Islanders’ Tributes to Alex Hurricane Higgins

by Roland Cox

Alex Higgins died a week ago today and this article is a tribute to him from the members of Snooker Island. Love him or hate him – and there are many on both sides of the fence – you can’t deny his influence on the game of snooker.

The first shot in the last frame of the 1982 World final. At point of impact, the white didn't move a millimeter! And you can see why he had to stop the white dead; to get on the black. You try this shot and I bet the white moves past the point of impact. (click to enlarge)

For me personally, Alex Higgins will go down as the most exciting snooker player to watch of all time.

Like all people my age and older, I remember the 1982 World Championship semi-final and final with great reverence.

As an impressionable kid, the semi-final between Alex and Jimmy White really caught my imagination. I was pulling for Jimmy, and didn’t really appreciate the 69 break when it happened because I wanted Alex to miss, and I also thought all snooker was like this which is why I loved it so much. But obviously since then this has gone down as the most exciting break in snooker history.

Over the final weekend I can remember my grandparents and neighbours all talking about Hurricane Higgins and Ray Reardon (or ‘urricane ‘iggins and Ray Reagon as some referred to them) and I remember the final being the talk of the village where I lived. I remember well the 135 break Alex killed the final off with, from the first red he potted (see diagram right) where he stopped the white absolutely dead (something which I tried to emulate for years before finally learning how to do it!) through to last black and the hug from Ray, followed by the tears and calls for the ‘baby’.

I was 8 years old coming up to my 9th birthday so my perception was different to now and recollections may be a little hazy, but I certainly remember those moments being replayed over and over again on BBC television, and I remember everybody talking about Hurricane Higgins for months and months afterwards. The women talked about the crying and the baby, the men talked about the snooker but the net effect to me was that snooker was something very important in life, and to that end I was very happy because I loved it!

One of the shots played by Alex in his do or die 69 break against Jimmy White in 1982

And every year the 69 break was replayed many times, and each time I saw it I was getting closer to grasping the magnitude of the break. One thing is for sure – I never ever switched channels when it was on and it was on a lot! And that should demonstrate to the younger readers just how massive the Higgins victory in 1982 really was. At the time the 4th TV channel hadn’t even launched in the UK so there were only 3 to choose from and the last two frames of that particular match were aired many many times. Snooker was massive.

As I grew up, Alex Higgins was always in the papers, or on television. Steve Davis was winning everything and was equally everywhere, but Alex Higgins and Jimmy White were the crowd favourites. They played the snooker that made kids like me want to play, and play until we dropped.

Naturally when Alex was in the papers it wasn’t always about snooker. I remember being shocked at a story in my grandmothers Daily Express which described how Alex drank alcohol laced with honey and vomited in the flower display at one particular tournament. And there were many more stories where that came from. But every time he was playing in a televised match, I made sure to tune in and I couldn’t take my eyes off him for a second. Yes, I was one of those youngsters who Steve Davis has referred to recently who thought the done thing was to make tappy noises with the cue on the rail on every shot, because that’s what Alex did.

One of the break-off shots Alex used to use, and one which growing up I used to use thinking it standard

Something which doesn’t seem to have been mentioned much but something he did a lot also was his break-off shot where he hit the white into the baulk cushion, sending it off 4 cushions into the reds. From memory he did that about once in every session. This is memory though, it may have been less often, but I grew up thinking this was a bona fide standard break-off shot, so I used it on my 6x3ft table a lot. Fast forward 25 years and Steve Davis was getting crucified for a similar break-off albeit negating the first two cushions. The net effect was the same, but whereas when Steve did it it was negative, when Alex did it, it was cool!

I can also remember a diagram which featured in another newspaper article which had people around me talking. It described a potted black Alex had played. I have no idea if it was for frame or if frame was won, or if it was in an exhibition or in a match, but I remember the shot well because I studied it and I practiced it.

Since Alex, there hasn’t been a player who exuded so much nervous energy. Ronnie O’Sullivan and Michael Holt spring to mind, but not nearly as much as Alex. He was a 60 cigarettes a day man, he was fidgety beyond belief. When he was at the table and walking around, he seemed on the verge of falling over. When he was sitting down – usually amongst a barrage of good luck cards from his many fans – he had a look of constant menace about him. His eyes always reminded me of a wild cat, you wouldn’t know if they would attack you or befriend you if you held out your hand in friendship.

A typical Alex Higgins shot which appeared in a newspaper and which I practiced after studying the diagram

When he played shots, regardless of how hard he had to hit the white, sometimes he would stay down on the shot and complete the follow through, other times he would be standing up at the point of impact. But he always timed the ball beautifully. You can’t teach that, you’ve either got it in your locker or you haven’t. One of my favourite Higgins shots was a long pot with white and object ball fairly close together. He would play a delicate shot with perfect weight and spin and give an involuntary spasm pointing the cue to the pocket the object ball was travelling towards, and as soon as he knew it was in which wasn’t usually more than half way to the pocket, he would already be walking round to the next shot!

And then there was the safety game. I knew from an early age that Higgins was more than just a flash potter. He clearly cherished the safety game, and would get as much as if not more satisfaction from laying a quality snooker as he would from hammering in a long pot and getting the white to dance into perfect position for the next shot. Alex’s safety game is one of the best I’ve ever seen.

I was lucky enough to see Alex play a few times. I got his autograph twice, and both times he was very nice to me and players today should take note that if you are nice to a young fan who wants your autograph, you will gain a fan for life. Every time I heard anyone say anything bad about Alex, I ignored it and rubbished it because to me he was an idol and he had been so nice to me so to me that’s who he was.

Alex's black against Dennis Taylor in the B&H Irish following the infamous death threat

Of course since then I’ve seen and heard things, and clearly he was a very disturbed individual. I remember him going on the Terry Wogan show to announce something or other to do with a recent ban, and when he went to put a cap on Wogan’s head, Terry flinched like a wimp, but it was a sign he didn’t know what to expect from Alex and didn’t trust him. And many felt the same way. There was the incident when he had a row with his girlfriend and fell out of a first floor window and played the next tournament in a plaster cast hopping between shots, and there was also the photo of him with ambulance people after being stabbed which was truly shocking.

And then of course you had his discrepancies with tournament officials, and threatening to get Dennis Taylor shot during a team snooker event. The grudge match in the Irish Masters which followed was covered in a documentary about Alex, and featured a very disturbing handshake which clearly made Dennis feel uncomfortable; Alex held onto Dennis’s hand and pulled him towards himself whilst giving him a threatening and disturbing eyeball glare.

But the match also featured a typical Higgins shot which was the equivalent to a jab in guts of his opponent but one the crowd couldn’t get enough of. Once frame was won, he doubled a black off side and baulk cushions and into the opposite corner pocket. He stood behind the pocket with cue raised above his head as soon as he struck the white, and watched the black drop right into the hole. If it was anyone else you would think he went for the double to yellow pocket and fluked it into the opposite corner. But those of us who had watched Alex for years knew he played it because that’s the sort of thing he did.

His last great hurrah was to beat Stephen Hendry 9-8 in the Irish Masters final in 1989. Hendry was the man to beat, the new kid on the block who every player was terrified of, and Alex put to bed any arguments about how he would have coped against the likes of players of future generations right there. He may have been on the thick end of head to head stats overall, but he beat Reardon, Davis and Hendry in their prime to claim big tournament wins and they were the best players of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s respectively.

A couple of years later he faced Hendry again, and on shaking hands announced “Hello, I’m the devil”. This clearly unsettled Hendry and his manager Ian Doyle complained to the WPBSA and Higgins was fined. But when referring to a similar incident in a later interview, it seems Alex was playing the mind games card:

“Oh I used to terrorise players, like the first time I played Stephen. I would shake their hands and not let it go. Anything to unnerve them. All’s fair in love and war.”

The death of Alex Higgins wasn’t unexpected, he had been ill for a long time. But it still came as a shock to me, and fellow Islanders who you will hear from very soon. A last thought from me – how do I rate Alex Higgins? Well those tuning into Eurosport during the last World Championships may have already seen it, but there is a tribute to Mount Rushmore which will find its way onto Snooker Island in due course. Instead of featuring US Presidents, it features snooker players. I had to choose four players who represent snooker. Much as it pained me to leave out Steve Davis, I chose Joe Davis, Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Alex Higgins. That is how I rate Alex Higgins.

Now, onto the Islanders’ tributes.

tubberlad – I have to admit I shed a tear, something I thought I was too proud to do. This man is a hero of mine. RIP the greatest Irish snooker player of all time.

eirebilly – Sad news, i am totally gutted. He will always be a legend to me. Thanks for the memories Alex.

Lucky balls – Very sad. Another genius programmed for self-destruction.

PLtheRef – Such very sad news. I had the privilege to meet him in Killarney with John last year and I have to say he was a gent to me. Snooker will miss him so very much. Rest in peace Alex.

KrazeeEyezKilla – I remember during the World Championships they showed a short feature of the 1982 semi against Jimmy White. The pots they were knocking in were unbelievable. Whatever it was, snooker looked so much better when he was at the table than anyone else.

SnookerFan – I was in the pub and the news came in on the news channel that was on. Weirdly enough, I was wearing a t-shirt with him on…

Higgins invented a style of play that hadn’t been seen before. Now that style of play is common place. That guy invented shots. Pots he was making had others baffled as they hadn’t even considered the shot would be possible. Like him or not, you can’t be a snooker fan without liking the effect he had on the game.

Bourne – He was very much before my time and some of the stories that I see about him that were not so positive were disappointing, but then again it wouldn’t have been Alex Higgins to not have controversy follow him. His talent was undoubted, never a dull moment. At least he is at peace now. RIP Alex, you left many great memories.

wildJONESEYE – it was expected he lived the life he wanted but today my childhood memories of this great game passed away with him. he is the guy that started my love for snooker you could blame him for me being here, it was as i say expected but jesus christ i feel numb at the moment.

ive seen him at his worst on a exibition with jimmy in elsemere port in 1995 he lost 5-4 i had the guts to go up to him ask for a autograff and the reply i had was “go away cant you see ive fucking lost” but somehow i expected that reaction so it never harmed my opinion of him.

paperbackwriter – I’m always amazed by how fast people are able to react, I think I have yet to realize that it happened. I could go on about what I loved about him and I wouldn’t even have to start about what he did for the game – simply, almost everything about him is fascinating to me. I guess I could be satisfied watching a match during which he was off the table all the time, just enjoying his absorbing personality. But of course that would be a waste, since it could only get more exciting when it was his turn to play.

Noel – My words cannot express his genius and his impact upon us all as snooker fans and players. He really was something else. Alex was a fighter until the end… high praise indeed!

Witz78 – I really don’t know what to say. Whilst in so many ways it isn’t a shock it’s still so hard to actually take in that he’s finally gone. Gutted doesn’t come close to describing it, it actually feels like a part of me has died. Since I was about 3 year old I’ve followed snooker and Alex always was the one I followed and admired for his skills, attitude and charisma. Love him or hate him this man made snooker and I’ve always modelled my game on him, only last night i was playing pool when half drunk and had the Alex swagger about me attempting the wonder shots but ultimately losing more games than i won.

On the table, the man was a genius and I’m glad I’m just old enough to remember watching his games on the TV and knowing what a legend he was, is, and always will be. No harm to Jimmy and Ronnie but they don’t even come close to the status Alex will have. He truly was the man who did more for snooker than anyone else will ever be able to do. Just away to play snooker now, going to do a Hurricane tribute and play every single shot in an all-out kamikaze style and sup a couple of pints of the black stuff even though i hate it!!!

gallantrabbit – This is a shock. I actually believed Alex was immortal. I`ve been away for the weekend and did a double take when I saw the news. He was the man that got me interested in this game and kept me on the edge of my seat many a time because you never knew which Alex would turn up. He didn`t only get people interested in the game. For a while he was the man people wanted to be.

N_Castle07 – RIP to a true snooker god. I was shocked and sad to hear the news on Saturday night. Although we all knew how ill he was it was still a shock because you just expected Higgins to fight on and last forever. I’m truly gutted I didn’t go to watch him live when I had the chance and am very envious of those of you who have had the pleasure of watching Higgins play.

sickpotter – Terrible news and a sad day for all who love the game.

The Cueist – I’m gutted, I’m not surprised, just amazed at his determination to live for as long as he did with all his accumulated problems. I respect the man as much for this as i do his snooker ability. What a man, and definitely a man of the people. His legacy is all around snooker to this day.

I will miss the great Alex Hurricane Higgins, my snooker idol. And so will most as he was a working class guy who was an enigma in the snooker world and one of the people to us working class people. That is why we took him to our hearts. A legend who will never be forgotten.

case_master – Enigmatic, explosive, breathtaking, talented, dark, violent, angry. These are a mix of words that people would use to describe Alex, I would have to say my favourite is inspirational. That’s exactly what I view Alex as, he was far from perfect and at times he was a nasty little man who often rubbed people up the wrong way. However, I don’t think these qualities define who or what Alex was.

He was a complex character who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind and tell the world what he was thinking. He wouldn’t have had it easy growing up, living in Belfast at the beginning of the troubles in Northern Ireland when things were at their worst. It was easy for people then to develop a bitter side to them, most at that time witnessed some awful acts or lost somebody they knew. This is not an excuse for Alex but when it is all put into the mix of circumstances I think it becomes easier to understand why he was who he was.

He managed to get out of that atmosphere and helped bring snooker into the big time, not only this and probably unknowingly, like George Best before him he helped the communities ‘back home’. He didn’t play under any flag, claim allegiance to any sector of community; he had respect from everybody which helped to provide some sunshine in what was a dark time in the country’s history.

He will be missed very much, not only in the world of snooker, but by his family and friends. Alex has done what many fail to do; he has left a long lasting legacy and won’t be forgotten.

It’s a pity I wasn’t around when Alex was at his peak, however I still feel privileged watching footage of his past glories. I will always choose to remember the positives Alex has achieved; I hope this is how many choose to remember him.

John McBride in the picture described

JohnFromLondonTown – Like anywhere, it’s hard to imagine living other people’s life unless you actually walk in their shoes, which isn’t going to happen so none of us should judge.

I always remember him sitting on his own with his paper, drinking. Many a time I watched people come up to him to talk to him & get lost for words. His attention span may have come across as limited, but boy was he an intelligent man. I always called him champ when we passed each other.

Of course, my best memory of the man is him coming over to me last December asking me to get him a drink after the officials confiscated his pint of Guinness. I wasn’t ‘showing out’ or anything, I was trying to get my own brain in gear because I was playing Ken Doherty next on the same table that he was playing on. I did what he asked & when Ken walked into the arena the press went mad trying to get photos of the 2 Irish legends together. Again, I took a back seat & let them get on with it, put my case on the table to take my cue out ready to play. He then held up the proceedings & having seen it was me who was playing Ken, he turned round & called me over saying we are not taking any photos unless John McBride is in them & promptly called me over. The press flicked away with me playing right wing, Alex, quite aptly playing centre forward & Ken playing left wing. He didn’t have to do that, but he did it. He even shoved the referee out of the way so I could be in it!

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