Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Alex Higgins: One minute a fiery character, the next a gentleman

Former world champion Alex Higgins in action in 1994
Former world champion Alex Higgins in action in 1994
Alex Hurricane Higgins
A book of condolence has been opened for former snooker world champion Alex Higgins
Former world champion Alex Higgins in action in 1994
Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins
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.
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
x
Alex Higgins considering his next shot during the 1983 World Snooker Championships in Sheffield.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Exhibition match at Waterfront. (19/06/1997)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Oliver Reed and Alex Higgins. (December 1992)
Alex Higgins
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.
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
Oliver Reid, Reg Presley & Alex Higgins
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 ‘Hurricane’ Higgins was a troubled genius who brought an air of danger and excitement to snooker.

One of Higgins’ last competitive appearances was at the Irish Professional Championship in Dublin four years ago.

I had arranged to interview Higgins immediately after his first round match against Joe Delaney.

Higgins lost 5-2 in a match most notable for his altercation with a photographer.

The Hurricane took exception to the snapper taking a picture just as he was about to play his shot. Higgins sprang up and made a beeline for the photographer, brandishing the butt of his cue at the startled man.

No big deal — just another day at the office for the Hurricane.

I feared the flare-up, coupled with a comprehensive defeat, might have put paid to any chance of the pre-arranged interview going ahead.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Higgins turned up at the agreed spot in the venue and proceeded to wax lyrical about all things snooker for the next hour or so.

He could not have been any more civil or polite, while articulating his views on the game with passion and enthusiasm.

I was well aware of the rumours that Higgins expected to be paid for interviews but at no stage was money mentioned and his only recompense from me came in the form of a large vodka and orange.

There was a side to Higgins that many people were not aware of.

Just a few weeks ago former top snooker referee Len Ganley, who took charge of many Higgins matches during the Hurricane’s heyday, revealed to me in a casual chat that, although the Belfast cueman was no angel, no player was more generous with their time when it came to charity exhibitions and coaching kids.

In recent years Higgins could regularly be seen in city centre

bars and bookies shops — he loved a pint of Guinness and a bet on the nags.

He also paid the occasional visit to Down Royal for the races.

When the Hurricane breezed in to Gowdys Bar at Down Royal during one recent race meeting the band stopped what they were playing and instead struck up the BBC’s snooker theme tune. It brought a beaming smile to Higgins’ well worn features.

The Hurricane won the first of his two world titles back in 1972, still very much snooker’s dark ages. But in the coming years he would light up the game, and his world title triumph in 1982 marked the dawn of a golden age in Ulster sport.

Higgins transcended mere snooker, never more so than immediately after that 1982 victory when a tearful Hurricane pleaded with his then wife Lynn to bring baby daughter Lauren to join him as he clutched the trophy. That scene captured the hearts of the nation.

It was the high point of a rollercoaster life.

The ride may be over, but the memories will live forever.

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