Life

TV Review: Alex Higgins was the ultimate television box office

Alex Higgins celebrates winning the World Championship in 1982 with wife Lynn and daughter Lauren
Billy Foley

Gods of Snooker, BBC 2, Sunday

It's one of the most iconic television moments in sport.

Alex Higgins in the centre of the Crucible Theatre. The man child clutching his baby daughter in one arm and the world championship trophy in the other, crying.

Just moments before, Higgins had pleaded with his wife in the crowd, with tears in his eyes. “Give me my baby … give me my baby.”

Sport stars celebrating with their children has become de rigueur, but in 1982 this was exceptional.

Higgins, the hard nut from Belfast who spent more time drunk than sober, desperate to kiss and hug his infant daughter.

If you wanted to overlook the terrible behaviour and admire Higgins, this was the moment you held on to.

It was a touching and emotional scene precisely because it was genuine and atypical.

Gods of Snooker, a new series produced by Louis Theroux, looks at the stars of a sport which blasted off in the 1980s.

John Virgo says there were three reasons why snooker went in a few years from working men's clubs to the front pages of the red tops.

Colour television, Pot Black (a BBC one-frame television series) and Alex Higgins.

It was appropriate then that Gods of Snooker started with the boy from Sandy Row.

Or, it started with the end. Alex, clearly worse for wear, called a press conference in 1990 to announce his retirement.

“You can shove your snooker up your jacksie, I'm not playing anymore,” he mumbled.

The glory days of 1980s snooker were officially over. The massive audiences - 18.5 million watched Tyrone's Dennis Taylor lift the world trophy in the early hours of the morning in 1985 - would not be seen again.

The Steve Davis decade of domination was finished to be replaced by Stephen Hendry and Higgins's hurricane had finally blown out.

He had clashed with the snooker hierarchy from the beginning, but it wasn't just their stuffiness, Alex could be impossible. His roll call of misdemeanours and some more serious offences is unsurpassed in professional sport.

He threatened to have Taylor shot, he got into a fist fight with another player, he urinated on a plant pot in an auditorium when the referee refused him permission to go to his dressing room.

Rex Williams, chairman of the governing body at the time, was not a fan. Higgins, styled the ‘hurricane' for the speed of his play, could enter a room and “start a riot in 30 seconds” he said.

Ray Reardon (88) is still bristling, in a gentlemanly way of course, that people were still talking about Higgins who has only two world titles while Reardon with his six titles in the 1970s is practically forgotten.

But Higgins, pre-social media and subscription sports TV, was the ultimate box office.

***

Iarnrod Enda, RTE 1, Monday

It's less than four years since Enda Kenny was Taoiseach but already it seems like a different era.

Enda doesn't do flash or overstatement and thus his slow cycles around Ireland's old railway lines suited his personality perfectly.

The last three of six episodes brought him into Northern Ireland, with this week's final episode taking us from Dundalk to Greenore port and along Carlingford Lough to Newry.

The 26-mile railway line was intended by the London and North West Railway Company to challenge the power of Dublin port by creating a link between Greenore and Holyhead in Wales, opening in 1873.

When the line was closed in 1951 it was a different Ireland, partition dividing the line.

Kenny was taoiseach during the Brexit vote and it was his government which lined up the EU and US to campaign against a hard border.

His only comment when cycling into Newry: “I cross the border without any sign or impediment.”

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