Sport: Higgins unzipped and relieved his bladder before returning

MIKE ROWBOTTOM on tales of sportsmen behaving badly
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The Independent Online
THE visuals at the start of BBC's Match of The Day offer a stylised version of the way dissatisfied managers are supposed to behave during half-time team talks.

Joe Kinnear, who has maintained Wimbledon as a Premiership force in recent seasons, is seen banging his fist down on table, disturbing the composure of a nearby cup of tea.

In reality, if reports floating back from the other side of the dressing- room door are to be credited, Kinnear and others who share his volatile disposition favour more extreme measures. Crockery takes flight. The tea urn gets tipped over.

Bruce Rioch, the former Arsenal and Millwall manager, has a reputation of being one of the strictest disciplinarians.

His man-management style appears to have developed naturally from his playing days, when - the story goes - he took out his frustration on an apprentice who had failed to clean his boots properly by standing the wretched lad against a wall and using him for shooting practice.

Rioch's left foot, in its day, could have doubled for a steam-hammer. I bet that improved the shine on his Adidas 2000's.

Of course we like to hear stories of sporting gestures. Gazza handing over his Littlewoods Cup medal to a non-playing substitute who, unlike himself, appeared for Middlesbrough en route to Wembley. How nice. He's a good lad at heart, isn't he?

But stories of Sportsmen Behaving Badly - these we love.

Gazza launching himself into the stupifyingly stupid challenge during the 1991 FA Cup final that caused him career-threatening injury. Gazza enraging the Celtic fans by pretending to be a flute player on a Protestant apprentice boys' march. Such incidents stir the blood.

On that subject, a frisson went through the world of athletics a couple of seasons ago when the rivalry of the international sprinting scene spilled over from the track into the lobby of the Nova Park Hotel in Zurich.

After racing over 100 metres in the Weltklasse meeting, Dennis Mitchell of the United States and Olapade Adeniken of Nigeria became involved in a disagreement which came to blows.

The cause of the argument was never made entirely clear. Some said it was over a woman. Some said one runner had insulted the other's mother. Whatever, the tangible evidence of their dispute required to be sponged off the hotel carpet.

Athletics, like any other sport, has a history of misdemeanours. At the 1904 Olympics in St Louis, a New Yorker called Fred Lorz crossed the line first in the marathon, had been photographed with Alice Roosevelt, daughter of the US president, and was about to be awarded the gold medal when it was discovered that he had covered 11 miles of his journey in a car.

Lorz passed it off as a practical joke, but his national federation failed to see the funny side and banned him for life.

Personally, I have never experienced a sportsman so breathtakingly out- of-order as Alex Higgins. Eight years ago I watched him play Dennis Taylor in the final of the Irish Benson & Hedges snooker tournament - held in the sales ring at Goffs, Co Kildare, where bloodstock auctions regularly took place.

The event was heavy with foreboding. The previous weekend, while both men were representing Northern Ireland in the World Cup, they had had a bitter row during which Higgins - a Protestant - was widfely reported to have threatened to have his Catholic colleague shot.

By 1990, Higgins' high-point - the tearful world title win of 1982 - was a diminishing memory. The Hurricane was blowing itself out before everyone's eyes.

Higgins showed touches of the old, glorious certainty in the early stages, punctuating his nervy breaks with tippy-toe visits back to his seat for a drag or a slug of beer. A score of 54 was marked by a disco wiggle, with cue held high overhead.

But as play progressed, Higgins deteriorated. While Taylor strode off between frames to compose himself, his opponent remained at table-side, chatting to spectators and downing what looked like his favourite tipple of vodka and orange.

Towards the end of the match I had left my seat and was talking to an official backstage in the yard where horses were held before entering the auction ring. Sensibly, the stone floor was provided with gutters and drains to deal with the products of any nervousness among the assembled creatures.

As I spoke, I noticed a thin, waist-coated figure coming out of the arena. Standing above one of the drains, he unzipped his trousers and relieved his bladder before returning - with a faint smile - to the spectators and television cameras no more than 20 yards away. "Higgins's watering hole," said the official.

Earlier in the evening, Higgins had attempted to quell the noise of his more vocal supporters. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said. "This is the Irish Benson & Hedges. Can we have a little bit of decorum?"

He meant it, too.