Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins, who died in July 24, 2010, aged 61, did as much as anyone to raise the popularity of snooker with his mercurial talent. Brilliant, if inconsistent, on the table, Higgins was a singularly graceless loser and frequently came into conflict with the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association because of his drunken, argumentitive, abusive, sometimes even violent, behaviour. Nevertheless, reflecting on his career at the time of his death, respected commentator Clive Everton said, ‘The public decides who its heroes are going to be, and Alex was one of them.’
Born in Belfast on March 18, 1949, started playing snooker, as a 12-year-old, in what he later referred to as the ‘dreaded’ Jam Pot, the billiard hall in the Donegall Road area of south Belfast. Just over a decade later, in 1972, he became, at the time, the youngest world champion ever, beating John Spencer 37-32 in the best-of-73 final at the Selly Park British Legion, Birmingham.
Higgins won the world championship again in 1982 and the penultimate frame of his semi-final against Jimmy White was one of the most memorable in the history of televised professional snooker. Trailing 14-15 and 0-59 in the best-of-31 match, with half a dozen reds remaining, Higgins produced a miraculous clearance of 69, despite running out of position time after time, to keep his hopes alive. Higgins swaggered back to his seat, raising a defiant index finger in the direction of the press box as he did so, and went on to win the match 16-15. Reflecting on footage of the penultimate frame, Jimmy White said, ‘I look like I’d been hit by a train.’
In the final, Higgins faced six-time world champion Ray Reardon. Higgins led 15-12, but Reardon drew level at 15-15, before Higgins produced some of his very best snooker, including a total clearance of 135 in the concluding frame, to win 18-15. The scenes of a tearful Higgins celebrating with his wife, Lynn, and his infant daughter, Lauren, helped changed the face of the game.