had any money at all when I first came to England,” he recalled. “The waistcoat I had was from my junior days.

IN THE FRAME: Australia's Neil Robertson ahead of the UK Championship at York Barbican Centre. Picture: James Hardisty.

“It just didn’t fit me anymore, so I had to borrow a friend’s waistcoat to play, and used it for the rest of the season.”

Leaving behind his family in Australia was harsh – “I still only see them about once a year,” says Robertson – but it helped provide the mental toughness, which would serve him well on what is sometimes the lonely life of a travelling professional snooker player.

He served his apprenticeship well, a decade honing his skills, matching his undeniable flair with a more pragmatic approach, saw him collect several titles.

But 2010 was the year which saw Robertson finally come of age both on and off the green baize.

His Crucible success, beating Graeme Dott 18-13, saw him crowned world champion – only the second player from outside the UK and Ireland in the modern era of the game (Canadian Cliff Thorburn won in 1980) to achieve such a feat.

Then, eight days later, partner Mille gave birth to baby Alexander.

Fatherhood has certainly suited Robertson – he has held the coveted world No 1 slot on several occasions, tasted Masters glory in 2012 and last season became the first player to score over a hundred century breaks in one season – and he freely admits having a young family now means his bachelor days are a distant memory.

“I certainly go to bed earlier,” he smiled. “I used to love my lie-ins, enjoy sleeping in til 11 or 12 noon and then just going down the club whenever I wanted.

“I had no responsibilities. That’s all changed but I think for the better.

“I now get to the club earlier, practice better, and I am being a lot less selfish about my snooker. I am now playing for my family, and that keeps me really focussed.

“I love being a dad, I am very hands-on, and it’s great to combine being a sportsman with a parent.”

While he combines the two roles well, Robertson refuses to bring his work home with him.

Unlike snooker legends like Stephen Hendry and John Higgins, Robertson refuses to have a snooker table at his Cambridgeshire home.

“I really enjoy practicing, there’s that sense of going to work,” Robertson told The Yorkshire Post at a York hotel, in the build-up to the defence of his UK crown, which opens at the Barbican next week.

“I tried having a table at home, when I was younger, but probably ended up practicing less than I had ever done.

“The table’s always there in the house. I would think ‘oh I will just watch this TV show’, then another one would come on I would want to watch.

“I would think I can practice later, then all of a sudden it’s six o’clock at night, you haven’t practiced, and you don’t want to then. Having a table at home is something I don’t think I will ever do.

“If you have kids as well – and you are practicing, my son gets back from school, he’s going to want to see me and hang around the table. He could stop one of the balls running towards the pocket and start rolling it around the table. It would be pretty tough.”

Alexander is now four, and while proud parents bought him his own mini snooker table last Christmas, it is the travelling involved in what is now a global sport which impacts most on the young family.

Barry Hearn has revolutionised snooker – with events staged in far-flung places like India, China and Australia – and while the World Snooker chief has many fans, Alexander is not one of them.

“He can actually reach the table now,” said Robertson. “I got him a little table for Christmas last year, but he’s more interested in Lego and Power Rangers at the moment.

“He is getting into snooker by watching me, he understands what going to China is. He starts crying when he finds out I am going to China, because it means I am going away for about a week.

“It’s important I stress to him when I come to places like York, ‘I’m not going to China, don’t worry, I am not far away’. China he hates, and tells me ‘I don’t want you to go to China, I want you to come home’.

“Some of the other players struggle with that. They are only away for three days and they already miss their families.

“I can stay focussed on the job. I know it’s much more important to bring home a winner’s prize than it is to lose early.

“Even Mille, my partner, is in awe how I can do that. I think I have learned a lot from how long I have been travelling away from my family in Australia. I only usually get to see them once a year.

“Luckily, I have been doing well in the game, so have been able to fly my family over as much as I possibly can. My dad always comes over at the time of the World Championship semi-finals – he loved that and stayed for an extra month – and my mum has been for the UK Championship.

“Overall, I am pretty hardened to that now and why I probably do well overseas,” added Robertson, who has started the season well by defending his Wuxi Classic title in China before being pipped in the final of the Australian Open.

Having lived in England for over a decade, Robertson has certainly had to adapt to life in England.

He is a huge Chelsea football fan, while his own website Q&A reveals the one thing he would not leave home without is his treasured beanie hat. As a proud Australian, is that true?

“I need to update that it’s years old,” smiled Robertson. “But it is true isn’t it? I always do, you don’t have to do your hair or anything. Get out of the shower, chuck a hat on and get out of the door. It’s just so easy.”

As for his passion for the Premier League and the Blues, Robertson produced one of the most amazing Crucible celebrations in recent memory.

Sat backstage, watching Chelsea play their semi-final second leg in the Champions League, he could not contain his emotions as Fernando Torres clinched a dramatic tie in the Nou Camp.

“Referee Michaela Tabb said she heard me from the arena,” admitted a guilty-looking Robertson.

While victory at the Barbican, and retaining his UK title on December 7 may not evoke such wild abandon in Robertson, it will certainly ensure a happy Christmas for young Alexander and no shortage of waistcoats for a contented father.