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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 April, 2004, 13:13 GMT 14:13 UK
An evening with Alex Higgins
By Chris Charles

Chris Charles, Darren Day and Alex Higgins
Just a normal Saturday night out

So I'm in this bar getting drunk with Alex Higgins and Darren Day. Sound like your worst nightmare? Read on.

We'd just finished watching The Hurricane at London's Arts Theatre - a brilliant one-man play by Richard Dormer charting the fall from grace of snooker's original showman.

Higgins is clearly impressed by what he's seen, but for one misgiving: "I don't like the way he does the s******g - I'm a love-maker."

This sets the tone for the rest of the evening - Alex talking about Alex, with a captive audience drinking in every word.

Higgins is at his twitchy, impatient best - expression flitting from satisifed to wounded with the speed of a trademark black into the corner pocket.

He has a habit of pawing you like a cat with a mouse as he draws you in to hear tales about today's players and his old adversaries at snooker's governing body. Oh that the lawyers would allow us to repeat them.

One old favourite concerns former referee John Williams, who refused to move when Higgins asked him to during the player's last appearance at The Crucible.

The memory clearly becomes too much for Alex, who suffers a mini-breakdown before quickly regaining his composure and reaching for his pint.

Day and I have been invited along to take part in 'The Hurricane Challenge' - a post-play humiliation cunningly disguised as a pool contest.

Chris Charles - not one of today's stars
I'd put Ronnie at number three, Jimmy at number two and me at number one
Alex Higgins on today's stars

What the producers have failed to tell me is that the Dazzler was a former semi-pro snooker player, who got his big break in showbusiness by imitating his fellow players.

"Alex is the reason I took up the game," he tells me in his Essex growl - last heard bawling out Tara Palmer-Tomkinson on I'm A Celebrity.

Any pre-conceived ideas about The Sun's favourite 'love rat' are quickly dispelled. A more charming, down-to-earth fella you could not hope to meet.

"This is the best night of my life," he adds - not bad for someone who has a list of celebrity exes Jack Nicholson would be proud of.

I get the call to come up on stage first. A gaunt-looking Higgins offers me a limp handshake - 48 doses of radiotherapy have clearly taken their toll - and invites me to break.

I accept, figuring it might be the only shot I get. I'm not far wrong.

Nothing goes down and before you can say "another pint for Alex", Higgins is five balls to the good.

He narrowly misses a difficult pot - played with his back to the table as he banters with the crowd - and I'm in.

A red is dispatched to the top corner, followed by an easy shot to bottom right and a tap-in to the opposite pocket.

Suddenly I can hear Ted Lowe in my head, proclaiming me the new world champion - until I see my next shot rattle in the jaws, leaving Alex to clear up.

Alex Higgins and BBC journalist John Mathews
Just stay true to the sport

Darren Day, in case you were wondering, coasted to victory. You can go off some people.

After the game, we retire back to the bar - Higgins' natural habitat. He might not be able to put them away like he used to, but it provides a strange kind of comfort to see him with a pint in his hand.

As the evening draws to a close, you feel like you've been the stars of a hypnotism show, with Alex in the Paul McKenna role - so much so that a concerned colleague foolishly asks the main man if he needs a bed for the night.

Fortunately, Higgins doesn't quite hear what's been said and mysteriously replies: "Thanks for staying true to the sport - it makes all the difference."

You just knew he'd have the last word.


WORLD SNOOKER 2004

SECOND TITLE FOR O'SULLIVAN


CRUCIBLE HISTORY
 

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SEE ALSO
Hurricane breezes onto West End
14 Jan 04 |  Northern Ireland


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