Saturday, July 24, 2010
I remember once about 10 years passing a rake of a man on a street in Belfast. Initially I didn't pay him much attention until up close I realised it was two time World Snooker Champion Alex Higgins.
Sadly the image to the left was similar to the only time I actually saw the man in the flesh. Even back then the people of Northern Ireland were never sure which of their failed sporting heroes would last longest. The two geniuses of Irish sport Higgins and George Best had both had their battle with alcohol but also for Alex there was the ever present cigarette which led to his eventual death today from Throat Cancer.
However I do remember him in his excentric prime winning his second Wolrd Title at the Crucible in 1982, exactly a decade after his previous triumph at the highest level of his sport. Indeed 1972 was Alex first ever appearance in the World finals as a young 22 year old. He really did breeze unto the snooker scene like the Hurricane he was nicknamed after.
But also it was the way that he played the name that the nickname referred to. Like the player to take on his mantle Jimmy 'The Whirlwind' White you were never quite sure which Alex would turn up at the table with his cue, pint and cigggie. He would take the most audacious risks in the days when you have the great safety exponents such as Ray Reardon, Terry Griffiths, Doug Mountjoy, Eddie Charlton and of course fellow Ulsterman Dennis Taylor.
If his style of play came off you thought he was a genius, if it missed by a narrow margin you would consider him a fool. He also would move around the table briskly often ready to cue the next shot before a red had come to rest in the pocket or the colour had been placed back on its spot by the referee.
Higgins like Best was a force of nature. He was not somebody you'd tell a youngster to emulate the style of, he just did what he loved to do in the way that he loved to do it.
Yes there was controversy that followed him at times. Getting into fights with officials, the press or opponents. But he played the game in the right spirit, even if his tie was loose or not worn at all against the underlying ettiquette of the game. He was the people's champion because he brought excitement to the game.
If he were at his prime today he would still fit into the top level of players because like the youngsters today he was prepared to take on the long, seemingly impossible pots.
In the end he survived a mere three years less than my non-smoking, non-heavy drinking father. Which would propably be as much as a shock to my father as it is to me. But I add the second picture to the right as one that remembers him at his prime.
Alex Higgins 18 March 1949- 24 July 2010