Young and old queue in tribute to 'Hurricane'
Published 27/07/2010 | 05:00
FANS queued from dawn yesterday to sign books of condolences for snooker legend Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins.
Young and old queued up at Belfast City Hall to pen their own personal reflections on the life of the maverick showman. A book of condolence was also opened in Derry's Guildhall.
The troubled sporting genius was discovered dead in his sheltered home near Belfast city centre on Saturday after years of battling throat cancer.
Locals and tourists alike paid their respects amid calls for the city to stage a funeral on the scale of the one which marked the death of fellow Belfast man George Best five years ago.
Friends of 61-year-old Higgins have already vowed to send the enigmatic two-time world champion off in style, using €12,000 raised for his medical treatment to fund it.
Local man Martin Murphy was among the first to sign the book this morning.
"I thought he was a legend of snooker -- a genius just like George Best," he said. "I have always admired him for his stand and for the things that he done.
"We all have dark issues in our life that we have to deal with and unfortunately maybe he couldn't come to terms with them."
Pensioner Hazel Whitley said Higgins was the reason she started watching snooker.
"He was just so special," she said. "There is no sparkle in the game anymore."
Glaswegian Jamie Doran, who was in Belfast on holiday, brought his four young children to pay their respects.
"I was 11 in 1982 when he won the world championships and that was my first real memory of snooker," he said.
"He was the greatest as far as I was concerned. He made snooker what it was -- he was interesting and exciting to watch and he was a legend."
Lord Mayor Pat Convery said: "I think it is important that the citizens of Belfast are given this opportunity to write something in memory of a sporting legend that they felt was one of their own."
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also signed the book yesterday.
Despite squandering his snooker winnings in a life blighted by drink and gambling, those who knew Higgins best are adamant that he will be given a proper send-off.
Some €12,000 raised to help Higgins receive medical treatment prior to his death will go toward his funeral, it was revealed yesterday.
The Northern Irishman's friend and former personal assistant Will Robinson said the remaining money from an auction and Manchester fundraising dinner would be used to give the snooker star a "great send-off".
Funeral details have not yet been finalised and Mr Robinson said there may be a delay to allow Jimmy White to return from Thailand.
Higgins's body was discovered after concerned friends broke into his flat having failed to contact him by phone. It is not known how long he had been dead inside the sheltered accommodation apartment in the Sandy Row area where he grew up.
It was a humble end for a former champion.
Last night, snooker legend Jimmy White, who will be flying back from Thailand for the funeral, said his friend had died from lack of nourishment after refusing to eat properly.
Mr White said the star was surviving on Guinness and small amounts of pureed food toward the end of his life.
"In the end it wasn't cancer that killed him, the cancer had gone, he died from lack of nourishment, how sickening is that?
"His sister Jean would bring food round, make a roast dinner and put it in a blender, but it was hard work to get him to eat anything.
"Higgins was in a catch-22, he didn't like food very much and couldn't eat because he had no teeth."
After turning professional he became the youngest World Championship winner at his first attempt, beating John Spencer in 1972.
The record was eventually beaten when 21-year-old Stephen Hendry claimed the trophy in 1990.
Higgins claimed the title for a second time in 1982.