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Alex Higgins, Steve Davis and the Arbroath bookie who cost the Hurricane a grand

Alex Higgins made an unforgettable pit-stop in Arbroath before a match against Steve Davis.

Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins drowned his sorrows over a cup of tea with Steve Davis after an unfortunate wager in Arbroath cost him £1,200.

The fierce rivalry between Higgins and Davis was instrumental in bringing snooker from the dark, smoky halls to a vast TV audience in the 1980s.

Here was a feud that existed between a people’s champion and a world champion.

Higgins and Davis were like chalk and cheese.

Davis and Higgins were the two biggest names of the 1980s in snooker.

Higgins won the 1972 World Championship aged 22 and cut an entirely different sort of figure to the staid exponents of snooker’s black and white era.

He wore his shirt open-necked, his hair long and usually had a cigarette in one hand and a strong drink in the other.

Higgins was all about balls flying into pockets – and as fast as possible.

Davis only dabbled in taking sips of water and was so clinically efficient on the green baize that he earned the nickname The Romford Robot.

He was 23 when he won his first World Championship in 1981.

Davis versus Higgins met 31 times in competitive matches and Davis won 25 of them but they also played in countless exhibition games against each other.

His opponents worked out that the best way to nullify the Hurricane was with long, drawn-out frames and safety battles.

Davis was a name that made Higgins cringe on sight but they made snooker box-office gold and promoters were keen to capitalise on the intense rivalry.

Betting shop blues

They were signed up to take part in a British tour in 1981 and Davis was leading the exhibition series 4-3 following a match in Aberdeen on October 12.

An obsessive gambler, Higgins stopped off to put on a wager in Arbroath a few hours before the next match took place at the Caird Hall in Dundee.

Higgins put a £100 bet on a horse which came through the field to win at 11/1.

He went to collect his £1,200 winnings and learned his betting slip had been entered by the cashier just a few seconds too late to make it valid to be paid out.

Higgins managed to put the unlucky wager in Arbroath to the back of mind and stuck to drinking tea with Davis before taking to the Caird Hall stage.

Higgins and Davis have a cup of tea before they take to the stage at the Caird Hall in October 1981.

Snooker’s most memorable enemies butted heads in the dressing room when Davis was asked if his play was affected by tiring journeys up and down the country.

“It doesn’t get to you because when you go out to the table your mood heightens and being tired just doesn’t matter, in fact it can even help you to calm down and be less nervous than you might otherwise be,” said Davis.

Most of my job early doors was making sure Alex never got anywhere near Steve because Alex was very unpredictable.”

Barry Hearn

Higgins was having none of it though and interjected: “You’ve just contradicted yourself, because one minute you say that you tense up for a game and the next minute you’re saying that you want to calm down.

“It’s a really strenuous business, and I know because I’ve been doing it for 10 years, but the fact is that this is the way that I make most of my money playing snooker, not necessarily in the big tournaments.”

Higgins would take his frustration from the bookies out on Davis and thrashed him 8-1 in front of 1,000 people who paid £8.50 and £6 to watch the match.

Higgins was scintillating

Those lucky enough to be there will tell you they have never seen snooker like it.

The Courier reported: “Davis breaks in the first frame, but it is Higgins who soon takes the initiative and, after some typically scintillating play, wins by 87 points to 26, after which he turns and gives an almost defiant glare to his opponent which says ‘match that’.

“The young Londoner proceeds to do just so and in a frame where he pulls off an amazing three reds off one hit shot, goes on to win 76 to 16.

Alex Higgins won the Dundee challenge match by eight frames to one against Davis.

“However, Alex is anything but overawed and in the third frame puts together a marvellous break of 69 and eventually ‘does the granny’ on Davis, winning 121 points to nil.

“Every other professional would admit that it is difficult to come back to Alex when he is on song and the last frame in this session also goes the way of the Irishman, giving Higgins a 3-1 lead in this best of nine frame contest.

“The promoters seemed well satisfied with the facilities offered in the Caird Hall, although there was a slight grumble heard about the quality of the floor, being not specifically designed for top-class sport.

“Steve also made a comment at the start of the session that he hoped the lights were still warming up!”

Higgins won the remaining five frames to level the series at 4-4 before the tour went on to further dates in Lochgelly, Stirling and Edinburgh.

From left: Barry Hearn, Steve Davis and the director of Courage The Brewers, Michael Foster, after Davis signed what was at that time the biggest sponsorship deal for a UK sports star. His five-year contract earned him £1m.

Barry Hearn, manager of Davis since 1976, wanted to make sure Higgins stayed away from his all-conquering protégé during the exhibition in Scotland.

“Steve’s idea of a risqué night was whether to drink two glasses of milk before bed, where Alex would want to drink the place dry and have a fight with someone,” he said.

“Most of my job early doors was making sure Alex never got anywhere near Steve because Alex was very unpredictable.

“Steve was very uncomfortable around him.

“I had to have a word with the organisers when we were up in Scotland to tell them Alex wasn’t allowed within six feet of Davis.”

Higgins missed tournaments to play lucrative exhibition games and was fined regularly by snooker’s authorities for everything from telling the most experienced referee in the game to “read the rulebook” to licking the white ball to clean it.

Practice time became non-existent as Higgins drank with Keith Moon, Ian Botham, Elton John and George Best.

But Higgins cleaned up his act enough to win his second world title in 1982.

He checked into rehab, fired his management and finally finished the practice room at his new house.

Alex Higgins wins the 1982 world title at the Crucible.

That 1982 title win was memorable for the celebration images when he invited his wife Lynn and baby daughter Lauren to join him with the trophy.

The marriage to Lynn didn’t last much longer than the birth of their second child in 1983 and it was a steady downward spiral on and off the table.

His final professional triumph came in the 1989 Irish Masters, at the age of 40, when he defeated a young Stephen Hendry, often referred to as “The Hurricane’s Last Hurrah”.

Higgins was first diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998 and died in his Belfast home in July 2010 at the age of 61.

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