20110111

New take on the Higgins legend


It is more than 20 years since Alex Higgins took part in his last World Snooker Championships and yet still there is no player to whom the popularity of that tournament -- and the game in general -- owes a greater legacy.

His flamboyant playing style and his chaotic life away from the table were the perfect combination as the sport sought to move away from dingy clubs into the nation’s front rooms in the latter half of the 1970s, when television viewers and tabloid newspaper readers developed a taste for sport laced with soap opera.

He gave the game its blueprint for success, encouraging countless young men not only to strive for brilliance with a cue but to live a little on the wild side, too, perhaps.

There have been better players (though it should not be forgotten that he won the world title twice) but no bigger character, no one to command the attention of the public in the same way, whether for his extraordinary skills or his volatile temperament.

Higgins destroyed himself ultimately with drink, drugs and tobacco, his uniquely bizarre life ending last July, when his emaciated body was discovered in his flat in Belfast. He was effectively homeless when he won his first world championship in 1972 and, having blown every penny of the £3 million he made from the game, he died with much the same status, living in sheltered accommodation.

And just as the seedier side of his fellow Ulsterman, George Best, retains a fascination for the reading public, so too the more tawdry, seamier aspects of the Higgins story continue to have an irresistible draw.

A new collection of Higgins stories will hit the bookstores next month when John Blake Publishing releases Let Me Tell You About Alex: Crazy Days and Nights on the Road with the Hurricane, by John Virgo, the former UK snooker champion whose career coincided with that of Higgins and who numbered himself among his friends.

Virgo was one of a number of former snooker stars who turned out in Manchester last May at a fund-raising dinner held in his honour, with the sad aim of helping to drum up £20,000 so that Higgins, down to six stones in weight and living on baby food as a result of throat cancer, might have implants to replace the teeth he had lost through aggressive radiotherapy.  Sadly Higgins was never well enough to undergo the surgery necessary.

The book is described as “an affectionate portrait” but the publishers’ synopsis promises something more than a sycophantic attempt to bathe the Higgins story in more palatable light.

“Whatever else he was,” it reads, “Alexander Gordon Higgins wasn't nice. Unpredictable, wild, demonic and obsessive for certain. John Virgo knew Higgins as well as anyone. He made no apologies for his friend and was frequently driven to despair by his antics -- the gambling, the drug-using, the sheer, uninhibited madness of the man.”

It will have to be good, though, to match the account put together by the journalist Bill Borrows in 2002 after his attempts to stay onside with Higgins long enough to write an authorised biography ultimately collapsed over the player’s financial demands.

The Hurricane: The Turbulent Life & Times of Alex Higgins was hailed as not only one of the best books written about snooker but one of the most compelling sports biographies, drawing on painstaking research and countless interviews, as well as starkly enlightening times spent with his subject.

Click on the highlighted link to buy Bill Borrows's book or here to pre-order Let Me Tell You About Alex: Crazy Days and Nights on the Road with the Hurricane

For more on snooker and more sports biographies, visit The Sports Bookshelf Shop.

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