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Never playing safe

Submitted by on July 26, 2010 – 12:09 pmOne Comment

It was quite a scene, as members of the public and frantic railway staff all tried to prise the Hurricane’s arm from the train door. He was on the way back from Blackpool to meet his pals in Didsbury, so he told me after the drama unfolded.

I had been to visit my sister, who lived in the outback, or Chorley as some people may call it, and when I got on the train I instantly recognised the man in a fedora sat counting a wad of notes in the first class carriage.

The hector entered and said: “Alex, your ticket is not for this section of the train.” To which Higgins replied in a weak, yet gruff voice, so obviously affected by years of smoking and his battle with throat cancer: “I’m hardly going to count up £2,000 in the other bit am I?”

The hector knew he had a point, and being a fan he got a ticket signed by the former two-times world snooker champion and allowed him to finish counting. This heralded a free-for-all as others in our carriage noticed him and entered first class for a chat with a (barely) living legend. Despite looking minutes from death, yellow skinned and weighing barely seven stone, he was amiable and had time for photographs and autographs as he shuffled his wad into the top pocket of his velvet jacket. It was when we hit Bolton that it all went a bit surreal.

“I need some puff,” he said as he stumbled past me toward the doors. The train stopped and Alex lit a spliff. He stepped on to the platform for a brief moment before the train doors beeped and he hurriedly reversed. He managed to get the majority of his body back on the train, but he didn’t want to lose his joint so he kept his arm out and hence one of the most famous cue arms in the world became sandwiched between pressurised doors.

He didn’t scream, he just tried to drag his arm back in and this alerted the public, both on the train and on the platform as rail staff rushed over to help. There must have been 20 people trying to rescue their hero. “Alex’s arm is stuck. Help!” shouted an elderly lady. In the end the guard got the door open and the Hurricane fell backwards into me.

He didn’t smell the best, but this was Alex Higgins and I’d grown up watching him thrill snooker fans with his talent and intrigue a nation with his wayward personality.

I had a nice chat with him as we continued on our journey towards Manchester. He had lived in Radcliffe and Salford for much of the last few years and he had many friends across south Manchester’s Irish community.

He had been hustling on the pool tables of Blackpool, hence his cash windfall. People would queue up to play him and he needed all the money he could get, as he was completely broke. The man who helped snooker become the televised success it was had pissed his earnings up the wall.

I helped him off the train at Oxford Road and made sure he got a taxi. “Onwards to Didsbury, drive,” he said and I bade him farewell. That was about three or four years ago and now he is gone. A very flawed genius in the greatest sense of the cliche, but a genius none-the-less.

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