We loved the Hurricane

IPSWICH: As the world of snooker mourns one of its best-loved former players two men have fondly recalled the times he lit up the baize – and people’s faces – in Ipswich.

Two-time world champion Alex Higgins passed away on Saturday, aged 61, following a long battle with throat cancer.

Higgins, whose life was blighted by drink and gambling, is largely credited for helping the game’s popularity soar in the late 1970s and early 80s.

And it was around this time that the snooker star, affectionately known as ‘Hurricane’ Higgins, came to Ipswich on several occasions to play in the Tolly Cobbold snooker classic at the Corn Exchange.

Dave Allard, sports journalist and a former Evening Star sports reporter, said: “We went to a snooker club and as soon as we walked in everyone in the room stopped their games, put their cues down, walked over and started hugging him.

“It was incredible – but that’s the effect he had on people. He was an entertainer and everyone loved him for it.

“After getting knocked out in the first round one year he labelled the tournament ‘Mickey Mouse’.

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“Patrick Cobbold, the then Ipswich chairman and brewery chief, replied: ‘In that case we’ll pay him Mickey Mouse money’. But they got on really well and would go drinking in town together.

“There is no doubt that Ipswich loved Alex. So did many of the Ipswich players of the day and there were pictures in the Star of him with Paul Cooper and Kevin Beattie.”

Mr Allard recalled how Higgins was beaten by Patsy Fagan in the final once and then threw down �500 and insisted on a challenge match.

The snooker favourite appeared to be getting the worse for the vodka and Fagan declined.

Fans used to queue outside the Corn Exchange just to get a glimpse of Higgins. “He truly was the people’s champ,” said Mr Allard.

Higgins also used to go to the former First Floor Club, in Tacket Street, and drink late on.

One night he hit snooker balls along the bar, knocking down a glass every time.

Current BBC Radio Suffolk personality Bob Shelley was friends with the tournament’s organisers John Peachey and Ted Brown and remembers the impression Higgins made on the town.

Mr Shelley said: “The Corn Exchange could have been packed five times over – the queues went round the block – such was Alex’s appeal

“Despite his wild image, I found him to be a warm, charming man who was completely down-to-earth. He was one of the lads.”

Mr Shelley often went drinking with Higgins at the First Floor Club and also remembers the outrageous trick shots he could pull off.

He added: “Alex could throw a cigarette on the floor, stand 40 feet away and hit it with the cue ball – even after several drinks.

“That was how confident he was with the cue. But he liked a drink or two and I could never keep up with him.

“So I was sad but not surprised to hear he has died. But I feel privileged to have met such a great man.”

n Do you have fond memories of ‘Hurricane’ Higgins? Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or you can send an e-mail to eveningstar letters@eveningstar.co.uk

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