Snooker's emergence from folk sport to frontline television entertainment can be traced chiefly to two component parts: colour television and Alex Higgins.

It was colour TV that gave the game its exposure; it was Higgins who became its first bona fide star.

A hero to many, an anti-hero to many more, he created interest and headlines with his wayward life and intoxicating playing-style. He was the sort of figure every sport needs: a combustible cocktail of talent and temper, brilliance and self-destruction.

40 years ago, Higgins won his first world title at the age of 22. The Crucible this was not. In the age before the professional circuit exploded on TV the World Championship passed by largely under the radar.

When Clive Everton wrote to the sports editor of the Daily Telegraph to see if he wanted any coverage he received the sniffy reply: "only if it's played in London."

Pot Black on BBC2 had begun to make household names of the players but as a sport snooker still had a long way to go to earn acceptance.

The 1972 World Championship was not played in London but Birmingham, at the Selly Park British Legion.

The championship had ground on for the best part of a year before producing its two finalists: Higgins and John Spencer, thedefending champion.

Trotting out the facts of the environment in which this historic match was played makes it look like something out of an episode of Life on Mars, but they are still true and a reminder that the circuit was not always cash rich, that the top players were not always so lucky.

The unexpectedly large crowd were packed in on seats placed on stacked beer crates, or watched hanging from any available vantage point in a scene which would give modern day health and safety jobsworths a heart attack.

With a miners’ strike and power cuts afflicting Britain, the conventional lighting gave out on the second evening, as did the heating. The players agreed to continue under much duller lighting provided by a mobile generator.

The final was played over six days. On the fifth, Spencer got stuck in a lift in his hotel for 25 minutes due to a power cut. The session was delayed for ten minutes until he turned up.

It was this session which turned the final Higgins's way. The players had kept pace until he won all six frames played that evening. He won the match 37-31. The first prize was a mere £480.

By the time Higgins won his second world title a decade later the sport had been transformed. His epic semi-final against Jimmy White and final victory over Ray Reardon were the talk of the nation. His tearful celebration with wife and baby daughter remain iconic sporting images.

It was the final proof that Higgins had unwittingly helped to pull snooker from the back room to the living room. He won £25,000 as sponsors began to throw money at the game.

He of course will not be at the Crucible this year to mark these two anniversaries. Higgins died in pitiful circumstances in 2010, the Hurricane long since a sad shadow of the man who created so much excitement and controversy.

But as long as people talk about snooker they will talk about Alex Higgins.

It's an irony he may have enjoyed that snooker's long road to respectability was given such momentum by a man who sought no such thing.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dave

Do you know why the World Championship trophy Alex is holding in the photo in this months Snooker Scene is different from the World Championship Trophy that we all know and which is played for today



Anonymous said...

rip the real peoples champion

Dr Tim Sandle said...

I thought the final score was 37-32 rather than 37-31?
The retrospective feature in this month's Snooker Scene has it as the former.
One interesting account of the Higgins-Spencer final is in Jim Meadowcroft's book "Higgins, Taylor and Me".

Witz78 said...

The Greatest as far as im concerned. If Joe Davis is the Godfather of Snooker, then Alex is the Godson as he almost single handedly sparked mass interest in a sport which up to then was pretty much a shut shop for 40 and 50 somethings only.
It was without doubt Higgins who got me into watching snooker as a kid and years later id the pleasure of meeting him many times in various establishments in Belfast and i always found him approachable and genuine, contrary to reports.
82 semi aside, id have to say the 83 uk and 89 irish masters prob his other best moments.
Ronnie, Jimmy, Judd... None come close to replicating the excitement that Alex did when playing. The legend will always live on.

Anonymous said...

Alex Higgins was a true legend. Without him the sport would have looked completely different today.

Will there be a trophy / an event named after him? He deserves it. Snooker owes him.

Anonymous said...

@12:06 Isn't there an Irish PTC named after him?

Anonymous said...

Alex was a legend like no other a trully one off.

i think snooker needed a total rebel at that time otherwise it might have followed the same trend of how it was supose to be played, and the Likes of Jimmy White and Ronnie O'Sullivan would have been lost to the sport.

Alex Higgins was the driving force that gave snooker purpose.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to those who went to his funeral too. As for those who didn't, well you may not have liked him but you all owed him, and that was the last chance you had to settle the account.

Anonymous said...

Best of 73 a different world indeed- Higgins won 37-32 as multiple sources attest to. Dave must have made a typo

Claus said...

Alexander the Great. His name struck fear into hearts of men.

-Steve Harris

Anonymous said...

@733 I'm sure Dave spent the day flagellating.

Anonymous said...

Ronnie, Jimmy, Judd... None come close to replicating the excitement that Alex did

True, but the most exciting thing I ever saw on a snooker table was Marilyn Chambers in Insatiable.


Hi David. Amazing to think that Higgins won his first World Professional Snooker Championship Title, 4O years ago.

Anonymous said...

Really was the best to watch. ever. unfortunately made mistakes on and off the table which cost him dear. People tend to forget how good he and jimmy were.. check them out on YouTube. Very few can hold a candle to them.