Belfast Telegraph

Jimmy White's wild nights and drunken ecapades with Alex Higgins

Jimmy White (left) and Alex Higgins share a joke during their snooker prime
Jimmy White (left) and Alex Higgins share a joke during their snooker prime
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

Snooker legend Jimmy White has spoken candidly about his rivalry and wild nights out with boyhood hero Alex Higgins.

The pair had a famous battle in the semi-final of the 1982 World Championship when the Belfast-born Hurricane denied the Whirlwind victory with a stunning clearance of 69.

White recalled: "That was his best. There were three or four shots in there which, under the pressure, will never be repeated.

"The drunker he got, the calmer he got.

"I was in awe of him. I was watching my hero playing.

"That clearance is the best ever made."

White (57) reached six World finals but never took the top prize. Despite this he said he had no regrets about losing to Higgins.

"I would have died if I'd beaten Higgins and won the World Championship in 1982 because I'd just found cocaine and I liked to drink," he told The Guardian.

While he eventually beat his addictions, White said the excess never stopped for his friend.

"I first played Alex in an exhibition when I was 13," he recalled.

"He came to a working men's club in Balham, which my dad ran, and tried to chat my sister up. So my brother wanted to knock him out. It was the most horrendous first meeting with your hero ever. I should have known."

Their only real fall-out came when Higgins visited White's mansion in Surrey.

"My friend drove us in a Mini Metro. We were drinking all day and I decided to drive after another two gallons of wine - for which I apologise. I crashed into a wall. The windscreen flipped out and Higgins, who never wore a seatbelt, flew out.

"Higgins stands up and he's shouting: 'I've got nine lives, baby!' I'm feeling sober now and I drive to my house... the windscreen wipers are attacking us. I drive into the garage and the engine falls out. If we'd been driving we could have been seriously hurt. But Higgins is flying, saying: 'This is great!'

"After I get my friend to pick up the windscreen, because it's got my name on the tax disc, I feel safe. But I'm not ready for Higgins. He takes me to the snooker table and says: 'Let's play for money, baby'.

"He wouldn't stop. I threw him out. He knew the neighbour and I didn't get on so he went next door and said I'd attacked him. That was Higgins."

White said his anger didn't last long at their next meeting.

"He said: 'Hello, babes. How are ya?' He had ways where you'd be fuming with him and then he'd say something and you'd forget about it."

Higgins died alone in 2010 after battling throat cancer, meaning he could hardly eat in his final months. "It was horrific," White said. "As much as me and his sisters done things for him, it was no good. They did far more than me, obviously, but he fell out with them. So he wasn't found for 10 days. He died of malnutrition. It was horrendous."

The funeral at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast was delayed to allow White time to make his way from Thailand. "When I got the call saying he had died, I was numb. It was evil," he recalled.

He helped carry the coffin.

Today White works as a pundit and still plays professionally.

He credits Ronnie O'Sullivan - victim of a shock upset in the World Championship this week - as being ahead of both himself and the Hurricane in his prime.

"I've probably got more natural talent than both of them," he said. "But what O'Sullivan done was special. He took a bit of Higgins, a bit of me and a bit of (Steve) Davis, and made his game complete."

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