He looks markedly older than when I last saw him; paler, greyer and tired around the eyes.

We meet at the Telford International Centre where he will return for his first televised event since the end of his six month suspension. His media ‘handler’ wastes no time in laying down the ground rules: there are to be no questions about the specifics of what happened in the Ukraine for legal reasons.

John Higgins must be sick of talking about it, sick of trying to persuade people of his innocence. He says those he has met in the street have been supportive – indeed at Telford this is much in evidence – but he knows that there will always be some who will point the finger.

The events that brought about his fall from grace are like a permanent stain on his career: the surprise defeat to Steve Davis at the Crucible enlivened the World Championship but the newspaper account of Higgins’s subsequent visit to Kiev overshadowed the final and delivered a universal kick to the shins of everyone involved in the sport.

The record will show that Higgins was fined £75,000 and served out a six month ban. In Germany earlier this month he faced his fellow players for the first time at an event in the European Players Tour Championship. All were friendly but the three times world champion, mentally bruised by the whole affair, now finds it difficult to take even his friends at face value.

“I was nervous about how players would treat me but they were all fine – to my face anyway,” Higgins said.

“Nobody has said anything to my face. If they do then I can answer them. If they come up to me and say, ‘great to see you back’ what am I supposed to say? That they are lying? That they should tell me what they really think?”

So are some players being two-faced?

“Of course they are,” Higgins said. “I’d be naive if I didn’t think that. There’s jealous people in every walk of life. All I can say is that when I was growing up and practising with the likes of Stephen Hendry I was never jealous of them for the success they’d had. I wanted to try and replicate what they’d done. It was admiration, not jealousy. Sometimes in our sport maybe people are jealous when they should be getting their cues out and practising more.”

I cut to the chase. How does he feel about Pat Mooney, his former manager who has since been banned from ever playing any further part in snooker after the tribunal found him guilty of “an egregious betrayal of trust?”

At this, his media ‘handler’ bristles. Higgins shakes his head. “What’s done is done but if it didn’t make me more wary I’d be stupid,” is all he will say on the broken relationship.

Alas, this amiable man and legend of the game was pretty stupid to have said the things he did in that hotel room, even if you accept his explanation as to why he behaved in that way.

Even when he was cleared to return to the circuit he could not celebrate: his father, a popular figure in the game and hugely supportive of his son, had just been told his cancer was terminal.

Inside, Higgins must be wondering how it all came to this. From the age of nine, snooker was his life. Suddenly without it, he rattled around the house, waiting for the verdict. “I filled my days by helping out with the kids and normal things like that,” he said.

“People were asking me why I didn’t go to the club to practise but I didn’t want to do that when I didn’t know if there’d be an end goal to it. When the judgement came through it got me fired up again.

“I didn’t know what to think about what the judgement would be. I knew I’d have to take whatever it was on the chin. I did contemplate not playing again but I don’t have to think those thoughts now.”

The strength of his game has never been questioned but Higgins will also need mental toughness to shut out the whispering and suspicions of others and begin the process of rehabilitating his image. The forthcoming 12bet.com UK Championship in Telford, which he won in 1998 and 2000, marks the start of that journey.

He heads into it placed second in the rankings behind Neil Robertson, determined but anxious too.

“It’s my first time back playing in Britain so I’m nervous,” Higgins said. “People who’ve seen me grow up playing snooker on TV will have their own views. That’s just something I will have to accept. All I can do is my best.

“I’d like to get back to world no.1. It’s something to aim for. Neil Robertson is a great player. He’s grown in recent years and I've watched how he's changed his game. Now he’s world champion and he’s the man to beat.”

That status once belonged to John Higgins. Perhaps it will again but, right now, his main task will be to restore his battered reputation.


Anonymous said...

come on JH

Dr Henderson said...

Glad to have him back on the circuit. He's right - there will always be doubters, but he has to focus on the fact that he still has many fans all around the world who want to see him hit the top of his game and put the whole mess behind them.

Looking forward to seeing him at the UK Championships. Best of luck John!

Anonymous said...

There are very many doubters on this issue. In my experience it's 90% against Higgins. Some of the comments I've heard couldn't be published on here.The comments in the video, however people want to sweep them under the carpet, are enough for most people to make an informed decision.Shame about his Fatha though:-(

Mat Wilson

Anonymous said...

shame people like one t matt cant take that those who were in a position to hear all evidence, to and for, and are in a position to make well balanced and legal judgements made them and john got punished for the only part he did wrong. shame that.

John McBride said...

Lets move on & enjoy the man while we have him.

Anonymous said...

Bad move to have a media handler going gggggrrrrr in the background.
It makes the interview come across as uncomfortable and not relaxed.

Those in the snooker village fully well know it wasn't Johns idea or fault for what occured in May so just let the guy move on and play snooker.

But whose idea was it for a media handler to be present ?

It's not like Dave is wet behind the ears or can't be trusted to ask reasonable questions.

First error since his comeback.
Though good preparation for if you ever interview Naomi Campbell.

Anonymous said...

Good luck John.

It is sad to see him with his guard up like that and bringing a handler but it will probably take another year before the old smiling John Higgins is truly back.

I hope his dad hangs on for a long while to truly see his son find happiness once again.

Executor said...

Mat Wilson: I bet the majority of those 90% were lazy enough or simply didn't bother to follow whole process of investigation or to read the resolution which this investigation resulted into - or even the briliant articles by Nick Harris in Sporting Intelligence.

It's always easier to condemn or flat out hate someone than to trust him, and as John himself says, there is a lot of jealousy involved as well.

I am 100% behind John McBride's lets move on & enjoy the man while we have him. Brilliantly said.

Anonymous said...

I don't care if John Higgins wins every tournament from now until he retires. For God's sake! You don't need any of the documentation that was presented at his hearing,all that needs to be known is his failure to report the approach straightaway. That's self-incrimination and it doesn't get clearer than that. In fact he did himself up like a kipper. Now he has this new PR guru he'll have someone else to blame for his so-called naivety.

Anonymous said...

Is he a PR guru or a minder ?

A PR guru is usually more sophisticated about his work in having an inate knowledge of the paper,magazine or journalist interviewing his client and would be less intrusive in the recorded interview process itself.

A minder,nightclub bouncer type could only be so primitive as to doubt Dave's wisdom or technique.

Betty Logan said...

Is this "media handler" the same one that encouraged Ronnie O'Sullivan to utter obscenities to the Chinese press a couple of years ago? I hope that fool was part of the Hearn clear-out!

To be fair to the Higgins detractors he couldn't have come across worse in the Kiev video... ultimately though it was a sting, there were no specific arrangements to fix the matches, and no match-fixing actually occurred. All we saw was a discussion and a player seemingly contemplating fixing a match. If it had been for real he might have gone ahead with it, but then again he might have thought better of it and refused to take part. Evidence accrued by entrapment is not admissable in a criminal court (at least in the UK), simply due to the fact a crime was never actually going to occur and I think that's the view snooker should take. Whatever happened never amounted to more than bad publicity for the sport, and he was found guilty and punished for that.

Anonymous said...

You can have a controlled interview without it being so blatantly obvious.

Johns associate has alot to learn.

Hearn should look into this as it gives the impression of a sport and a player with something to hide

The players already have the king of fronting it out in Hearn himself

Johns man is redundant in this aspect and would most likely create more problems.

Surely there are better candidates for being Johns new spin doctor.

Anonymous said...

Why can't he talk about what happened in Ukraine still?

Is he going to appeal or something? Is he suing his former manager maybe?

Will he ever be able to talk openly about this?

Anonymous said...

lets not forget at the time of the incident he was in fact accompanied by a WPBSA Director.

the fact he didn't bother to inform WPBSA Headquarters could be the reason their friendship has finished.

he was responsible for Higgins the player.

he had responsibilities to the sport.

and he did nothing.

Anonymous said...

Was it one of Hearns heavies ?

Whoever it is needs to understand their job description.
John and Dave are mates after all.

Anonymous said...

betsy, that guy still worked for world snooker (at least up until 7 weeks ago)

Anonymous said...

I still wonder why the NOTW decided to entrap Higgins in the way they did.
Was it a tip off from someone attempting to discredit Pat Mooney (Hearn's right hand man) who by using dirty tricks, wanted the opposition to prevail in the players vote?
Or more worryingly, was the sting set-up in the same way it was for the Pakistan cricket team because there were previous suspicions of malpractice which they wanted to expose?
I am not saying this is true, but why exactly was this whole hidden camera scenario in Eastern Europe put together in the first place?

Anonymous said...

What "legal reasons" are there Dave for his minder insisting that Kiev was off the agenda? I thought it was over now the ban had ended. Is this not the case?
Before he plays his opener in the UK I'm sure the BBC will want to interview him. Will they be subjected to the same restrictions? If so, then people's suspicions, rightly or wrongly, will be re-inforced.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8.01. Who are you talking about when you say that he was still employed by World Snooker up til 7 weeks ago?

Anonymous said...

John would need a minder if they know that Brannons turning up on the 5th December with his autograph book at the ready (LOL)

Anyway,Dave's a legit media journalist and proper PR gurus who are worth their salt are more effective staying in the shadows.

Anonymous said...

So, now it’s the other players who are in wrong here?

They are probably already making an effort to welcome him back, and he’s calling them two-faced and jealous of him? Unbelievable!

Two-faced?! Have they run out of mirrors in Scotland or something?

Anonymous said...

The normal practice is phoning the player or his agent days or weeks in advance to crosscheck and go through the questions with a fine toothcomb.

So when it comes to the interview itself it goes much much smoother with no lastminute charade.

If you get the preparation right the presentation becomes even slicker.

Anonymous said...

Good luck John, hope you play well in the UK.

Looking forward to watching on TV.

Its amazing to watch considering so many players can play to a high standard but only a handful can really compete for the title.

Shows the mental stength of these guys(the very best ones), John's performance in the PTC's was admirable in my opinion.

A fan, Dublin.

Anonymous said...

John may have every right to be bitter and suspicious.

He knows.

The thorough and publicized investigation supports him and on that basis we should move on and let John Higgins entertain us once again.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:13

"He knows.", and now, so do we.

Anonymous said...

20 years of impeccable career speak for themselves. I believe him, even though the heart is very heavy.
John, we are with you! Good luck in Telford! Show envious that you did not break. We are with you, your loyal fans.

Anonymous said...


Not really. If we did the suspicion of some people wouldn't remain. Right?

I believe him, I believe the results of the investigation but only John was there. That is what I am getting at.

Anonymous said...


You believe him because he is John Higgins, a multiple world champion and an “amiable man".

Let me put your beliefs to a simple test and you tell me what you believe in the end.

Here it goes:

Imagine a snooker player caught in video agreeing to fix the result of snooker matches.

Imagine it took only a few minutes to convince that snooker player to do it.

Imagine that, after being caught, that snooker player had said that he only did it because he thought they were the Russian mafia.

Imagine that player didn’t inform the authorities about it because he didn’t know he had to.

Now, imagine that player’s name is Jamie Burnett.

Executor said...

Anon 10:44 pm

It was not me who you were adressing to but given the circumstances, the investigation and its result, I would believe him.

Doesn't matter who it would be, if Burnett, Ebdon, Wenbo, Maguire, Higgins, whoever - a (proper) investigation had been done, and it brought the result.

If not for anything else, than for snooker's sake I would believe them all - under proper circumstances.

And yeah, NotW are scum of all scums, and I would put John Higgins' word above theirs anytime, even without any evidence gathered in his favor.

Sarah Ferguson said...

I believe John Higgins word too.

Anonymous said...

why was the video of the match between jamie and maguire taken off youtube?

Anonymous said...

It’s amazing that some people haven’t yet accepted that the “thorough and publicized investigation” has not denied the authenticity of the NOTW video.

Higgins never even denied any of it and he admitted to the tribunal to have done exactly what the video shows him doing, so if some people choose to believe his word over the “scum of all scums” because of his “impeccable career” then, by all means, do it!

He is the one saying the NOTW video is real! If you don’t believe anybody else, believe him!!!

What people need to realize here is that even if he didn’t actually do anything corrupt, he showed how corruptible he could be. If they had offered him a bag with the money they were agreeing in that meeting he would have walked out with it, all smiley, and it would be the end of his career. That’s how close he was from hell.

His “impeccable career” was descending into “insurance bets”, and according to his former manager, he was fixing results of snooker matches for TV. This is another video you won’t find on youtube anymore, but some people have good memory.

These are the things that have come to public. Who knows how much more there was and how much Higgins “impeccable career” had descended.

And who knows if all these wasn’t what drew the attention of the NOTW to make him a target for a sting.

Anonymous said...

anybody know where it went

or where i can see it?

Anonymous said...

The counter argument to 12.19 is that Higgins was arranging to fix frames for a match and tournament that NEVER EXISTED.

It's all smoke and mirrors 12.19.

Your anaylisis is deeply flawed.

Anonymous said...

so, does anyone know where i can see that ridiculous moment when burny reached for the rest and touched the black on the table?

Anonymous said...

Smoke and mirrors actually ended an entire snooker tour, known as World Series of Snooker, and consequently its matches, so yes, those matches never came to see the light of day.

Smoke and mirrors also ended the snooker career of Higgins’s former manager, and even he didn’t escape a 6 month ban and the biggest fine in snooker history.

Smoke and mirrors revealed that one of snooker’s greatest players could be “bought” very easily, and if that was the #1 player at the time, imagine the others.

Smoke and mirrors shook the snooker world to a point that even their dedicated journalists started thinking if it was worth it to continue working for the sport.

No, it’s not smoke and mirrors, and my analysis is not deeply flawed, far from it.

Deeply flawed was the “heavy-editing” argument, as was the intimidation excuse, but still some people keep on trying to whitewash the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

so, nobody knows where i can see that match?