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During the fifties and sixties snooker suffered a lengthy decline in its fortunes, primarily due to the lack of positive marketing and promotion but also because of the lack of new players for viewers to watch. There was little or no snooker coverage in the national press and the national game was seemingly more interested in developing amateur stars, rather than the six active professional players at this time.

Things began to change in the late sixties as a number of corporate bodies began to consider the sport as a useful media tool to reach their target audience. Although press coverage remained non-existent, John Player (a tobacco company) began to sponsor individual professional players in exhibition matches, in an attempt to reach the large market which snooker, social and and working mens clubs represented.

Around this time in 1968, a new snooker player was beginning to emerge from the amateur ranks. His name was Alex Higgins and he would become one of the most famous sporstman in Britain and arguably the nost famous snooker player of all time.

Soon after the 1968 World Championships Higgins became the youngest ever winner of the Northern Ireland Amateur title at the age of 18 and followed this up by almost single-handedly winning the British Team Championships for Belfast YMCA.

Following Reardon's 37 - 33 victory over Pullman in the 1970 World Championships, and Spencer's win against Warren Simpson in 1971, Alex moved from Ireland to Lancashire, England in an attempt to break into mainstream British snooker. He was the talk of the county as no-one had previously seen a player seemingly so reckless, but who seldom seemed to miss. Off 14 start, he played Spencer in numerous challenge matches for £200 a match, winning the first 23-18.

The 1972 World title began in its new format in March 1971, within Higgins drawn to play Ron Gross at a snooker club in Ealing. Higgins was never in danger and won easily 16-5. Gross was a three times English amateur champion in the 1960,s but never looked like beating Alex.

A break in the World Championships, saw Alex play Jack Rea for the Irish title. Higgins beat him 28-12 to become Irish champion, but was then drawn to play him again, this time in the World Championships, with Higgins winning 19-11. Into the quarter finals, Higgins then played John Pullman and defeated him 31-23 to move into the semi finals against Rex Williams. This match was extremely close throughout, with Williams 12-6 up, then 26-25 behind, befoe the match levelled at 30 frames apiece. The last frame was a little scappy due to the extreme pressure of the occasion, but Higgins potted the final green to book his place in the final against John Spencer.

Spencer was the pre-match favourite but Higgins was in superb form and playing with huge confidence. Early in the final session Higgins clinched the title 37-32 and became the game's youngest ever snooker world champion. No-one would envisage a ten year gap before Higgins was crowned world champion again. Following his title victory Higgins quickly became the highest profile player in the sport, enhanced when a Thames TV documentary about him took 25th place in the television ratings for that week.

The build up to the 1973 title again centred around Alex but there was to be no repeat victory. After beating Fred Davis 16-14 in the quarter finals, Higgins lost 23-9 to Eddie Charlton in the semi's. Reardon meanwhile was defeating Spencer in the other semi-final and after numerous twists and turns defeated Charlton 38-32 in the final.

Alex meanwhile was making the news wherever he went. Broken committments, damaged hotel rooms and excessive drinking stories seemed to follow him daily. The 1974 championships saw him beat Bennett 15-4 in the second round but lose to Fred Davis 15-14 in the quarter finals. Reardon however was making steady progress on his way to the winning his second consecutive title 22-12 against Graham Miles.

The 1975 championship saw Alex beat David Taylor 15-2 in the second round and then Rex Williams 19-12 in the quarter finals. In the semi final Higgins drew Ray Reardon and the match was evenly poised at 10-10 before Reardon won 9 of the next 13 to win 19-14. Reardon went on to beat Charlton 31-30 to win the

title for the third consecutive year.

1976 saw the first Embassy sponsored snooker world championships, with Higgins reaching the final after wins over Thorburn 15-14 in the second round, Spencer 15-14 in the quarter finals and Charlton 20-18 in the semi finals. The final did not go well for Alex with Reardon playing a steady if unspectaular game on his way to winning, with a session to spare 27-16 . In numerous frames Alex conceded frames with reds still on the table.

Following the first Embassy sponsored championships, Reardon won the Pontins Professional, whilst newcomer Doug Mountjoy won the Pontins Open for the second time in three years and also the Welsh Amateur. Higgins beat Reardon to win the Canadian Club Masters, which was subsequently shown by Yorkshire television. Charlton beat Reardon to win the World Professional Matchplay championship, a result which created confusion as to who was now the official world snooker champion.

The 1977 championships were moved from the venue in Wythenshaw which held the '76' final and relocated to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. This decision immediately proved to be hugely successful with 20,000 spectators watching over the fortnight of the competition.

Alex lost a pulsating first round match with Doug Mountjoy 13-12. From 10-12 down Higgins won the next two to level at 12-12. After leading for most of the frame a missed pink allowed Doug in to recover to make it a black ball shoot out. Afetr two or three shots apiece, Mountjoy potted the black to win. Meanwhile Spencer was making steady progress, defeating Virgo 13-9, Reardon 13-6 and Pulman 18-16 to meet Cliff Thorburn in the final. Thorburn in his first final played very well, but Spencer's experience stood him in good stead as he recorded a 25-21 victory.

Following the 1977 championships, Higgins won the Pontins Professional from 864 entries and the Canadian Open after beating Reardon and Spencer in the last two rounds. The BBC had committed to televising the final of the Benson and Hedges Masters, (which Higgins won 7-5 against Thorburn), Pot Black and the final of the UK championships. BBC's decision to cover daily sessions of the 1978 Embassy championships however, gave snooker wide spread media coverage, raising profile and awareness of the game to a new level. This was the single most influential decision made in the history of snooker.

Broadcasting live matches was still deemed to be extremely risky, as a boring frame could eat away valuable airtime. This was overcome with the two-table coverage and selected moments form matches being shown on the television. No-one could possibly anticiapte the television success story of the 1978 championships. On the first Monday there was an audience of five million for the recorded highlights. On the Wednesday, six million people tuned in and by the end of the championship fortnight over seven million people were regularly watching sessions.

In the first round their were two last frame losers. Unfortunately for the viewers, Alex lost 13-12 to Patsy Fagan from 12-10 in front. The 23rd frame was won on a tie-break the 24th on a black ball finish and the decider on the last pink. The other last farem loser was Willie Thorne, defeated 13-12 by Charlton from 12-9 in front. The tension was unbearable, the coverage impeccable. Televised viewers loved it.

Fred Davis and Perrie Mans progressed to one sem-final, whilst the other was between Eddie Charlton and Ray Reardon. Mans came through 18-16 against Davis, while Reardon beat Charlton 18-14. The final was split at 10 all, before Reardon built up an 18-14 lead at the end of the fourth session. Mans recovered to 18-17 before Reardon responded with seven frames out of eight to win his sixth and last world crown 25-18.

Unfortunately, this championship saw the great Joe Davis taken ill whilst watching his brother Fred in the semi-finals. Complaining of back pains Joe was taken from the arena to his hotel and the following day to the hospital. An operation saw him through the crisis, but he never fully recovered and died six weeks later. A true sporting gentleman and one of the primary reasons for snooker's growth and success, Joe's death was a tragic loss to the game.

Alex's form in 1979 was somewhat sporadic. Doug Mountjoy defeated him in the Uk championship's at Preston and Perrie Mans beat him 8-4 to take the Benson and Hedges Masters at Wembley, without making a 50 break in the entire competition. Reardon beat him 11-9 to take the Daily Mirror Champion of Champions, but Alex responded by winning the Tolly Cobold Classic and the first prize of £750 in an open tournament at the Castle Club.

The build up to the 1979 World Championships saw a number of new players introduced into the tournament. One of them was Steve Davis. Slowly but surely the status quo was changing, with the older established players finding things harder as fierce competition raised the overall standard. Another new entrant was Welshman Terry Griffiths, playing in his first world championships. For him to go on and win the title was a remarkable achievement for someone with very little experience of long matches condensed into a fortnight's play. After beating Perrie Mans in the first round he was then drawn to play Alex in round two.

Higgins lost the first frame after a 61 clearance from Terry, but then made consecutive centuries of 105 and 112 and looked all set for a third until he broke down unexpectedly on 45 in the fourth frame. Griffiths cleared with 63 to win on the black and levelled at 2-2. Higgins then won the next four to finish at 6-2. The next session Griffiths won the last three to level at 8-8, before the next six frames were shared with the match level at 11-11. The following session saw all the frames shared before Griffiths clinched the decider with a break of 107. Many argued that this was one of the best matches ever seen at the Crucible Theatre.

Griffith's then defeated Charlton in a titanic struggle in the sem-final, a match that was in stark contrast to the quarter final with Alex. Long bouts of safety play and tactics saw the final session last over five hours, but Griffith's stayed focused and emerged triumphant 19-17. In the other semi-final Dennis Taylor beat John Virgo 19-12 to book his place in the final for the first time after suffering the disappointment of two losing sem-finals.

The final was the best of 47 frames, spread over three days as opposed to the 35 frames over two days format, which would take place in 1980. After levelling at 15-15, Griffith's then moved into a 17-16 lead before winning the next seven frames on his way to the title and a winning margin of 24-16.

No individual is bigger than the game, but every now and then along comes a special player whose name becomes synonymous with their chosen sport.

Alex (Hurricane) Higgins is one such player.

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