Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

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

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Alex Higgins: Snooker. 1972
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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