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Page last updated at 11:44 GMT, Monday, 26 July 2010 12:44 UK
Tributes to Blackburn based snooker legend Alex Higgins
Alex Higgins
Higgins lived in East Lancashire when it was the hotbed of snooker

Preston snooker professional Ian McCulloch says the death of two times World Snooker Champion Alex Higgins is a great loss to the game.

"He made the sport what it is today," says McCulloch.

"Alex was a genius and so charismatic on and off the table."

McCulloch was a close friend of the controversial Irishman and organised a series of comeback exhibitions for Higgins in Lancashire in 2007.

Snooker legend

"It's really sad; I thought he'd be around forever," says Ian of the passing of the 61 year old snooker legend.

Although the he had been fighting throat cancer for over a decade he was still a big draw. "The shows were still packed and in the Carlisle show in particular he knocked in a really classy 80 and was very unlucky not to get a century."

McCulloch - a runner up in the UK Championship and British Open - regrets being unable to play with him earlier this year. "I am gutted I couldn't do the show in February with Alex. I was already booked to do an exhibition with Steve Davis.

"I was more sick about not being able to see Alex than turning down the show."

Ian says there was far more to Higgins than just his snooker skills and hell-raising, "He was great company and what most people don't realise is he was a very intelligent man."

It is little wonder snooker was transformed from a game played in working mens clubs into a major sport, says McCulloch, thanks to the combination of BBC Two's Pot Black series and Higgins bursting on to the snooker scene.

"Alex Higgins was made for TV and TV was made for Alex Higgins."

'Special'

Mick Caddy (left) with Ian McCulloch
Mick Caddy - with Ian McCulloch - says Higgins was a complete natural

McCulloch first met the Hurricane through his best friend Lee McLoughlin whose father John along with Jack Leeming managed Alex when he first arrived in East Lancashire, then the hotbed of snooker with the likes of Dennis Taylor, John Spencer and Jim Meadowcroft all playing in the Elite Snooker Club in Accrington.

Lee explains how his late father John owned bingo halls around Blackburn got involved with Higgins in 1970.

"He heard about this young Irish lad playing in the Elite so went to have a look at him. My dad realised he was something special and starting looking after him.

"He backed him for money matches and applied for him to turn professional."

Lee says his dad recalled Alex had little more than a bag of clothes at the time and moved into their family home. "He was around a lot when I was young and my mum tells me we used to argue about what was on telly!"

The partnership with John was short-lived although they remained good friends. By the time Higgins became the youngest World Champion in 1972, they had parted company.

'Loveable rogue'

"Alex was a loveable rogue; he was quite a handful to manage but he would always come back to my dad when he was in trouble.

"He used to get on planes to play money matches he'd set up and disappear drinking with the cash," he says with a chuckle.

While McLoughlin and Leeming helped guide his early career, it was John Taylor from the Lancashire Evening Telegraph who spotted his potential and coined his 'Hurricane' nickname.

A colleague of the late Taylor, Harold Heys recalls: "John was a big fan of snooker generally in the 60s and wrote a snooker column called Cueman.

"He took interest in Higgins when he first hit the scene here and helped put Higgins on the map when he was up and coming."

Dennis Taylor
Dennis Taylor used to practise with Alex Higgins

Snooker coach Mick Caddy from Whalley says he has been reminiscing over his memories of Higgins who he used to practise with at the Elite club.

"It's such a shame but Alex lived to the full; he lived about ten lifetimes."

He says his unique talent left his mark on everyone who saw him play. "He was awesome to watch. Over his lifetime he made thousands of people happy.

'One-off'

"Alex used to do the most amazing shots and I'd asked him how he did it and he'd shrug his shoulders and say 'I don't know'. He was a one-off; a complete natural."

Caddy met Higgins when he was 20. While he was honoured to practise with the snooker star he says he wasn't fussy who he played with as long as it was for something, "he'd play for a Mars bar!"

He still laughs about the day he got overzealous with his snooker cue. "Alex decided my cue was too light so he set about adding some weight to it. He put some lead in a baked beans tin and stuck in on the cooker at his mum's in Huncoat.

"He then took a hand drill and drilled right through the butt!" recalls Mick. "He then said: 'Don't worry, it was no good anyway'."

Former World Snooker Champion Dennis Taylor, who like Higgins came from Northern Ireland and based himself in Blackburn, paid tribute to the man who famously threatened to have him shot.

"He was unique. You'll never see another player in the game like Alex Higgins."




SEE ALSO
Alex Higgins: A life in pictures
24 Jul 10 |  Northern Ireland
Snooker star Higgins dies aged 61
24 Jul 10 |  Snooker
Obituary: Alex Higgins
24 Jul 10 |  Snooker


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