James Lawton: Farewell to the Hurricane who swept his sport into modern era

We should remember Higgins for transforming snooker, not tales of drink and anarchy

There is a standard eulogy for the wild men of sport who have touched our lives with the sharp edge of their genius.

We itemise the appalling nature of much of their existence and then we dribble out the lines of redemption. Sometimes, though, there is a stronger resonance in the reactions to their passing and there is no question that in this rare category no one this weekend served the memory of Alex Higgins better than the man who often seemed to be occupying a different planet.

The chaos wrought by the Hurricane, which finally blew out so forlornly in the flat in Belfast where he lived alone, did not, said Steve Davis, disguise the fact that the game of snooker as a popular spectator sport, rather than a smoky, hustling subculture, had in the process never acquired a deeper debt.

Davis, the multi-world champion, the relentless compiler of success and the self-disciplinary values he believed were essential to its continuation, said quite simply that Higgins was the reason why so many people turned to snooker, with an extraordinary quickening of the pulse in the Seventies and the Eighties.

"He made snooker come alive for the people in a way that no one has ever matched," declared Davis, and anyone who was around when Higgins first came storming out of East Belfast with a cue in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other could only say Amen.

The phrase about the cue and the vodka is hardly original, rather another touch of nostalgia, because it was one that led to a ferocious phone call of complaint from the subject when it was first used more than 30 years ago. Higgins was outraged. He said it trivialised his standing in the sport in which he had become a world champion nearly a decade earlier. He played hard, he practised hard and the idea that he was an unfettered playboy who did nothing more than ride his natural talent to its limits was offensive, and, one might later find out, also perhaps actionable.



Video: Hurricane Higgin dies

Of course one grovelled, as well as a fractured head would permit. The line was, after all, written in the aftermath of a lunch which had stretched from midday to not so far from midnight. The table was littered with dead bottles of Chablis but when he was eventually collected by his driver he insisted he was going straight to practice.

He was a Hurricane, all right, and even back then it was natural to worry where the wind would blow him. Predictably enough, it brought dismay and despair but, if the price of excess was savage and long drawn-out, there was, at least, that last recognition of his unique contribution to sport by the men who were required to hold the first rush of his brilliance in some kind of check.

The old hand John Spencer couldn't do it in 1972, when the Ulsterman won the first of his two world titles as a 22-year-old, but the cool, mustachioed Canadian Cliff Thorburn did it eight years later when he edged him 18-16 in the final when the Crucible theatre in Sheffield suddenly became one of the more compelling arenas in front-line sport.

Thorburn made an impressive contribution to the rising tide of snooker. He talked vividly of his days hustling in the pool halls of North America, including the marathon in San Francisco when, towards the end, his opponent opened his cue case and reached for a bottle of pep pills nestling against the butt of a powerful handgun. But then he added quickly that nothing in any form of his sport demanded quite as much nerve as countering the man from Belfast. "The fact is," he said, "Higgins is capable of anything, good or bad, outrageous or something so brilliant it just goes off the chart."

Inevitably, the obituaries have been laced with drink and anarchy, the head-buttings, the threats to opponents, the mayhem in the hotels that were the staging posts of his decline. But thanks to men like Davis and Thorburn, Ronnie O'Sullivan and the man who did everything but stand on the mountain top, Jimmy White, the best of the Hurricane's legacy will plainly not lack protection.

Higgins' crowning moment was maybe his 1982 world title victory over Ray Reardon, but then no one will forget the extraordinary chemistry he brought to the Crucible when he came back to overwhelm Jimmy White in the semi-final. He was behind, 14-15, and apparently beaten but then he reached down and shot out the lights as surely as Doc Holliday ever darkened a Dodge City saloon.

Not so long ago, Higgins was recounting to some drinking companions one of his most notable hustling triumphs, one when he overcame a handicap of 33. "Not such a problem for a man like you," he was told. "My handicap," he said, "was that I could only score off the yellow."

He said it with another shrug, the man who had been so careless with so much of his life. Except, that is, on those occasions when he produced the best of an amazing talent. His peers, at least, have made it clear that such times will neither be forgotten nor, still less, devalued.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker