Higgins was to become the biggest box-office draw the game has
ever known. Completely off the wall, always controversial he
was never out of the news, on or off the table. No one had seen
anyone like him when he played in the 1972 world championship.
His skill in the game was almost like a stage magician and every
game people flocked to see him in their thousands.
Born in Belfast, 18th March 1949,
Alexander Gordon Higgins started playing snooker at the age
of eleven at a local club, The Jampot, but 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 from his
apprenticeship without ever having ridden in public. He returned
to Belfast and the Jampot and by 1965, age 16 he had compiled
his first maximum. In 1968 he won both the All-Ireland and Northern
Ireland amateur championships. He wanted to make some real money
out of the game and moved to Manchester in 1971 and turned professional.
He entered the 1972 world championships and
set the snooker world alight by beating John Spencer 37-32 to
become champion at his first attempt. He was the one character
that was to bring a whole new audience to the game of snooker
and make the sport almost as fashionable as football is. The
people loved him and the sponsors rushed to put more money into
the game. He only managed to reach the semi-finals the following
year and the quarters in 1974. Another semi-final in 1975 was
followed by reaching the 1976 final where he lost to Ray Reardon.
The following two years saw him go out in the first round but
in 1979 he only lost his quarter-final in the deciding frame
to the eventual champion, Terry Griffiths, and the next year
he made it to his third final, a narrow 16-18 defeat by Cliff
Thorburn. An early exit in 1981 was followed by unforgettable
scenes in 1982 as he beat Ray Reardon to become champion again.
this was after a wonderful semi-final encounter with Jimmy White,
arguably the best match ever seen at the Crucible.
In the meantime Alex had reached four successive
Benson & Hedges Masters finals from 1978 to 1981, winning
the first and last of them as well as the 1980 British Gold
Cup and three Irish Professional titles. He added a fourth in
1983 and ended that year with a dramatic win in the Coral UK
Championship. he was 0-7 down to Steve Davis but won the match
He had a drinking problem and was consistently
in trouble with the authorities receiving numerous bans and
he was finding it harder to compete on the table. He was, however,
a member of Ireland’s winning World Cup team for three
consecutive years, 1985-87 and in 1989 won the Irish Masters
as well as a fifth Irish Professional title.
Further lengthy bans caused him to slip down
the rankings and he now had to play through several qualifying
rounds to reach the money earning stages of the big tournaments.
This he consistently failed to do and to add to his problems,
he developed cancer. He has still not officially retired but
was playing for £10 or £20 a time at a small club
No one can doubt that he has been the bad boy
of snooker for most of his career and has brought most of his
problems on himself but equally it can be said that, without
him, the big snooker revival of the seventies would never have
But now The Hurricane is back with his old friend
Jimmy White for a few shows from Saturday 28 Feb - Wed 10 Mar
2004 called Snooker Excellence At Barbican Centre, York, where
t hey will be playing an exhibition match.
Also the colourful antics of the Belfast-born
legend are being depicted in a one-man show at London's West
End and also on a tour. Aptly titled Hurricane, it charts the
highs and lows of the twice World Snooker champion.
Originally produced in Belfast, the play whipped
up a storm at last year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival with rave
reviews from the critics. The show comes
to the Lowry in Manchester on Monday 23rd - Thursday 4th March.