'Hurricane' Higgins looks to have blown himself out

Guy Hodgson reports from Blackpool on a champion's decline
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The Independent Online
It is not so long ago that a poster campaign to sell a snooker tournament needed only two words: Hurricane Warning. Yesterday Alex Higgins went unbilled and barely applauded as he tried to breath life into a career that is not so much unconscious as resembling a corpse.

A strong wind was still pulling in the punters from the prom on Blackpool's North Shore but it was not the Hurricane that tempted them from the cold, rather Gail from Coronation Street and the theme attraction based on the television series. Higgins' struggles went almost unnoticed.

True, the most famous snooker player of them all had a capacity audience as he began what he hoped would be a long haul towards an appearance in the Embassy World Championships. But in the claustrophobic boxes (24 in all) these qualifying matches are performed in that amounted to a crowd of 18. Frankly, the champion of 1972 and 1982 had every reason to be thankful so many had bothered.

This season has been a nightmare for Higgins who has flopped almost every time he has chalked his cue. Coming into yesterday's trial he had not qualified for any event, had lost all but one of his 11 matches and his frame score was 17 for, 49 against.

His match with Surinder Gill at the Norbreck Castle Hotel was his last chance to avoid a total wash-out in tournaments for the first time since 1990-91 when he was serving a suspension.

Once in the world's top three, the Irishman's provisional ranking had fallen to 61st yesterday and that position hardly had a bullet beside it. With tournaments proper to follow, the number facing him is outside 100 and flirtation with the snooker's underclass of 129 and beyond.

To see him now is to understand why. Once energy, fuelled by an enormous thirst for alcohol, seemed to flow through him. He was a hyperactive and brilliant rebel who was perceived to be kicking against sport's stuffy conventions. Yesterday he looked barely capable of drawing back a foot.

His opponent, Gill, is so prominent within snooker that his biggest claim to fame is one appearance at The Crucible where Stephen Hendry used him as cannon fodder. He still looked better than an opponent who can claim, with justification, to have helped put the sport on the map.

The first frame was an excruciating safety battle lasting nearly 32 minutes and that, as far as Higgins was concerned, set an unalterable pattern. There were no outrageous pots, no swift thrusts leaving Gill defenceless, just a slow, steady decline. In short he achieved what no one could ever have anticipated: he bored.

He was losing too. A flicker of resistance was apparent when he pulled back from 4-8 to 7-9 but the weight of the past was too heavy. He went with a tirade that has become a familiar conclusion to his appearances, claiming he would take the game's governing body to court. After 25 years as a professional the end is in sight. The Hurricane is blown out.