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Journalist who managed snooker’s Alex Higgins dies aged 77

Ronnie HarperA sports journalist who also laid claim to be the first manager of snooker star Alex Higgins has died aged 77.

Tributes have been paid to Ronnie Harper, left, who worked for the Belfast Telegraph from the early 1960s until his retirement in 2001.

Initially Ronnie covered all aspects of sport from football to greyhound racing, but specialised in snooker and bowls.

Through his work he was one of the first to spot Higgins, who would later go on to become snooker world champion in 1972 and 1982, and did much to promote his early career.

In an obituary for the Bel Tel, Ronnie’s former colleague Sammy Hamill wrote: “He took Higgins under his wing, booking dates for him around the local snooker halls.

“But when Ronnie arrived for one of the appearances he had arranged for Higgins, and Alex didn’t, he sacked him. It was a decision he lived to regret as Higgins went on to become a two-time world champion, and Ronnie was tableside for both.”

Ronnie also covered the famous victory of Dennis Taylor, also from Northern Ireland, in the 1985 tournament.

Sammy added: “He was a larger than life character, quick-witted, an office prankster and raconteur who was renowned for his sharp put-downs, and painfully thin to the point of being skinny. So much so that when he decided to take up boxing, he went into the boys’ club’s record books as an undefeated champion – when his opponents saw how tall he was for his weight, they all withdrew.

“In his journalistic adventures he volunteered to be a passenger in a racing sidecar and an apprentice jockey with one of Ireland’s leading race horse trainers. All went well until he forgot to close a gate behind him and a valuable horse bolted down the road.

“But no one encapsulated the spirit and camaraderie of the Telegraph sport department like Ronnie through the halcyon days of Ulster achievements on the sporting field in the Sixties to the Nineties when he revelled in the company of colleagues such as Jack Magowan, Derek Murray, Jimmy Walker and, of course, Malcolm Brodie.

“Our careers ran parallel for many years to the extent that on one occasion in the early days he was called into the editor’s office to be told he was getting a pay rise. “You’re doing a good job Mr Hamill, keep it up.” Ronnie explained he was actually Mr Harper and got a pay rise too.”

Ronnie died on 21 October after a period of ill-health, and his funeral was held in Bangor, Northern Ireland.

He is survived by his wife Helen, sons Darren and Gareth, daughter Ann and his wider family circle.

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