The night I beat Alex Higgins one-handed

Coton was forced to play one-handed after partially paralysing his left arm in a motorcycle accident EMN-170211-105304002
Coton was forced to play one-handed after partially paralysing his left arm in a motorcycle accident EMN-170211-105304002

A motorcycling accident seriously curtailed Nigel Coton’s dreams of becoming a top snooker pro, but he has not let it deny him an intriguing life in the sport.

Nigel was a highly promising junior while a teenager growing up in Louth and a promising career appeared to beckon aged 17 when he finished Lincolnshire Under 18s runner-up to Grimsby ace Dean Reynolds.

Coton with snooker stars Tony Knowles (left) and Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins EMN-170211-105326002

Coton with snooker stars Tony Knowles (left) and Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins EMN-170211-105326002

Reynolds would go on to win junior Pot Black and forge a professional career, rising into the world’s top eight.

But the beaten finalist would be left to ponder what might have been after that fateful road accident aged 18.

The collision damaged nerves in his neck and left Coton with a partially paralysed left arm.

But two to three years spent in and out of hospital did not diminish his determination to return to the green baize, and Coton started to play one-handed.

Jimmy White defeated Coton in just eight minutes EMN-170211-105337002

Jimmy White defeated Coton in just eight minutes EMN-170211-105337002

Sponsored by Sibjon Builders, of Louth, he continued to win local tournaments, most memorably heading a 260-strong field in Grimsby.

“In the final at 2-2 I was 45 behind on the green, but crafted out a Houdini act.

“I got the required five snookers and won the event and £100 winner’s prize on a re-spotted black.”

Yet one of the best matches he ever played in, ironically, was one that he lost in a county semi-final against another promising Grimsby player, Craig Edwards.

Ronnie O'Sullivan will play his second exhibition event in Lincoln early next year EMN-170211-105315002

Ronnie O'Sullivan will play his second exhibition event in Lincoln early next year EMN-170211-105315002

“Edwards was on the brink of turning professional at 17 and had won two other Lincolnshire events that year,” he said.

“I lost 3-2 and Edwards went on to win the final and the never-to-be-repeated Lincolnshire triple crown. Afterwards he said it was the hardest match he’d had that year.”

In 1985 Coton had the opportunity to play the legendary Alex Higgins.

It was Higgins’ visits to Louth in the late 1970s and early 80s and his capacity to play shots one-handed which inspired Coton to do the same.

In front of a capacity crowd in Lincoln Coton managed to beat Higgins by clearing the colours and winning on the black.

“He gave me a kiss on the cheek followed by a couple of choice words and a big smile,” Coton said.

Coton carried on playing locally in Louth and Grimsby and also travelled further afield for competitions.

“It was always the surprise element I enjoyed. Opponents would take a look and often say ‘this match is in the bag’ which actually spurred me on even further.

“I beat many players who on paper should have wiped the floor with me, but it was the competition I enjoyed. If I couldn’t win I’d ensure my opponents had been in a battle at least.”

Next on Coton’s radar was Jimmy White, and thanks to good friend Steve Vickers, also from Louth, he took on the Whirlwind in Spalding.

The game lasted just eight minutes, but it was another incredible experience nonetheless.

Snooker took a back seat for a few years to a busy working life, but the interest remained, and when Ronnie O’Sullivan blasted his way onto the scene, Coton decided he wanted to try and complete his own unique hat-trick.

It took 15 years to catch up with the Rocket, and two years ago the treble was finally completed in Arbroath, Scotland, where the Lincolnshire ace met both Ronnie and his manager Jason Francis, CEO of Snooker Legends.

“I played O’Sullivan on two separate evenings and did the decent thing by giving him table time,” he joked.

“Ronnie fired in a century in each frame, but the hat-trick of meeting and playing the three most entertaining snooker players ever was complete.

“Ronnie was fantastic both on and away from the table.”

From this meeting, Coton persuaded O’Sullivan to come to Lincolnshire in May this year where the five-time world champion gave what he described as the best exhibition he has produced, with seven century breaks in nine frames, including a maximum 147.

“My playing days are now slowing now I’m in my fifties, and as my sight reduces, the game is much harder,” Coton added.

But he still plays as a reserve for a Lincoln team and in the recently-formed WDBS, an association formed to promote cue sports to all.

And Coton recently issued a timed cueing challenge to the world which even the Rocket is shying away from.

* The Rocket will return to Lincoln on Saturday and Sunday, February 10 and 11 next year for two nights at the Drill Hall.

The Sunday night will include a Q&A session where Ronnie will give an overview of his life.

Surplus funds will again go to the WDBS.

BBC television commentator John Virgo will MC the night and knows the area well having competed at the Louth Town and Country Club back in his playing days.

Professional referee Michaela Tabb will be in charge of proceedings on the table.

* For full details, visit www.lincolndrillhall.com/shows/an-evening-with-the-rocket-ronnie-osullivan

For VIP tables and a chance to play Ronnie, email Nigel or Ali Coton at RonnieOinLincolnFeb2018@aol.com