Exclusive: Ronnie O'Sullivan on the Legacy of Alex Higgins

In an exclusive interview, Ronnie O’Sullivan sits down with to reflect on the remarkable journey of snooker legend Alex Higgins.

Neil Goulding
Neil Goulding

Last Updated: 2024-03-20

Louis Hobbs

4 minutes read

Alex Higgins with a cue stick

Ronnie O’Sullivan has no doubts Alex Higgins was snooker’s George Best. The Rocket was blown away by the Hurricane as a budding youngster. And the seven-time world champion got to see first-hand just how good snooker’s original bad-boy was.

Snooker's Original Bad Boy

Now a captivating new book, ‘Goody Two Shoes: Alex Higgins, 1982 – How the Hurricane won the greatest World Championship ever staged’, pays homage to the Belfast-born double world champion and how he claimed the affectionate moniker ‘The People’s Champion’. “He [Alex Higgins] made snooker sexy,” enthused O’Sullivan

“He was our George Best, and every sport needs a character, and snooker was lucky to have Alex Higgins. All I know is that Alex is still remembered. Some people might win the World Championship two or three times and you ask most people on the street their names and they'll go 'Who?'. "But Alex was different, he was special. And he'll never be forgotten."

Image Credits: Goody Two Shoes- John Skilbeck

Image Credits: Goody Two Shoes- John Skilbeck

The Triumphs and Tribulations

Snooker hell-raiser Alex Higgins captured the imagination of a nation with his famous 1982 Crucible triumph in Sheffield. The Northern Irishman fought back against all the odds to land the green baize game’s greatest prize. But his career was packed full of problems and his love of the booze ensured his colourful career was never short of controversy. Higgins would have celebrated his 75th birthday on Monday, but he sadly died in 2010 aged 61.

A Uniting Figure

“People just loved him, north and south of the border,” said Ken Doherty, the former world champion, and a close friend of Higgins right up until his death. “Without a shadow of a doubt he was loved across Ireland at that time. I think that was one great thing about the sport, and in our case snooker, that it sort of crossed the divide between the Catholics and the Protestants." He continues, “I remember going to school the next day, after the World Championship, and everyone had been watching it. It was a huge moment, iconic for us.”

Fond Memories and Humorous Tales

The Darling of Dublin watched in awe as Higgins won his first Crucible crown in 1972, but it was a decade later – with his famous crying celebration cradling his baby daughter – which is what attracted ten million viewers to his thrilling 18-15 victory over Ray Reardon. 
Dubliner Doherty, himself a world champion in 1997, tells a funny tale of how Higgins – who was ill with lung cancer – still maintained his trademark sense of humour when his good mate and fellow countryman George Best came into conversation.

Higgins' Resilience

“Alex was recovering from his cancer, he was very unwell, very skinny having lost a lot of weight,” recalled Doherty. “He came down on the train to Dublin and came through to the practise room at the Radisson Hotel at ten o’clock in the morning, and he’s got the Racing Post in his pocket, he’s got his Fedora hat on, and I said to Alex, ‘D’you want something to eat? And he said, ‘No, just get me a pint of Guinness, babes.” 

Doherty recalls, “I told him, ‘Alex, it’s ten o’clock in the morning’, and he said ‘There’s enough iron in that to see me through the day. “He gets the pint, he pulls the Racing Post out of his pocket, picks his lucky four horses and goes around the room. “He’s smoking and drinking and looking at the photographs on the wall.

Remembering George Best

“I bring him over to a photograph of George Best in Dublin. I knew Alex knew him, and he used to play him when George played for Manchester United because Higgins lived in Manchester at the time.”

Doherty continued, “I said to Alex, ‘Here’s an old friend of yours, you might recognise him’. “And he’s got the glasses on the bridge of his nose, he takes a drag of his cigarette, a sup at his Guinness, and he looks at the picture and goes ‘Oh Georgie, Georgie Best, what a waste! “Alex cracked me up, he absolutely cracked me up!”

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‘Goody Two Shoes: Alex Higgins, 1982 – How the Hurricane Won the Greatest World Championship ever staged’, by John Skilbeck, is out now on Amazon priced £10.99.

Neil Goulding
Neil GouldingSenior Sports Reporter

Neil has been a journalist for longer than he'd care to remember, having written for national newspapers and respected publications for over 25 years. For the last three years he has worked freelance for BBC Sport, working on the production desk as a sub-editor and also as a writer, covering a whole range of sports.