By Nick Harris
6 December 2010
John Higgins celebrated his returned to major action following his six month ban with a 9-6 win over Stephen Lee in the UK Championship in Telford, and faces Graeme Dott next for a place in the quarter-finals. But the Scot has conceded he will never shake off the stigma of the accusations made against him following the entrapment sting by the News of the World that led to his ban, despite being exonerated of match-fixing or intention to fix matches by a tribunal chaired by Ian Mill, a respected independent QC.
Speaking to sportingintelligence in an exclusive interview, Higgins, 35, a three-time world champion said: “To a lot of people, I’ll always be seen as that lad who got involved in that situation. I understand that many people won’t read the full verdict, and so I’ll never be back to ‘normal’. It all still feels raw, I feel anger, a bit on edge, but that’s the way it is, and you move on.”
The verdict found Higgins’ former business partner Pat Mooney guilty of agreeing deals on Higgins’ behalf. Mooney consistently argued entrapment.
Higgins was banned for six months and fined £75,000 for giving the impression of going along with the scam, and for failing to report an approach about betting.
The verdict was unequivocal in finding he knew nothing of the scam until minutes before a final meeting to discuss it.
In a bitter twist, the day Higgins was exonerated in September, his father John Snr discovered that his pre-existing cancer was terminal; the illness is now in its final stages. “My dad suffered through [the suspension], as any parent would suffer,” Higgins says. “He’s still fighting, he’s still following me.
“I played in a small event in the Czech Republic a few weeks ago and though it wasn’t televised he followed by live scoring on the internet. That gives him a boost but there’s no more chemo now as he’s not strong enough to handle it.”
Higgins says at the low point in his ban “the future was just black, I couldn’t even contemplate a life with no living, not able to provide for my family. I’d not sleep and stay up watching TV, but seeing nothing of it.”
Snooker clearly has integrity issues to deal with, and it is an irony that Higgins – never actually accused of anything criminal, let alone had evidence of criminality presented about him – began the UK Championship playing Lee, arrested earlier this year in relation to cheating allegations after odd batting patterns.
And if Higgins reaches the quarter-finals, he could face Stephen Maguire, arrested along with opponent Jamie Burnett over match-fixing allegations arising from the UK Championship two years ago. Developments in that case are thought to be imminent.
A new snooker integrity unit and draconian bans including life for any infringements of rules from now on, should help snooker clean up its act.
Higgins insists he has had no negative feedback from any players since returning to the game, not to his face at least. And if wider suspicions linger, then Higgins can point to Ian Mill’s verdict. “It’s maybe ill-informed people who haven’t found out the full facts who might still think something bad,” he says. “But Ian Mill saw every shred of evidence.
“If, having seen that, he’d come up with a different verdict and a different punishment then I would have had to accept that. But he didn’t.”
Higgins now just wants to get on with his career. “I’ll play for as long as possible,” he says. “I want to get back to world No1. I want to be winning tournaments. It’s what I do, it’s what I’ve always done.”