Jimmy White said he cried all day when he learned that Alex Higgins had died at the age of 61 on July 23 last year.
Ten months on, the tears are never far away and the anger certainly hasn’t left the ‘Whirlwind’, who is vowing to make sure the legendary achievements of the Belfast man remain fresh in the minds of snooker fans.
Higgins was twice crowned world champion and White, who lost to his great pal in a classic 1982 World Championship semi-final showdown, will have another opportunity to pay tribute to the Ulsterman at the ‘Snooker Legends’ night at the Waterfront Hall tonight.
Seven of the game’s greatest and most popular players will be going back to the baize but emotions will be raw as a special film paying tribute to Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins will be shown.
Higgins had a “special magic” that White will never forget.
“Alex was one of my best friends and the film is a really nice tribute to him,” said White (pictured above).
“I’ll never forget Alex and I’m still angry he is not with us. For as long as I pick up a cue, he will always be in my thoughts.
“He is the reason why I started playing snooker and I will always be thankful to him for that. He took the game to a new level and hopefully it can keep thriving.
“I supported a testimonial for Alex with Ken Doherty at the Waterfront four years ago and also made a 147 there in an exhibition match.”
White and Higgins were very much part of the golden era of snooker, an era that will be fondly remembered by many of the fans converging on the Waterfront Hall. They will be in the company of legends with White being joined by Dennis Taylor, John Parrott, John Virgo and Cliff Thorburn as well as special guests, Canadian legend Kirk Stevens and Dublin’s Ken Doherty.
An evening of snooker, laughter and nostalgia is promised and the action will be refereed by Michaela Tabb, who in May 2009 became the first woman to officiate at a World Championship final.
People's champion White lost his six World Championship finals but he’s always been a smash hit with the fans, along with Coalisland man Taylor, winner of the thrilling 1985 final against Steve Davis.
Stevens has not played in the UK for many years but remains a fans’ favourites from the golden era of the 1980s.
Few will forget his semi-final with White at the Crucible or his 147 maximum break at the Benson and Hedges Masters.
Doherty became the first player to win both amateur and professional world titles.
Thorburn remains the only overseas player ever to win the World Championship, a feat he achieved in 1980 by beating Higgins (pictured right) in the final. In 1983 he recorded the first-ever televised world championship 147 maximum break against Terry Griffiths.
“John Virgo will compere the event and also entertain the audience with his trick shots,” added White. “There will be audience participation and also some competitive action with players wanting to win the mini-tournament.”
Snooker is enjoying a renaissance under the guidance of Barry Hearn, and White, who watched new sensation Judd Trump lose to comeback kid John Higgins in this year’s world title decider, is excited about the direction the game is travelling.
“Snooker has never been in better shape,” said White. “Barry Hearn has taken things to another level and generated more interest.
“Alex (Higgins) was about 14 years older than myself, I’m 14 years older than Ronnie O’Sullivan and Ronnie is about 14 years older than young Judd Trump (21) so somewhere out there there is a special seven-year-old who is going to be a top, top snooker player.
“Judd is a brilliant young player and I was thrilled for John (Higgins), who has had to deal with a lot away from the game. He showed great resilience and courage to come back so strongly.”
Higgins has fought back from a match-fixing scandal and the death of his father, John Snr, and White is also impressed by the resolve and character of another man who had his troubles away from the snooker table.
Antrim’s Mark Allen progressed to the quarter-finals of the World Championship this year despite fighting an ongoing battle with depression.
“I haven’t seen Mark play a lot but he’s number 12 in the world rankings and the reports I’m hearing about him are very positive,” added White.