Alex Higgins RIP

Like many who grew up in the eighties it was impossible to ignore snooker’s heyday. Not long after colour technology made snooker palatable for TV audiences the characters of the game were unleashed on a public hungry to learn more about this weird ‘sport’. I remember lapping it all up.

You had the Silver Fox, ‘David Taylor’ who according to commentator John Virgo got the ladies going, Dennis Taylor, the sensible one with the Ulster accent and weird glasses, Cliff ‘The Grinder’ Thorburn with his ridiculous moustache, Kirk Stevens with his all white tux and fancy leather shoes and of course Big Bill Werbeniuk who liked a pint or two during his playing.

alex-higgins

I still just about remember the hushed tones and impeccable dress sense of early 80s snooker audiences. Through the thick fug of cigarette smoke — courtesy of both players and audience — you could just about make out the chunky dicky bows, straining waiscoats and odd glass of something stronger than today’s Highland Spring.

And of course there was Alex Higgins. The man more than anyone else who lived up to his nickname of Hurricane. He played fast, in an idiosyncratic style — every ball was to be attacked, safety was for wimps — and won 2 world championships. He was lucky enought to be around when he was. Five years later give or take a year and Higgins’ style of play would have earned him nada. He won his second world title in ’82 but by 1990 a new breed of player was emerging. Following on from the discipline of Steve Davis, the likes of Stephen Hendry were focused, cautious and, you suspected, tee-total both during their playing and afterwards.

Higgins engendered deep divisions in snooker’s governing body. Clive ‘voice of snooker’ Everton would tut tut as another horrendously over-powered shot went awry possibly sending the cue ball, red or both into the ref’s lap: “Another typical Higgins piledriver” was a common comment sent down the Everton nose. Co-commentator John Virgo had a lot more sympathy for Higgins though and, I suspect, echoed the view of many who watched in dismay as Higgins got trounced again and again by Davis, Taylor and even the likes of the bouffant Welshman and super slow Terry Griffiths: “Alex needs to settle down and practice. And I’ve told him that” said Virgo once after another dismal showing. But by the end of the eighties nineties it was over for Higgins.

He popped up now and again on the tabloid pages (rarely the front), sometimes covered in blood usually following a fracas like an unpaid restaurant bill or a doing a runner from a taxi in Belfast’s back streets. Ocassionally there would be a sensitive double-page Observer-type spread with a mood-setting black and white photo about how the former champ was reduced to playing all and sundry in dingy clubs for £5 a game. Even rarer than forays into print were the TV interviews. Sometimes chaperoned as on Wogan, almost always pre-recorded, these displays often featured a fraught presenter on tenterhooks wondering if the Ulsterman would collapse, rant or clam up. They didn’t fill you with hope. Now and again embers of the old spirit would glow such as when Michael Buerke spoke to Higgins about his throat cancer: “Can you beat it?” asked the BBC man. Of course Higgins replied, “I’ve got the heart of a lion.”

His descent into pathos was nearly complete when he died this weekend in a Belfast flat. The frail wee non-swimmer who once holidayed in the Caribbean and tied a rope around a palm tree and the other end around his waist so that he could paddle in safety, faded away punch drunk on his own dissipation. There will be tributes and perhaps a docu-drama or two but, to mangle Bernie Taupin, the legend blew out long before the hurricane ever did.

Comments

One Response to “Alex Higgins RIP”
  1. Pete Chambers says:

    I doubt you’ve ever played the game and as such are utterly unqualified to make the foundless assertation that being born 5 years later would have meant that one of the two most talented snooker players ( O’Sullivan being the other) of all time would have been entirely unsuccessful.
    Alex Higgins beat Steve Davis 16-15 from 0-7 behind in the 1983 UK final and Stephen Hendry 9-8 from 0-5 behind as late as the 1989 Irish Masters when he was 40 years old and much further from his prime than Hendry was from his. The man was a genius who could read the table unlike any other player and play shots 40 years ago that most pros could not play now. He was also brilliant under pressure and an incredible tactician.

    But then you would know all this if you had the first fucking clue what you were talking about you third rate, un-researched, egotistical hack.

    Alex Higgins would have prospered in any era, whereas, In your case it would take more than 5 years one way or the other to make much of a difference.

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