Whirlwind set to descend on city

BEST OF FRIENDS Jimmy White and the late great Alex Higgins after an exhibition match at South Parade Pier in 1993

BEST OF FRIENDS Jimmy White and the late great Alex Higgins after an exhibition match at South Parade Pier in 1993

Annette McHugh with daughter Ellie      Picture:  Malcolm Wells (170626-1955)

It’s a family affair at the Aegon Southsea Trophy for the McHughs

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Laughing and joking, Jimmy White nuzzles his head into his best mate Alex Higgins. It’s May 1993 and the pair have just played an exhibition match at South Parade Pier in Southsea.

Higgins – at that point coming to the end of his career – is dressed in an outlandishly colourful waistcoat.

Steve Davis

Steve Davis

Jimmy, at the peak of his time in the game, just looks chuffed to be out with his pal.

One local tale says the pair turned up early and headed to a nearby pub to play pool for money – and then had to be dragged out by the exhibition organisers.

Not that Jimmy can remember, and given his raucous past, who can blame him?

‘Sounds about right,’ he jokes.

There were signs that drink may have been consumed as the match report that appeared in The News said Higgins at the beginning of one frame actually missed the pack of reds on the break off.

That may have been a memorable exhibition for the spectators, but while being a well-played sport locally, Portsmouth has never staged its own

major tournament – until now.

The Seniors World Championships will be held over the weekend of October 27 and 28 at the Mountbatten Centre, and will be screened live by Sky.

Top of the bill is Jimmy ‘The Whirlwind’ White as well as featuring other players of yesteryear including Dennis Taylor, Cliff Thornburn and six times world champion Steve Davis.

It’s a tournament Jimmy has won before – when it was launched in 2010 – and he’s confident of lifting the trophy again.

And living in Southampton with his girlfriend, Jimmy says the Portsmouth tournament will be ‘his local’.

‘The World Seniors is a fantastic event – it’s played by all the guys over 45.

‘Stephen Hendry is not in it until next year so we’re pleased with that!’ says Jimmy, who lost in six World finals – four of them against the prolific Scot.

‘It’s a serious tournament. It’s a good way to get together with friends you used to play with but haven’t seen for years. It’s a good tournament.’

While he doesn’t play in front of the TV cameras as frequently as he used to, Jimmy is still going strong in the game he loves – at the age of 50. And there’s definitely no talk of retirement.

‘Playing on TV doesn’t bother me as long as I play in good conditions,’ he says.

‘I still love playing the exhibitions and I’m number 48 in the world rankings so have only got to win two matches to get to the tournament venues.’

The Seniors World Championships is in its third year, with Welshman Darren Morgan the reigning champ.

Seeing the old players up close, many from the golden era of snooker in the 1980s, is one that draws in big crowds.

‘In Peterborough last year the event was sold out,’ says Jimmy.

‘Now we are coming to Portsmouth as we are trying to promote the game across the country.’

He’s already been doing that every year with the Snooker Legends tour, where class players of the past play each other every night at venues up and down the UK.

Last year, Jimmy showed he’s still got it by knocking in a 147 in front of ecstatic fans.

‘Snooker Legends is so brilliant. It started off three years ago, but we thought “there’s no way in the world this could work out – there’s too many players for an exhibition”. It’s now worked out so well and we’ve now got Ronnie O’Sullivan on board. We’ve got Kirk Stevens over here, we’ve had everybody over.’

While the sport may not be as popular as in the 80s when Barry Hearn, Steve Davis’s manager and now chairman of World Snooker, described it as ‘Coronation Street with balls’, it is now reaching out across the globe, particularly China, and there are many more tournaments.

Jimmy, who reached the final three in ITV’s reality show I’m A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here in 2009, says the game has benefited from Hearn’s leadership.

‘Three years ago it got so bad I went into the jungle but Barry Hearn has done a great job. We are really looking forward to the seniors. The only problem is it’s best of three – it’s like a 50-yard sprint but I’m really looking forward to it. I can’t wait to get to Portsmouth.

‘I think I will get a lot of local support.

‘It’s a serious tournament for me – I’m going there trying to win it.’

How to get your tickets

Tickets for the tournament are on sale now, starting at just £10. There are also some VIP packages available.

For details call 02392 626509 or go to worldsnooker.com

A spokesman for World Snooker said: ‘This event has proved extremely popular since we launched it in 2010.

‘We’re delighted to bring it to a new city this year and it will be a great occasion for the people of Portsmouth.

‘It’s a chance to see some of snooker’s all-time legends, the great names of the past 30 years.

‘Fans in the arena and watching on Sky are on for a treat as this is an event which blends superb snooker action with fun and banter from snooker’s greatest characters.’

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