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"...here is the Hurricane, warts and all. Fasten your seat belt and hang on tightly." John Hennessey is a sports journalist, he has been the snooker correspondent for several newspapers. Alex Higgins is one of his sporting idols (the others being Muhammad Ali and George Best.) For the benefit of aliens from the planet Yerwat, Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins was a snooker player. Now there's an understatement! He wasn't nicknamed 'The Hurricane' for nothing, in the 1979 Irish Masters he rattled in a 122 break in 2 minutes 45 seconds! Higgins started playing in the Jampot on Donegall Road, Belfast, at the age of nine and was making £7 a week by the time he was twelve. The classic mis-spent youth. Sadly his was a mis-spent adulthood too. On the one hand he was a genius, who invented new shots (sending the cue ball round the angles and into the pack, for example), and on the other he was a moaning self-destructive, self-centered, bad loser acting like a child going through the terrible-twos, oblivious to other people's feelings. Oh, and he liked the odd drink too... If you see an old clip of him appearing to drink milk or Coca-Cola while playing, well, it's a fair bet that it was mostly vodka. After a brief spell as a stable boy - horses being another of his loves (albeit mainly for having a flutter on), he became one of the few professional snooker players there were in 1970, and then, at the age of twenty-one, the youngest ever world champion (until Stephen Hendry came along.) For that triumph in 1972, he won £480, and the final was seen by three men and a dog. Well, three journalists anyway (Hennesey himself, Ted Corbett and Clive Everton.) Although charming at times, his behaviour could be a waking nightmare for the people around him, especially officials. He calls everyone "babes" and could be charming and endearing. But he could also be infuria
tingly rude. His habit of putting his feet up on the dashboard while being driven around for example. (He never learned to drive, which is probably just as well.) Like the little girl with the little curl, when he was good he was very, very good, but when he was bad he was horrid. To be fair, he did have some genuine grievances, with dubious refereeing decisions, poor playing conditions and being cheated out of tens of thousands of pounds by a fraudulent manager. But he lost most people's sympathy when his whingeing would often turn quite spiteful, most infamously when he threatened to have Dennis Taylor shot. In 1977 he went "through the sheets" at the Pontin's Open, entering at the first qualifying round (or 'sheet') and going on to win, despite conceding 21 points per frame to all the amateurs The next year Higgins made his second appearance on Pot Black after being banned (or rather 'not invited') for five years, but his outspoken nature again failed to impress 'Whispering' Ted Lowe, and the following year he was dropped in favour of 65-year-old Fred Davis. "We're always looking to show new faces" said Ted. I saw the Hurricane play in the qualifying rounds of a tournament in Bristol in 1984, he wasn't exactly "buzzing" and the only fuse that blew that day was in the circuit for the table lights. At which point someone in the crowd held up a lighter and said something like "there you go Alex..." and ever the crowd pleaser, he potted a ball in the dark! Surprisingly, Higgins' famous triumph in the 1982 World Final gets no more space here than many other tournaments. The image of a tearful Hurricane calling wife Lynn and baby Lauren onto the stage is one of Snooker's most memorable moments, after all. But even then trouble wasn't far away. The following morning he had to face a disciplinary hearing, for a late night
incident earlier in the week when he piddled in a plant pot backstage at the Crucible. His piddle was splashed all over the front page of some of the tabloids, eclipsing the sinking of the Belgrano! And a year later he and Lynn split-up. Like most sporting biographies, this book is dangerously close to being a long list of tournament results, but Hennessey's account is interspersed with comments from other players, officials and commentators which are often the most interesting bits. For example, Cliff Thorburn describes how, following a card game in 1973, Higgins went for him with a bottle, so the Canadian gave him a bit of a thumping (and not for the last time either.) Higgins' love life was equally turbulent. After one of many blazing rows, during which his girlfriend had locked the front door to prevent him going to the pub, he exited via a first floor window. A neighbour on the floor below had already called the police and was making them a cup of tea when she saw Higgins fall head first past her window. One officer remarked that Mr. Higgins was "not seriously hurt...he landed on his head." Despite breaking thirty bones in his ankle, he went on to play in a tournament, hobbling round the table on crutches, leading John Parrott to joke that: "he looks so much like Long John Silver that I keep thinking I should ask him if I can jump on his shoulder." Effectively, his career ended one night at the Preston Guild Hall. When he was picked (for the second time during the tournament) to give a urine sample, he went absolutely apeshit, and ended up headbutting the tournament director and punching holes in a door (which, apparently, the theatre have kept as a memento!) The sample tested negative. It seems blindingly obvious that he had some undiagnosed psychological (pathological?) dysfunction. Apparently he now lives in a bungalow in Lisburn, having had an operation for throat cancer (did I
mention he was a heavy smoker as well?) By all accounts he was as much of a nightmare off the table as he was a genius on it. Hennessey once told Ray Reardon that he feared Higgins would be found dead in a gutter one day. To which, 'Dracula' replied: "he's far too cunning for that." ¶ Hardback: £16.99 ¶ pp 224 ¶ ISBN: 1840183853 ¶ ¶ Paperback: £7.99 ¶ pp 208 ¶ ISBN: 184018440X ¶ ___________________________________________________________ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
When Alex Higgins' first manager, John McLaughlin, bestowed the nickname Hurrican Higgins on the young snooker player he had no idea just how apt it was to prove over the next 30 years. This is the story of a man who had everything to play for but now has to play hard for anything he can get.