Alex Higgins: The People’s Champion BBC 4 10.35pm, produced and directed by Jason Bernard, with commentary from James Nesbitt.

alex higgins

I’m not sure Alex would have liked this hagiography to have been relegated to a place after the darts and the lager-lite personality of Eric Bristow. Alex did his talking with the cue. Raw talent.  He was twice world snooker champion in 1972, in his first attempt and, more memorably ten years later, when he made a Rocky-style comeback from the snooker dead to claim it again, crying, clutching the trophy, his wife with his little blonde haired girl clinging to his neck. If it was a film you’d have cut there and everybody would have left the cinema with a pebble in their throat.

Alex, of course, couldn’t leave it there, wouldn’t leave it there. He died in 2010 of throat cancer. Pictures taken during that period are not kind. Whirlwind Jimmy White spoke of him as a friend and mentor, the player he most admired and came closest to emulating, especially with his own well-documented gambling habit. Ronnie O’Sullivan spoke of his admiration for the Hurricane and, in terms of snooker ability, arguably is a bitter player than both Whirlwind and Hurricane. Steve Davis dominant near the end of Higgins’s career and Ray Reardon at the beginning of it had more wins, made more money, but somehow always left you feeling short. For Hurricane Higgins it wasn’t about the money it was about being gallus and being number one. He was people’s champion because he had that bit of swagger. He looked as if he was just going for a hit about with the boys. On form nobody could stop him. Ray Reardon said he had never seen anyone that could play as well with a drink in him than Hurricane Higgins. He should come to Dalmuir. I’ve never seen anybody play anything well without a drink in them.

Hurricane Higgins did come to Clydebank once. He was on that downward spiral after he’d headbutted a senior member of the snooker hierarchy, fallen from a window, threatened to have Dennis Taylor shot by paramilitaries and was just so plain bonkers my home town was the obvious choice for a paid exhibition match. Eon Brennan tells how Hurricane, drunk and aggressive, threatened to leave without playing the match and how every bouncer was offered ten quid if they punched him before he got to the door. This made him stay long after he wanted to go. Higgins played the match. A life without snooker wasn’t a life.

Everyone was a loser around Higgins. Drink and gambling. The way he looked and the Jeckyll and Hyde, all of these things and the facial tics remind me of my own brother. Hurricane Higgins got a good send off because people recognise someone they know, or think they know. Anyone that swaggered out of a pub with a snooker cue, or a pair of football boots or boxing gloves that wants to be king of the world. No one achieves it, but the few that do stand proxy for the kings of the world that we’d like to be. RIP Alex Higgins.