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