- Allan Baker manager at Preston Guild Hall speaks to Andrew Atkinson, for the first time in 34 years, following Alex Higgins headbutting incident with tournament director Paul Hatherall in 1986, during the Coral UK Championship, that lead to a ban from the WPBSA.
“Whenever Alex was playing snooker at the Guild Hall we were always guaranteed a sell out crowd,” said Baker, looking back on Higgins career, that included a 16-15 win in the final of the UK championship against Steve Davis in 1983.
“He loved playing in Preston and always got a tremendous reception.
“Myself and other members of staff always got on very well with Alex over the years – until the incident with Paul Hatherall the tournament director,” said Baker.
Higgins’ headbutting incident followed a request for a blood test, that became world headlines news, leading to suspension from five tournaments.
“We had to eject Alex from the building that night – as he wouldn’t leave when asked to do so.
“Our relationship was never the same after the 1986 incident.
“We always found the two sides to Alex – the sober Alex – and the alcohol-fuelled Alex,” said Baker.
Following the Guild Hall incident; Higgins was banned in 1990 for the season for litany offences, including the threat to have Dennis Taylor shot – and punching a tournament press officer.
Wayward Belfast born Higgins’ lifestyle continued, having won the Irish Masters, limping around the snooker table, after falling 25 feet from a window amid a row with his girlfriend.
Higgins, who survived throat cancer in 1998, returning to smoking cigarettes, despite an attempt to sue tobacco companies, last played in the televised stage of the World championship at The Crucible in 1994 – and was involved in an argument with referee, John Williams, about where he was standing.
His last match on the pro snooker circuit came in 1997, playing in the qualifying rounds in Plymouth. He was escorted from the venue – for being abusive – and was found lying on the ground in the early hours of the following morning, after being hit with an iron bar.
Appearances followed in exhibitions – and Legends events, where frail Higgins’ shadow of his former self left Canadian Cliff Thorburn in tears.
World champion in 1972 and 1982 Higgins died on July 24, 2010, aged 61.
Despite Higgins shenanigans, Baker said: “The one thing I always admired about Alex, was the time he had to sign autographs and spend with disabled and wheelchair patrons – he was always very generous with his time for that”.
*If I knew you were comin’ I’d ‘av baked a Cake – The Alex Higgins story, published by Andrew Atkinson in July, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death. To order a copy £12, email: firstname.lastname@example.org