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"I jump into a sand pit for a living"

Jonathan Edwards, World record triple-jumper

Who was Hurricane Higgins?,

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Who was Hurricane Higgins?, Tony Francis, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 2011. lSBN 9781444 70877 6

This is a gripping book but not a comfortable read. The portrait of the “the people’s champion” which emerges from the book is not a pleasant read. The tragedy of the double world champion is summed up: “He may have hit the heights in his professional career and had hordes of followers, but he had nothing and no-one to come home to”. Or “He ruined his own life with drinking and gambling. I saw the lovely houses he once had. It was very sad that he ended up with nothing – not even a pad to call his own”.

The book has 22 chapters, each giving a different perspective on Alex – from his wife, daughter, sister, manager and other people whose life interacted with his. It tells the story of how drink, drugs and gambling ruined his life.

Repeatedly people comment on the two sides of Alex. His daughter Lauren said, “I felt a mixture of shame and admiration for my dad. I was ashamed of his outbursts and often felt uncomfortable when he was near me, but when I look at what he achieved from modest beginnings, I’m proud”.

His ex-wife Lynn, “Alex without drink was the quietest, nicest person you could meet. I really mean that. Looking back over all those difficult years, I still feel that about him. Unfortunately, he had an intolerance to alcohol. It flicked a switch”.

Charlie Hawley, a friend: “half the time he’d be great company and a passport to smart places, for the rest of the time he’d either disgust you with his attitude or drive you to distraction with his selfish demands”.

“On the one hand he was intelligent Iiterate and well-read. On the other he was crazed and dangerous”.

“Despite his nasty side – and it could be very nasty – he and George Best are still regarded as superstars, flaws or no”.

The book summed him up in some great one-liners:

He lived in the overtaking lane

Alex needing money can be an unpleasant animal

He felt the world owed him a living.

There are some horrendous, scarcely believable incidents. When a boy asked for his autograph in the loo, he took the programme and peed on it. Or the lady in the wheelchair to whom he said, “I don’t sign autographs for paraplegics”. There are several examples of gratuitous violence.

Strangely he carried a Bible with him all the time, a Bible given to him by his mother when he left home at the age of fifteen with an inscription: ‘To Sandy from Mam with all my love and best wishes. May God protect you and keep you safe always, no matter where you are.’

Alex is quoted “God has been influence in my life. That might surprise some people. They don’t know me. Our family is Church of Ireland. It doesn’t mean I go to church. I don’t. I probably never will. A prayer in church is no different from a prayer in the garage. I’ve prayed for help at the snooker table. I’ve sometimes cursed myself for expecting too much from God.”

The author dismisses this saying he had “no interest in religious doctrine” and “His first and only time in the cathedral was inside a coffin”.

I am giving the last, sad, word to His sister Ann: “The Higgins’ smile was irresistible. It helped him throughout his life. He would have liked to get rid of that dark side of his character, but he never did. He couldn’t. He didn’t talk about it either. He knew it was something he couldn’t control”.

Well worth reading.



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