Monday, July 26, 2010

Death of a Champion

The main news feat of this weekend was, ofcourse, the passing of one of snooker’s all time greatest players, Alex Higgins. While his death hardly comes as a surprise, it was still difficult to accept that one of the game’s great champions is no longer there.

Higgins was born in the same year as my mother, died in the same year as my mother and as a result of the same disease. And that is where the comparison stops. Higgins was a chainsmoking, alcoholic mad man, who lived life in the fast lane and spent his fortune on drink, drugs and gambling. He lived the last years of his life in poverty, making money by hustling players in the snooker halls of his native Belfast. Even though he was born to a Protestant family, Higgins considered himself Irish and he loved his Guinness. He won the World Championship in 1972 and 1982 and is still the only player to win the World Championships in both the era before the championships moved to Sheffield and in Sheffield’s legendary Crucible theatre. He was as famous for his behaviour off the table as for his snooker prowess. Besides winning most of the game’s major tournaments, Higgins was a notorious drinker, gambler and trouble maker. He spent fortunes on booze, gambling and a lavish lifestyle. He and his mate Jimmy White, also one of the games greats, went on legendary drinking binges that went on for days. Apart from winning 2 World titles, Higgins was also famous for punching a referee for a decision he disagreed with, and for headbutting a tournament director for telling him to behave. Like fellow Belfast man George Best, he rose from a working class background to become a world famous star, idolised by millions of people. And like Best, his excessive lifestyle caught up with him in the end.

Alex Higgins was the most naturally talented snooker player ever, rivalled only in talent and eye for the game by Ronnie O’Sullivan. Higgins’ style of play, combined with the arrival of color television, revolutionised the game and made it one of the most popular games of Great Britain.

Above all, Alex Higgins was the people’s champion and an inspiration to many young snooker players.

Alex Higgins is dead but will be forever remembered for his speed and free flowing style of play.

I raise my glass to The Hurricane in a tribute to one of the most exciting players in snooker history.

Alex, take care.

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