The other side of Alex Higgins.

I am not claiming to have known Alex Higgins in any meaningful way. That said I had three or four conversations with him in the past decade born out of pure accident. He had returned to Belfast and lived in an apartment in Osborne Park at the back of Arizona cafe.
He was a regular presence in the neighbourhood motioning towards the local paper shop uninhibited to fetch a newspaper. As a student I thumbed lifts from South Armagh to the South of France. I always feel a certain empathy with the hitch hiker from those days.

It was this payback sentiment which prompted me to stop to give a lift to a gaunt figure wearing a hat at the bus stop who was thumbing a lift.

When he climbed into the car for the first time I had a blank. I could not remember his name for the life of me. He was immediately engaging and courteous. He was softly spoken and having established my identity he moved onto my sphere of interest, current affairs. What I discovered was a surprise. He was encyclopaedic on world affairs. He spoke authoritatively on many conflicts, military and economic in far flung parts of the world. I got the impression he was an avid BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service listener.

This pattern of giving Higgins a lift involved my driving him to the City Airport one afternoon. We again exchanged views on current affairs . He told me he was on his way to take part in an exhibition snooker match in England. As he stepped from the car he said ” just a minute. I have nothing to give you but here, take this book I am reading.”

That is how I remember Alex Higgins far away from The Crucible Theatre.

Ar dheis De go raibh anam Alex.
Eamonn Mallie


  • Oracle

    Let me guess the book was topically called

    Planes Pains and Automobiles

    Hey Mall’s I’m for Galway next week, I’ve no money but i can let you have a few playboy mags that I’m finished with.
    I know I’m finished when I actually start reading the articles!

  • I never met him and I took very little interest in all the controversy surrounding him. But, I remember the old Pot Black on BBC and compared to the rest of the snooker players Alex Higgins was a real hurricane. The first and as far as I am concerned the only really charismatic snooker player, up to and including todays batch.

    RIP Alex Hurricane Higgins.

  • Cynic

    As usual, the quality of your interventions have more the characteristics of a Fundament than an Oracle.

  • AlanMaskey

    What about his smoking? Will you condemn it? Some years ago, a priest (and former GAA great), MIck Cleary. who had been at the Pope’s 1979 Galway Races gig, got into hot water for having sex (with a woman). No one hauled him over the coals for smoking.
    The BBC’s balance tribute does stress it however.

  • Jack Cade

    Looks like Belfast has one more Titanic to be proud of.

    I once served him a packet of fags in the shop I was working in at the time. He was pissed as the proverbial fart and said to me, “The English would call you a….a….” then trailed off. He was smiling so like to think it was some kind of compliment.

  • o’connor

    Alex Higgins a flawed man, but snooker genius RIP

  • Oracle

    I have no idea were you guys spend most of your lives, certainly it’s not following our local icons or if it is it seems at the moment of death you all seem to abandon your memories in some dusty cupboard for a week or too and instead engage in some fanciful nonsense of the wonderful characters of some of these individuals which bear absolutely no semblance to the individual in question.

    Higgins won a snooker tournament a couple of times once nearly thirty years ago and the other nearly forty years ago.
    This was at a time when there were only 6 full time professionals a dozen part timers and the rest were run of the mill billiard hall hustlers, so it was no world beating feat, so just don’t let go of reality for the sake of nostalgia.

    Higgins was very marketable in his day and indeed let himself be used in such a way for financial benefit over and over again, so he was a very wealthy individual at that time which made him richer than many a local business person who had struggled for forty or fifty years to have the same amount of income that Higgins had available to him in less than ten.
    But Higgins pished it up against a wall and fucked it across a Bookies counter time and time again, even when friends rallied around and got him more money he did the same thing over and over again.
    Even in his later years when the likes of Willie Thorn was running the legends tour he got Higgins a place on it even though he was well and truly done by this stage and where was Higgins after he got paid, in the Crown bar and the William Hill bookies beside it.

    Higgins had the world tapped stupid and was devoid of shame, how many of you remember him threatening to have Denis Taylor shot by Loyalist Paramilitaries, or the countless unpaid bills up and down the country, the wife beatings and the drunken escapades.
    If you had a neighbour who behaved like him abusing all the good will shown to them you would give them a wide birth and surly would not lament their passing, yet that is what we do time and time again when it comes to “Ulsters icons”
    Eamonn Mallie portrays Higgins as some sort of a mongrel cross between Kissinger Rommel and Socrates.

    We’ve already named the City Airport after one woman beating; money squandering, drunken bum and we can’t name Aldergrove Airport after Higgins because that’s being kept for Paisley for his outstanding cross community work over the decades.
    So it looks as though it’s either the Larne or Belfast Ferry, which is ironic because you could have bought The QE2 with what he wasted and sailed it on what he drank

  • Blue Hammer

    Pithy, petty and a tad unnecessary as the man isn’t even cold.

    Higgy was all the things you say, but much more beyond.

    Unquestionably the greatest snooker player to lift a cue. He provided me with at least one momentous childhood memory – my tee-total dad breaking out the champagne when he beat Davis in the 1983 UK Champs, late into the night. I wont let petty bile like this tarnish that memory.

    In the words of someone famous around these parts, “Let those without sin cast the first stone”.

  • Oracle

    Sure he was everything you say, but I remember, when it came to snooker, the difference between him and the rest. It was visible, it was magnetic, and it managed to make one of the most boring games in the world, if not the entire universe, watchable.

    We are indeed going back thirty years or more, Dennis Taylor, who I had completely forgotten until you mentioned him, was not the worst, who was that guy they called ‘steady Eddy’.I cant even remember the name. I do know he could cure insomnia.

  • AlanMaskey

    Oracle’s post is funny and spot on in many ways. As a cross community hero, maybe The Chieftains or Mr & Mrs Sinead O’C (hope the latest marriage is going well) could get a lament scribed and play it for us. Were Bertie back in power, there might well be a National Day of Mourning.
    Isn’t it odd that two working class Protestant heroes were done in by the demon drink, something often attributed to those who follow the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostilic faith. Best’s mother was the oddest of all: she didn’t take up the gargle til in her 40s and then got consumed by it.
    There is no doubting the (then) genius of Higgins and Best but the Irish (all of them) should know when to be temperate in things.

  • Greenflag

    All very true Oracle but it’s not just ‘Ulster ‘ icons . To err is human and some of our most famous ‘icons’ err more than most . We tend not to speak ill of the dead at least in the period immediately after their passing . The same will apply to Ian Paisley whenever he decides it’s his time .

    Both Hurricane Higgins and George Best were larger than life characters during their heydays . Each excelled for a period at their chosen sports and brought pleasure and enjoyment to millions .

    Both came from working class backgrounds in Belfast not accustomed to having loads of dosh and not educated in it’s disposal . They were not the first nor were they the last of ‘poorer folks’ who make a lot of money and then either waste it or lose it through either personal failings or poor advice .

    The English FA iirc were so plagued by the problem of former highly paid players ending up destitute in retirement that they established ‘special ‘ education for those coming into the game who would be ‘high earners’ These naive young ‘stars ‘ were also prey for agents , managers and all kinds of hangers on . Many of course made things worse for themselves than they needed to but that in some cases was part of their ‘celebrity’ attraction and indeed it says more about our ‘culture’ and it’s sense of values than anything else .

    It was the heavy smoking which was the cause of death for Alex Higgins . Tobacco is addictive as we now know . Just a few whiffs at twelve or thirteen years of age is enough to make someone an addict for life . Very few who start ever stop . It should of course be illegal but then where would government get the tax revenue to pay for the thousands coughing out their last days in premature deaths up and down the country or across the water ?

    Thanks btw to Eamon Mallie for his piece on the other ‘side’ of this Belfast character

    As Nevin put it on another thread -Alex will not be returning to the table .

    Those of us still at the table might want to consider giving up the little white cancer sticks while we still can .

  • “Steady Eddie” was Eddie Charlton and along with his co-Aussie “The Grinder” Cliff Thorburn they would quickly induce sleep indeed.

  • Intelligence Insider

    Thanks for that. Hmm, Eddy Charlton and Cliff Thorburn. I remember them now, sometimes I think memory is not so much selective as defensive.

  • iluvni

    The ‘Grinder’ is Canadian.

  • DeValery had a canary

    I think Oracle is wrong in his dismissal of Higgins as a snooker genius. The nature of snooker is that it’s all maths and dynamics. That means a good player in 1982 would be a good player in any year and boy was he good in 82.

  • Nunoftheabove

    The fellow was badly bothered (and sometimes bothersome)in life, if we could get past his drink problem he may well have had other deep-rooted problems of a psychological kind for all we know, he always struck me as somewhat bipolar, or possibly BPD.

    He was capable of being extremely good company, kind and generous, caring and really great fun, as well as a rotten drunk, vain and obnoxious, petty and violent, a bully. On the table, as off it, he could be either. Sometimes all of that in the course of an evening. That’s part of his appeal and enduring status among the faithful, myself included. Yes, many of the things Alex did were reprehensible, crass and puerile; it seems he wasn’t much of a husband or a father, but that’s for his ex partners and his children to know and to share or conceal from us as they wish.

    As a player, he will never be forgotten wherever men with stout gather to clank balls around a table in dark rooms for reasons of their own amusement. Whatever about naming airports after people (I never did quite buy the appropriateness or desirability of that as some form of significant tribute – they’re overpriced supermarkets associated in the mind of the user as places of tedium, intrusion, inconvenience and bad service – some tribute, huh ?). Perhaps naming a drink after him would be somewhat more fitting.

    For some of us, as young men at a particular time, Higgins was in a sense everything we ever wanted to be when we came of age – talented, envied by our peers, popular, stylish, a bit flash, devil-may-care, highly irresponsible, unpolished, genuine, rebellious, contemptuous of convention, the scourge of authority and, yeah, attractive to women. He was real though, he wasn’t a media spinner or offensively inoffensive like the majority of the modern crew of samey nobodies. No connection with the common man or women. Nothing special.

    Higgins won’t need plaques or honours bestowed upon him by the ghouls at Stormont, some of whom will have been much too busy in the 70s and 80s battering all around them with bibles and flags to have noticed Higgins’s play.

    He’ll be remembered, ample warts and all, by the people who followed him and supported him, shared his glories and triumphs, his failures, trials and mishaps with him, pitied him and resented him, hardwired to his his every twitch.

    – “Have the courage to live. Anyone can die.”

  • redhugh78

    Seen him in a bookies in botanic Avenue a couple of Cheltenhams ago.
    He had his faults but he put snooker on the map.

  • A N Other

    I once met Alex Higgins. I was about to enter the Allied Irish Bank in Manchester, when the revolving door spun into action and deposited a very drunk Higgins onto the road outside, clutching a large wedge of cash; seemingly casino or bookie bound. That was the man; another flawed genius for the Norn Irish to celebrate. Perhaps they will now name Belfast International Airport after him.

  • Sam

    You appear to be a rather petty, bitter individual. Lighten up, look for the good in people and maybe you will make a more positive contributon.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Don’t think the Cleary died as a direct result of his riding (or indeed his admitted drug-taking) though although I haven’t yet fully reviewed the full autopsy details.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I agree with Oracle actually, and I think it’s quite patronizing and indeed in some ways disrespectful the way that some people think that the death of a famous person means that we need to invent some sort of glowing backstory for the man.

    Alex Higgins may well have been a brilliant snooker player, but he was a pretty bad example of a human being.

  • Anon

    Clive Everton’s piece on the guardian summed it up best for me. He was second best in the long run to those with mechanical consistency, but anyone who’s even dabbled with the game can see when he was on form, he was magic. You can watch Hendry or Davis and think yeah if I practiced everyday I could get that good. Watch Higgins, or White or O’Sullivan and you see inspiration; you can’t practice it in.

    He wasn’t perfect and it does nobody any service to suggest otherwise. I saw him wandering about Belfast a few times and it was sad. He looked at least a decade older than 61. But to his credit he didn’t seek pity. I liked the quote from the play about him at the end of article:

    “Don’t pity me. I’ve stood on top of the world.”

  • lover not a fighter

    A good obituary there by Clive Everton

    It had the good the bad and the life of Alex Higgins.

    You don’t meet or crash into too many Alex Higgins’s in a lifetime.

    I am glad that he interested me.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Ovr the past few years, I have seen Alex Higgins a lot in Belfast. He was often in my betting shop of choice in Shaftsbury Square area. and was a lonely looking and very gaunt figure. Yet he always seemed to TRY and be dapper. Heavy black overcoat and that trademark big hat. and the glasses perched on his nose made him look older and more gaunt.
    First couple of times..there was a kinda double-take as Id think “thats Alex Higgins” but after a while Id hardly noticed.
    He was raised not far from that betting/shop …..and I think he was safe among his own. Occasionally tourists might bother him but there always seemed to be people who looked after him. I suppose the guys in the bookies were kindred spirits.
    The words “tortured genius” probably apply but George Best and Paul Gasgoigne and if I am honest Higgins are people I didnt really like.
    (Let it not be forgotten that Best walked out on Manchester United). Boozy wife beater and tax dodger redemeed by playing the beautiful game and saluted by the same mob who would condemn a plumber or carpenter for the same thing.

    Here there was genuine animosity between followers of Denis Taylor and Higgins. Unfortunately there was a sectarian element to it.
    But Higgins like George Best or Shane Magowan of the Pogues was too much of a stereotype for me.
    But seeing him shuffle from betting shop to bar…..and back again…..its impossible not to have sympathy for him.
    I only “met” him once…..At Tescos on the Lisburn Road in Belfast, he stood back politely while I got a shopping trolly……and even in so doing had a sad and lonely look. Like he needed and welcomed that I thanked him.
    I accept that all his social shortcomings can be blamed on a background which was “inadequate”.
    Proficiency in snooker is a sign of a mis-spent youth.
    Yet Higgins did more for snooker than any of his fellow players, mostly hustlers themselves who were trying to rid the game of the hustler image.

    No doubt the tabloid journalists will dig out people (for a fee) to say “I always loved Alex” or “my fights with the Hurricane”.
    And Alex Higgins…the man who I saw occasionally in the bookies and once in Tescos……….. deserves better.

    Rest in Peace Alex Higgins.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Proficiency in snooker is a sign of a mis-spent youth.

    What makes you say this ?

  • Anon

    There is a certain truth to it, at least in that era. Read Jmmy White’s autobiography.

  • sammymehaffey

    Let us hope that our latest young over paid, potential world beater – Rory McIlroy – does not end up the same way.

  • Big Maggie

    I’m delighted that we have yet another genius to add to our pantheon.
    Einstein and Newton, eat your inferior little hearts out.

    A snooker genius! What’s next, an angling genius? Boys and their pastimes, you couldn’t make it up.

  • AuldFella

    Whatever the rights and wrongs of what ‘Oracle’ says, and irrespective of your views on Higgins, surely it’s in very poor taste to post that sort of thing? Made me very sad to read that.

    Thanks to Nunoftheabove for what you wrote – that really helped to offset the unpleasantness of Oracle’s mean-spiritedness.

    For what it’s worth, I met Higgins once, briefly. It was mid-1980s, I guess he was ‘in his pomp’. I was in a quiet little pub with some friends, having several hairs of the dog. In burst Higgins, dressed in his customary natty (if slightly too flash) gear. On his arm was what you might call a ‘trophy blonde’. As a bunch of young Northern Irish men, abroad and hungover in an English pub, we welcomed him like a lost brother. He was generous with his time, chatted freely, and happily posed for group photos. Despite heartfelt pleas, he politely declined to join us at the pool table for a game of doubles. Had he accepted, I would have been his doubles partner. I always regret that so nearly-missed opportunity. He actually did look tempted to muck in, but the lady with him clearly wasn’t keen, and Higgins winked and said something about “not practising before a tournament”.

    Over the years I heard many stories about Higgins, invariably featuring drinking, gambling, woman-chasing, and general laddish behaviour. Of course he was nobody’s idea of a ‘role model’ in general, but he was cherished (at least some of the time) because he was a character, and those are in short supply these days.

  • When Higgins wowed and also embarrassed Mumbai fans

    Pradeep Vijayakar
    The death of snooker great Alex Higgins from throat cancer earlier in the week evoked mixed memories in Mumbai. In the early 80s the Billiards and Snooker Federation of India had invited Higgins to play exhibition matches in Bombay,Calcutta, Delhi and Madras.
    In Bombay Higgins played at the Bombay Gymkhana. He showed his wizardry and was up by about three-four frames against Indian great, Shyam Shroff. The crowd got rapturous.
    Billiards great Mike Ferreira remembers.“Higgins had been drinking vodka all afternoon. The hall was crowded and the air-conditioners could not cope. In the first frame he had a century break. And another big break. The crowd went haywire. So did Higgins. He took off his shirt and threw it and it landed on a lady club member. He then lifted the dhoti of RK Vissanji, who was heading the national federation,saying `It’s a wonderful air-conditioned garment’. The federation would have none of it. They packed him off the next day. The matches in the other centres were cancelled.”
    Bharat Vissanji, who also remembered the incident said,“Higgins lifted Wilson Jones off hsi feet.”
    So, that was the end of the tryst of Higgins with India. Ferreira said Higgins had remarkable memory and remembered him by name when they met years later. “It’s sad the way his life ended, he went the way of George Best, the footballer. Paul Gasciogne looks headed the same way.”

  • paul

    you can not make a statement like that without a knowledge of the game’s history., my grand father was certainly charasmatic, he’s that chap called joe davis, the real father of the game, who won the world championship 17 odd times, and virtually invented snooker,
    but sadly appears to be forgotten.and he was good !

  • paul

    I am sorry I had, temporarily, forgotten you grand father, my mistake as certainly no one who has followed snooker or even watched it in the old Pot Black days, should have. He predates television and round the clock news, but his exploits and achievements are well known and I should have remembered.

    My sincere apologies.


  • paul

    Hi Pippakin ,
    That’s alright, I appreciate your reply.
    It’s sad, but there seems to be a huge void in the history of the game.
    You’re right, perhaps simply because he pre-dates tv, , he is largely
    forgotten, , even by the likes of the old guard, e.g Clive Everton , who
    is just old enough to remember something of his dominance, and great skill
    Best Regards,

  • Spige

    Higgy 🙂

  • stza75

    Two things that bug me about people who feel free to slate Higgins in his absence.

    1) its cowardly. AND in bad taste.

    Yes its important to be honest, its equally important to be respectful. The longer I spend on this planet, the more it seems respect is a word of the past.

    2). I see countless individuals (none of whom have any real standing in the world, and maybe thats why) say things like “he was not a great example of a human being”.

    Question: whoever said he had to be?

    It’s almost as if people say that to make themselves feel better… “well I’m not as famous as Alex Higgins, but he was’nt a great human being” almost as if to promote themselves to be great human beings as a consequence.

    It’s quite sad, very disrespectful and in really bad taste.

    As for characters like Oracle, he will have to live with the fact that nobody will ever care what his life is like, his only claim to fame is that he spoke ill of the dead, behind the mans back, well after he was gone. The only word I can find to describe that is cowardly.

    So yes, whilst Alex Higgins might not have been the worlds greatest human (and I ask again, whoever said he had to be?), to my knowledge he was no coward.