Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Alex Higgins: Should he be given a memorial like George Best and Joey Dunlop?

Steve Davis and Alex "Hurricane" Higgins before their match at Ulster Hall.  1981
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Alex Higgins: Snooker. 1972
Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, 1949-2010

Alex Higgins
'The Hurricane' played snooker with a style and verve never before seen and won the World Championship in 1972, beating John Spencer in the final and again in 1982. That latter triumph, against six-times champion Ray Reardon, is best remembered for Higgins' tears at the end as he cradled his baby daughter in his arms. Higgins' win over Jimmy White in the semi-final was regarded as one of the all time great matches, particularly the Belfast cueman's 69 break in the penultimate frame on the way to a 16-15 victory. The Hurricane is almost as well known for his off-the-table bust-ups and his many run-ins with snooker officialdom over the years. But despite his difficulties, he remains one of the most gifted players ever to pick up a cue, with Ronnie O'Sullivan the only current star worthy of a mention in the same breath.
Alex Higgins
Alex Higgins
This close-up picture of Alex Higgins taken by Ulster photographer Cathal McNaughton
Alex Higgins
ALEX HIGGINS Until the robotic Stephen Hendry turned up as a 21-year-old world snooker champion in 1990, Alex "Hurricane" Higgins had been the youngest ever winner of the title, when he beat John Spencer in the best-of-73-frames 1972 final. It was Higgins' first appearance at the tournament and his flamboyant style and break-neck speed around the table earned him the "Hurricane" sobriquet. It is a nickname that could just as easily have applied to his life away from the beize, although the notoriously sedate snooker arena also witnessed its fair share of storms. At the 1986 UK championships, Higgins was fined and disqualified for head-butting a referee. Four years later, after a first round defeat at The Crucible, Higgins punched a tournament official before going on to announce his retirement from the game.
Snooker legend Alex Higgins. 2010
Alex Higgins in 1999 at his friend Ollie Reed's funeral in County Cork
Alex Higgins pictured at a bar in Belfast
Alex 'Hurrican' Higgins
Alex 'Hurrican' Higgins.
Alex Higgins pictured at a bar in Belfast where he spoke about his his autobiography "Alex Higgins 'My Story' from the eye of the Hurricane".
Alex Higgins. 16/3/81.
Alex "Hurricane" Higgins pictured 19th April 1980.259/80
Alex Higgins. 10/5/85.
Former World Champion snooker star Alex Higgins enjoys a day out at the races despite fighting off the effects of throat cancer.
Alex Higgins pictured in the mid 1980's
Alex Higgins considering his next shot during the 1983 World Snooker Championships in Sheffield.
Oliver Reid, Reg Presley & Alex Higgins
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Exhibition match at Waterfront. (19/06/1997)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Oliver Reed and Alex Higgins. (December 1992)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. (02/06/1993)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. A familiar sights for snooker fans... Irish professional champion Alex Higgins wiping his cue with a towel during last night's title match against Dennis Taylor in the Ulster Hall. Higgins won the first session 7-2 in the 41 frame decider which is being presented by the 'Belfast Telegraph' and Kearney Promotions. (03/02/1978)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Alex Higgins senior pictured with his son after Alex had regained the Smithwick's Irish Professional Snooker Championship in Maysfield Leisure Centre. Alex won the final against reigning champion Dennis Taylor by 16 frames to 11.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. World professional snooker champion Alex Higgins (right), who was in Belfast to-day for the wedding of his sister, Jean, of Abingdon Street to John Robson, Crumlin Road. The couple were married in St. Aidan's Parish Chursh, Blythe Street, Sandy Row, Belfast.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Four Ulster sportsmen were given Texaco Sportstars of the Year Awards (1982) at a banquet in Dublin last - John Watson, Barry McGuigan, Gerry Armstrong and Alex Higgins. Photographed at the ceremony were McGuigan, Northern Ireland team manager Billy Bingham, who collected the trophy on behalf of Armstrong and Higgins.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Alex Higgins, pictured with the championship trophy he intends to hold on to. (12/03/1983)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Snooker star Alex Higgins signs autographs for twins Brenda (left) and Geraldine Brammled at the press conference to announce the details of the Irish Professional Snooker Championship, which will be held in the Antrim Forum from February 9-12. (1988)
17-05-1982, World Snooker Champion, Alex Higgins is saluted by his baby daughter Lauren with his wife Lynne, after a nail-biting battle against six-times champion Ray Reardon at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre.
05-01-1980. Confetti scatters at the wedding of Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins and bride Lynn, at the United Reform church in Wilmslow.
05-01-1980. Confetti scatters at the wedding of Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins and bride Lynn, at the United Reform church in Wilmslow.
21-04-1986, Alex Higgins enjoys a cigarette during a moment's break during the Embassy World Snooker Championship match against John Spencer in Sheffield.
13-04-1973, world professional snooker champion Alex Higgins shows off his new look, as created by Tom Gilbey.
Noel Cairns holds a shopping list given to him by former snooker champion Alex Higgins, near Ulidia House in south Belfast where Higgin's body was discovered.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Surrounded by beautiful girls, the lightning Alex. 'Hurricane' Higgins signs autographs for fans Jacqui McFerran, Marion Allen and Catherine McFerran. (15/04/80)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. World snooker champion Alexander 'Hurricane' Higgins in Belfast. (08/11/1976)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. (February 1978)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Exhibition match at Waterfront. (19/06/1997)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Exhibition match at Waterfront. (19/06/1997)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Exhibition match at Waterfront. (19/06/1997)
Former World Snooker Player Champion Alex "Hurricane" Higgins at his book signing in Easons 02.06.07.
Snooker legend Alex Higgins spotted Tallaght 2005.
Alex Higgins 4/3/82
Snooker star Alex Higgins is taken to hospital with stab wounds after an incident involving a woman. 2008
25-7-2010Flowers for Alex Higgins are left at a muralon the Donegal Road to in honour of the snooker legend who died yesterday in Belfast.
Alex Higgins

Football legend George Best was immortalised with a special five pound note and had an airport named after him.

And just a few miles up the road from what is now George Best Belfast City Airport is Blanchflower park in east Belfast — named after Northern Ireland football captain and Spurs player Danny.

Road race legend Joey Dunlop was given a memorial garden and a leisure centre in his name, while Belfast Olympic gold medallist Mary Peters lived to see her legacy in the shape of the Mary Peters track.

So where does Alex Higgins fit in the list of Northern Ireland’s greatest sporting figures, and how would his fans like to see his genius honoured? Does such a controversial character even deserve a lasting public legacy?

With two world championship titles to his name, and many of today’s greatest players thanking him for transforming snooker, there’s no doubt The Hurricane is among our historical sporting elite.

As people file in to sign books of condolence due to be opened in Belfast City Hall today, local people are asking when, where and how the tragic genius will be remembered in the longer term.

Like Best, Higgins — with his history of headbutts, punching and shooting threats along with an insatiable appetite for the cigarettes and alcohol which ultimately caused his demise — was not perhaps the most squeaky-clean of role models.

However, his short fuse and colourful past will not stop calls for some sort of memorial to mark his flamboyant life and untimely death at the age of just 61.

A snooker hall? A sculpture at the Crucible in Sheffield? His legacy in his native Sandy Row was sealed before his death through a mural adorning a wall near his former home. His sporting success and fiery temper were also famously the subject of a hit stage play ‘Hurricane’.

Belfast Ulster Unionist councillor Bob Stoker says that the people of Belfast should decide on the nature and location of a permanent tribute.

”It is something I would definitely call for and support. I will be bringing it up with and speaking to people about it at Belfast City Council on a number of levels,” he said.

“I know a lot of people from the Sandy Row area and further afield who would be in favour of a memorial like we have for our other sporting stars.

“We know the difficulties that were run into when working on a memorial for George Best, so it needs to be looked at carefully.

“Yes, Alex was a controversial character and there are some no doubt who would likely oppose a permanent memorial.

“However, the benefits he brought to snooker — bringing it out of dark clubs and back alleys and putting it onto the big screen, encouraging a generation of young people off the streets and into the sport, as well as the spotlight he helped shine on Belfast and Northern Ireland — far outweigh a number of minor indiscretions.

“I think the public should be allowed to decide on what form his memorial should take, whether naming something after him, a new building, a bursary, a sculpture or statue, whatever the people decide.”

Mr Stoker said that once Higgins’ funeral is over and his family has been consulted “his fans and followers should have the decision on how to best remember him and I have no doubt people will be full of suggestions”.

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