Alex Higgins (right) with David Taylor at an exhibition at Queen's University Belfast, 1968
|Born||18 March 1949
Belfast, Northern Ireland
|Sport country||Northern Irish |
|Highest ranking||2 (2 years)|
|World Champion||1972, 1982|
Alexander Gordon Higgins (born 18 March 1949 in Belfast), best known as Alex "Hurricane" Higgins, is a retired professional snooker player from Northern Ireland, who was twice World Champion and runner-up on two occasions.
Higgins started playing snooker at the age of 11, often in the Jampot club in his native Sandy Row area of south Belfast and later in the YMCA in the nearby city centre. At 14 and only seven and a half stones, he left for England and a career as a jockey. However, he put on a lot of weight and was released without ever having ridden in public. He returned to Belfast and by 1965, age 16 he had compiled his first maximum. In 1968 he won the All-Ireland and Northern Ireland amateur snooker championships.
He turned professional at the age of 22, winning the World Snooker Championship at his first attempt in 1972 against John Spencer. The match was won with a 37-32 scoreline. Higgins, at 22, was the youngest winner of the title until Stephen Hendry's 1990 victory at the age of 21. He once again reached the final, in April 1976, only to face one of the most successful players of that era, Ray Reardon. Higgins led 11-9 but Reardon made four centuries and seven breaks over 60 to pull away and win the title for the fifth time. The Belfast man conceded the match when Reardon was leading by 27-16. Higgins was also runner-up to Cliff Thorburn in 1980, when looking strong favourite to win at 9-5 up before losing narrowly 18-16. However, he won his second title in 1982 after beating Reardon 18-15 (with a 135 total clearance in the final frame); it was an emotional as well as professional victory for him. He would have been ranked #1 in the world rankings for the 1982/83 season but for the forfeit of ranking points following disciplinary action.
Higgins' quickness around the table and flamboyant style earned him the nickname "Hurricane Higgins", and made him a high-profile player. His highly unusual technique sometimes included a body swerve and movement when cueing, as well as a stance that was higher than for most professionals. While Higgins was arguably a classic example of how not to cue, he nevertheless managed to pot balls at a rapid rate. He also drank and smoked during tournaments, as did many of his contemporaries, helping sponsored tobacco advertising. In October 1998, he had an operation to remove a cancer from his throat. A volatile personality got him into frequent fights and arguments, both on and off the snooker table. One of the most serious of these clashes was when he head-butted a referee at the UK championship in 1986. This led to him being fined £12,000 and banned from five tournaments. Another came at the 1990 world championship; after losing his first-round match to Steve James, he punched tournament official Colin Randle in the stomach before the start of a press conference at which he announced his retirement. This, added to his having threatened to have Dennis Taylor "shot", led to a ban for the whole of the following season.
Higgins is now retired from professional play but spends time playing for small sums of money in and around Northern Ireland. He has battled throat cancer periodically. He made appearances in the 2005 and 2006 Irish Professional Championships; these comebacks ending in a first-round defeat by Garry Hardiman in 2005 and a similar loss to Joe Delaney in 2006.
His very unorthodox yet effective play is perhaps best encapsulated in his break of 69, made under unusual pressure, against Jimmy White in the penultimate frame of their World Professional Snooker Championship semi-final in 1982. Higgins was 0-59 down in that frame and probably one ball away from going out, but managed to compile an extremely challenging clearance during which he was scarcely in position until the colours. In particular, former world champion Dennis Taylor considers a three-quarter-ball pot on a blue into the green pocket especially memorable, not only for its extreme degree of difficulty but for enabling Higgins to continue the break and keep White off the table and unable to clinch victory at that moment. In potting the blue, Higgins screwed the cue-ball on to the side cushion to bring it back towards the black/pink area with extreme left-hand sidespin, a shot Taylor believes could be played 100 times without coming close to the position Higgins reached with cue-ball (he arguably went too far for ideal position on his next red but the match-saving break was still alive).
In Clive Everton's TV documentary The Story of Snooker (2002), Steve Davis considered Higgins the "one true genius that snooker has produced", despite the autobiography of his contemporary fellow professional Willie Thorne (a former world number 7 and UK championship runner-up in the 1980s who played against Higgins many times) criticising Higgins as "not a great player". Higgins arguably fulfilled this potential only intermittently during his career peak in the 1970s and 80s; Everton puts this down to Davis and Ray Reardon being "too consistent" for him on the whole.
Regardless, Higgins' style and popularity helped make snooker a growing television sport in the late 1970s and early 80s. Higgins also made one of the first 16-red clearances (in a challenge match in 1976); it was a break of 146 (with the brown as the first "red", and sixteen colours: 1 green, 5 pinks and 10 blacks).
It is estimated that Higgins earned and mostly spent a £3 million fortune over twenty years.
Higgins returned to competitive action in September 2007 at the VC Poker Irish Professional Championship in Dublin but was whitewashed 5-0 by former British Open champion Fergal O'Brien in the first round at the Spawell Club, Templelogue.
On 12 June 2007 it was reported that Higgins had assaulted a referee at a charity match in the north-east of England.
Higgins continues to play fairly regularly, enjoys "hustling" for small-time stakes in clubs in Northern Ireland and beyond against allcomers; and in May 2009 he entered the N. Ireland amateur championship, "to give it a crack", but failed to appear for his match.
Higgins has been an inspiration to many of today's professional snooker players including Ken Doherty, Jimmy White and Ronnie O'Sullivan who in an interview stated "Alex was an inspiration to players like Jimmy White and thousands of snooker players all over the country, including me. The way he played at his best is the way I believe the game should be played. It was on the edge, keeping the crowd entertained and glued to the action." .
Higgins has been married twice and has a son and a daughter with his ex-wife Lynn.
At the time of his 1972 triumph at the World Championship, Higgins had no permanent home and by his own account had recently lived in a row of abandoned houses in Blackburn which were awaiting demolition. In one week he had moved into five different houses on the same street because every time his current dwelling was demolished.
He is alleged to have a son, Chris, born in 1975, who resides in Great Harwood, Blackburn (as reported in the News of the World, Sept/Aug 2004), and an Australian daughter.
Higgins has been fictionalised in a novel: He appears at the end of Martha Grimes' mystery Jerusalem Inn, in which snooker plays a major part. He plays and wins three rounds against one of the book's main characters.
He is unrelated to three-times world champion John Higgins.
Although sporting a "bad boy" image, in 1983 Higgins helped a young boy from the Manchester area, a fan of his, who had been in a coma for two months. His parents were growing desperate and wrote to Higgins. He recorded his voice on a tape and sent it to the boy with his best wishes. He later visited the boy in hospital, unannounced, and promised that if the boy recovered they would play snooker together. True to his word, once the boy was out, the match was held.
In 2006 Higgins met author Sean Boru, Boru was asked by a journalist friend to call a mobile number and see who it was. Alex Higgins answered the call and they got talking about books, Sean persuaded Higgins to allow him to ghost write his autobiography. The deal was sealed in Belfast when Boru brought over the commissioning editor for Headline Publishing David Wilson, they spent a day walking around the city with Boru's literary agent Diane Banks. It gave David Wilson a quick view of how people still react to the snooker legend. The book was launched in 2007 and was a best seller, albeit that Boru was greatly credited with the style of the book and its original content, to the annoyance of Higgins. The press widely reported that Higgins caused controversy at many of the book signings, but still the fans came to meet their hero and get his autographed book.
In 2010 Higgins makes his long awaited return to the crucible as part of the Snookerlegends Tour. 18 Events over 3 months will give his fans teh chance to see him play again