I was interested to read Alex Higgins dispensing advice to Paul Gascoigne in yesterday’s News of the World.

My first thought was that the Hurricane is the last person Gazza should be taking advice from but, then again, Higgins knows better than most the consequences of self-destructive behaviour.

At 59, it’s worth celebrating the fact that Alex is still alive. Ten years ago he was ravaged by throat cancer but, despite his frail disposition, he managed to beat the disease.

Make no mistake, he was a great player but he was also a total maverick. Some of the things he did were unbelievable. Some were contemptible.

But he remains a great icon, not just of snooker but of sporting rebellion.

Jimmy White and Ronnie O’Sullivan are the natural inheritors of his maverick mantle but neither has quite self-destructed to the same degree.

White has also always been a model professional on the table. O’Sullivan, of course, has not but has kept his demons at bay long enough to win three world titles.

Higgins was certainly treated more harshly than O’Sullivan by snooker authorities, although this is not to say too harshly.

He did, after all, twice assault tournament officials and threaten to have another player, Dennis Taylor, shot.

Alex thanked me in his autobiography after I helped out with some stats. A short while later when I asked to interview him at the Irish Championship, I received a reply that would not be suitable for a family blog, or indeed this one.

That’s Higgins. A man of contrasts, conflicts and contradictions.

A rebel, it seems, to the end.

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