I remember being in St Kentigerns Irish Social Club in Fallowfield, Manchester in 1982. I was 16 years old, and just about to taste my first pint of ale (under age of course) but that was the way back then. It was a fairly busy night, as they all were back in the 80s – nobody had much money, though everyone had 48p for a pint. How times and prices have changed.
The reason for all the excitement? On the grainy TV behind the bar, Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, a son of Belfast, was playing Ray Reardon from Wales in the World Championship final. Everyone in the club was transfixed on the screen.
After a tight and often cagey affair, the Hurricane pulled away to win 18–15.
When he finally won the match and received the Trophy, the tears flowed. Then he brought his wife and daughter out to celebrate his second world title (his first one being ten years previously, in 1972).
Ireland was united.
Alec Higgins was an enigma, not only on the snooker table, but in British sport in general. Genius is a word that gets banded around all too easily these days, but he was, most definitely, a genius on that green baize. The speed with which he could move around the table, potting ball after ball - amazing talent, amazing brain and amazing precision play.
He was to snooker what George Best was to football...
Up until the addition of the Hurricane, snooker was an old man's sport, played in smoky backstreet clubs. With the advent of TV, the pace was slow and cumbersome. Alex Higgins changed all that - someone flicked the switch on, and a new game was born.
He was a rebel, with one cause; he was born to play snooker, born to entertain, and, as with all rebels, born to shock.
Nobody did it like Alex Higgins. He opened up the doors for the present stars to perform. Jimmy White was the nearest thing to him, and Ronnie O'Sullivan to a lesser extent, but he was the people's champion: he brought in the crowds, he was snooker when all is said and done.
I met him once, in 1995; Oasis were playing in Manchester and we were in a city-centre bar. Up came Alex; he had a chat with Liam, then, when we were leaving, he pulled me to one side (mistaking me for Noel) and said: "Can you lend me £10,000? As I want to get back in practice for next season's Championship." I said to him, "You've got the wrong brother, brother."
It was sad to hear of his passing away at the relatively young age of 61, but just like his moniker, he blew in fast, and blew out just as quick. But he left something even greater behind: the ability to entertain against all the odds.
© Words - Paul Gallagher / ZANI Media