FORMER snooker star Chris Small has hit out at the sport's establishment after Alex Higgins was awarded £20,000 to get his teeth fixed - while Small was given nothing to help rebuild his life.
The Edinburgh-based former champion was refused any support from snooker's benevolent fund, despite being left unable to work by a crippling spinal condition.
But it has now emerged that Alex "Hurricane" Higgins has received very different treatment from the charity. He is understood to have been given 20,000 for extensive dental work that has yet to be carried out.
The move has provoked anger within the sporting world.
BBC and Sky Sports commentator Clive Everton said "nobody has a better case" for support from the fund than Small.
The 33-year-old star has himself written to World Snooker - the sport's ruling body - asking why he has been refused help when Higgins was given such a substantial payout. Small, who lives in Craigentinny, said: "The thing with World Snooker is, if your face fits, you'll get money. If not, you can bolt.
"Alex Higgins is a popular guy in the snooker world so he'll get money all right. If Jimmy White had to retire because of ill-health he'd get a few million.
"They'd want to make sure they could tide him over. To World Snooker, I'm just a nobody. I'm entitled to something, but they've not even been willing to tell me why they're not giving me anything. If they came back and told me why, at least I would know."
Small has been refused the help of the Professional Billiards And Snooker Players' Benevolent Fund. The fund is a charitable trust which is technically independent of World Snooker.
However, the fund currently has only two trustees, both of whom have links to the board of World Snooker, Dr Hamish McIness being a board member and John Wood being its solicitor. Sir David Richards, chairman of football's Premier League, resigned as a trustee in March.
Mr Everton said: "The benevolent fund was set up to help cases exactly like Chris. Nobody has a better case. I can't think of anyone who fits the criteria better. It seems extremely odd that this payout has been made to Alex Higgins, especially as it is such an excessive amount. It is extraordinary, not least because there are a large number of disciplinary charges outstanding against Higgins and complaints by him against members of the board."
There is widespread sympathy for Small within the game, although many players do not want to speak out publicly against their own governing body.
One leading player, who asked not to be named, said: "Chris should be getting help and I'm surprised he's not. It is strange if World Snooker are giving that kind of money to Higgins because he's not got the best relationship with some of them."
Small was forced to retire in 2005 after the development of the degenerative spinal disease ankylosing spondylitis made it impossible for him to carry on playing. The father-of-three's main income now comes from his wife Clare's part-time childminding job.
WPBSA company secretary Elaine Goldsmith said: "We do not discuss the details of individual benevolent fund applications."