a superb look at how a hurricane took snooker from the backstreets to primetime


As sporting press conferences go, it ranks with Eric Cantona and his seagulls, or Muhammad Ali “making drugs sick”: Alex Higgins, uncharacteristically sober in gown if not in method, publicly and petulantly retiring from snooker in 1990. 

The Hurricane’s tally of championships could also be dwarfed by that of Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and lots of others, but it’s wholly comprehensible that three-part documentary Gods of Snooker (BBC Two) would open with the person maybe most answerable for dragging snooker out of a British Legion Membership on the outskirts of Birmingham (the place he beat John Spencer within the 1972 World Championship closing) to Sheffield’s Crucible and primetime BBC Two. Barry Hearn referred to the 20 years that adopted Higgins’s win as resembling “Dallas with balls”, however even Pam Ewing couldn’t have dreamt up a story this outlandish.

In an age when solely Ronnie O’Sullivan – Higgins’s closest modern equal in each expertise and anti-establishment snook-cocking – would seemingly be recognised on the road, it’s laborious to credit score how enormous snooker was in Eighties Britain. Gods of Snooker did a superb job of evoking the period, gathering telling insights from nearly each key participant nonetheless alive. Whether or not it was Jimmy “Whirlwind” White or pricey outdated Dennis Taylor, “Dracula” Ray Reardon or Cliff “The Grinder” Thorburn, everybody had a persona as fastidiously crafted and maintained as any WWE wrestler (my gran favoured Taylor and had an unexplained antipathy in direction of Tony Drago). At the same time as they regaled us with tales of the glory days, their peculiar attract remained largely intact, though Taylor referring to Tony Knowles’s “film-star appears to be like” did make me surprise how a lot the Ulsterman received out to the cinema.

As soon as BBC Two controller David Attenborough’s experiments in color tv had given snooker a nationwide platform, Reardon vs Higgins shaped the spine of each the game and the primary episode: former policeman and baize automaton towards maverick “folks’s champion”. The height of their rivalry got here within the 1982 World Championship closing, as Higgins reined in his showboating instincts for lengthy sufficient to triumph, then tearfully referred to as for his spouse and toddler daughter to be part of within the celebrations. A precipitous and messy decline into dependancy and sickness lurked across the nook.

Higgins was such a dominant character that almost all of his friends received scarcely a look-in. However so entertaining was the telling, pushed by a soundtrack as leftfield because the Hurricane’s shot choice (Jacques Dutronc, Neu!), that it wasn’t – with apologies to Mitchell and Webb’s snooker commentators – a dangerous miss.

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