Tag Archives: Eric Bristow

The Immortals – Eric Bristow – How Good Was ‘The Crafty Cockney’?

Darts’ favourite son would have been 63 years old this year. One of the founders of our feast, and easily the game’s most intriguing character, Eric is remembered for many different things, by differing generations. But it should never be forgotten that he really could play!

Eric Bristow Passes Away | PDC
Eric accepts adulation (Pic: L Lustig)

Along the wall in my ‘darts space’ are a few framed photos on prominent display. Each features a player who has made a contribution to the  game or offers an interesting lesson for the players that visit.

We were recently visited by a very senior figure in the darts business. As the conversation flowed our guest happened to glance at the ‘Hall of Fame’ and asked why each player was there. We soon arrived at the largest photo; this signed early 1980’s shot, of The Crafty Cockney, signifies the invention, and perfection, of the player package.

To my great surprise, the reply came “Yes, but was he really that good?”. I gave the short version of Eric’s ability but was absolutely amazed that the question was asked. But as time passes, new generations have naturally come to the game in the era of The Power, Fordham, Hankey and MVG. Their view of those who built the platform, for today’s icons, is similar to how we might look back at black and
white footage of golfers, tennis stars or footballers.

But it will not stand that they, and Eric especially, should simply merge in with a group of dimly remembered figures. By almost every measure Eric ranks as one of the top three players to have played the professional game, and there is a very strong case for him to be the most important:

The Big One

The Crafty Cockney, starting when only 23 years old, won five world championships, in seven years, including two back-to-backs and a hattrick. It is often forgotten that he also reached another five finals. Every win was over a top-five player and every loss was to a darting titan. During this entire period, there was only one World Championship, and it featured every top professional in the field. The format
was also very short in the early rounds.

Eric Bristow - Mastercaller.com
5 World Titles, in a unified field. Only ‘The Power’ claimed more

There is no one, other than Phil Taylor, who gets close to Eric’s effort. After Barney joined the PDC in 2007 you could make a case for the field being similarly strong to those from pre-1994. ‘The Power’ claimed only three World titles over the next decade.

The Full House

The second greatest event during this era was the World Masters. It was incredibly difficult to win, being unseeded and played from floor to stage. Eric won his first Masters at the age of 20 and claimed a total of five between 1977 and 1984. No player, from any era, has gotten close to this. Bob Anderson’s three in a row was outstanding and, perhaps, the closest there will ever be. Eric also claimed back-to-back
News of the World events, one of only three to do so, and the World Cup singles crown four times on the bounce. Neither Phil nor MVG managed to add the World Cup Singles to their lists.

In addition, Eric won multiple versions of the Matchplay (British and World), The Grand Masters, Golden Arrows and every other major/TV event available to him. Even after his glory years he picked up a World Pair title (PDC) to go with his earlier WDF version. All-in-all Eric collected a total of over thirty ‘major’ events, in a day when there were far fewer, and with a united field of the highest quality.

Performance Level:

With the modern obsession with averages the fact that current players hit 100+ averages at a stroll is often used to belittle those who have gone before. This, however, is both false and unfair. Eric hit what he needed to hit to subdue his opponent and win the match. His 103+ to defeat Jocky Wilson in the 1983 World Cup final and his 101 to defeat Kieth Deller in the 1983 Masters (final again!) were
remarkable at the time and would stand up in many finals today. The Crafty Cockney recorded a 105+ vs Alan Glazier earlier in 1983; this remained unbeaten until Phil Taylor claimed a 107+ eight year later.

Two matches that demonstrate Eric’s ability are the final of the World Masters in 1984 and the World Championship Final of 1985. They display his sheer talent and his matchplay and psychology skills in perfect harmony. Deller was defeated as much by psychology as by scoring, whereas Lowe was battered into submission with a blizzard of 180’s in the early stages. (Check them out on You Tube!)

As a final point it should be remembered that as well as the natural advance of any skill over time, the equipment and technology improvements that have been made since 1983 have been dramatic. Darts, stems and flights but especially boards and professionalism, have developed massively. The scoring areas of modern boards (especially in the PDC) are considerably larger and no longer surrounded by
rounded wires, staples and other such obstacles. Combined with the conditions, security of income and volume of opportunities to play top-level darts, the modern player has a big advantage.

If we grant Eric even 10 percent, for these handicaps, his performance level would move up to around 115+. This would put him straight into the top three of all time! (Add in his usual determination to be the best and who knows?)

The Complete Package:

In addition to Eric’s remarkable ability, and phenomenal winning record, it should not be forgotten that true ‘oche legends’ are not only remembered for their scoring, or finishing, alone. They are remembered for a mix of their sporting prowess, on-stage image, off-stage personality and what they bring to, and leave for, their sport. Bristow brought us an unmatched package of skill, unrivalled competitiveness,
pomp, aggression, flair and humour.

Eric Bristow created the template for the professional dart player. He also went out and sold it to the world. It is very hard to think of any other player, past or present, who can compete on those terms.

Yes, The Crafty Cockney really was that good, please don’t forget it!


Words: J.R. Lott (Article originally appeared on Darts Planet TV in April 2020)

Tactical Blunders: 6 of the Worst Sporting Decisions.

After great moments of sporting triumph, or disaster, many folks are paid to discuss the reasons behind such moments. Why did one side win? or one player has an edge on a certain day?

I say, you have a go first old boy.

I say, you have a go first old boy.

On some occasions, it really does not take an army of pundits to see the failure and the direct cause. The costly tactical blunder is as a true a part of sporting life as the sublime moment of gifted genius.

Here are six of the worst tactical or operational blunders, across a variety of sports, during my sporting life so far:

1. Eric Bristow v Keith Deller:

The final of the world darts championship of 1983 had proven a close affair, closer than many imagined, with multiple champion Bristow failing to shake off the challenge of the young pretender Deller. At 1-2 down in the final set (best of 5 legs) The Crafty Cockney fired in a superb leg leaving himself 121 after only nine darts. Still Deller had not let it go and had himself left 138. Eric had the throw hitting 71 with two darts to leave 50. Yet inexplicably he opted not to go for the bullseye to win the leg. For Eric, the great showman of darts, not to try to finish in style gives some indication of the pressure Deller had managed to create. Deller then stepped up and took out the 138 to claim the title! Whether Eric would have hit the bull or changed the dynamic of the match we and he will never know. To miss a shot to win a world title is one thing, but to gamble on letting the other man have a go first is truly shocking.

To this day Deller uses 138 as part of his autograph signature.

2. Aston Villa & Martin O’ Neil –

Just one more little player Mt Chairman sir?

Just one more little player Mr Chairman sir?

Shortly after taking over, at Aston Villa, new owner Randy Lerner drew up a plan of action with club manager Martin O’ Neil, the plan involved five years of development in order to restore the Midlands club to at least some of their former glory. Initially, all went well. Villa improved dramatically and began to threaten the champions league places in The Premier League.

However, behind the scenes disquiet was mounting, at the financial state of the club, due to the soon arriving financial fair play rules. Players were on high wages and the much-needed external income was not yet reaching its potential. The plans seemed likely to be a success however when during year four Villa seriously challenged for the final qualification place. O’ Neil however was guilty of a major blunder. In an effort to chase the Champions League spot he neglected the opportunity to win a trophy, sending a young and inexperienced side for a tough encounter in Moscow. Following the shock defeat and a very negative reaction from supporters, Villa seemed to lose momentum and again finished 6th in the league. Despite another 6th place finish the following season O’Neil new Villa needed a little more to make that final step.

Villa,  Lerner in particular, chose that moment to compound O’ Neil’s earlier tactical blunder with one of their own. Instead of backing their manager, who had improved the standing of the club, and driven Villa to two cup semi-finals and one final, over the previous 4 years, they picked that moment to doubt him. So when O’ Neil asked for £7 million to buy Scott Parker from newly relegated West Ham, Lerner refused. The results were catastrophic. O Neil resigned on the verge of the new season, feeling, deeply undermined and, that Lerner had gone back on his word. Meanwhile, Scott Parker was bought by Spurs.

The season that followed was horrendous for Villa, in a desperate bide to fend off relegation they had to spend £17 million on a striker. Over at Spurs Scott Parker enjoyed a superb season he was voted footballer of the year and they qualified for The Champions League.

The situation has worsened for Villa in almost every season since. New managers and players have failed to arrest the decline and Lerner has become more and more disillusioned with the club. He is now asking £75 million to sell. At one point Villa was valued at double that or more!

The summer of 2016 featured Aston Villa looking for their seventh manager in as many years, this time he will be managing a championship club due to Villa’s relegation. Meawhile Martin O’ Neil, following a superb debut in International managment, will be guiding the Republic of Ireland at the Euro 2016 finals.

3. Rugby: England 1990 World Cup Final

Win or Win with style? The age old debate gets no better example than this.

Win or Win with style? The age old debate gets no better example than this.

Under the coaching of Geoff Cooke, and captaincy of Will Carling, the England Rugby Union team of the late eighties and early 1990’s were a formidable outfit. They had recovered from a disappointing world cup in 1987 and rebuilt well. Reigning Grand Slam Champions and a side who had worked incredibly hard to improve their fitness after a poor result against Australia the previous summer. Union was in a transition period between the old amateur code and a new professional game.

This England outfit was moving in that professional direction and was uncompromising in its approach, tough tackling, kicking for touch and dominating the opposition from the scrum and the lineout. Even the mighty New Zealand only overcame them by a single score in the pool game. England then defeated Italy and the USA well enough to ensure 2nd place and qualification for the knock out stages. The defeat, however, meant travelling to Paris for their next round. Despite it being a home world cup.

So the game against the French looked like a rerun of a recent five nations encounter when the sheer strength, and physicality, of England, overcame gallic flair despite the French scoring three tries. The game did not start out like that and the French side had the better of a struggling England.  Then came the legendary moment when Mickey ‘the munch’ Skinner lifts the French number 8 into the air, in the tackle, and carries him back up the field before dumping him unceremoniously on the ground. Gamer changer! The French lose their discipline and the English run out 19-10 winners.

A Semifinal against Scotland was their reward, a superb performance from the passionate Scots resulted in them leading 6-0. With half an hour left Gavin Hastings, Scottish hero and skipper, missed a sitter of a penalty kick and the English machine simply steamrolled out the win again 9-6. Not pretty was the verdict of many, the English side was labelled dull, boring, attritional and much worse. But they had been superbly effective and reached a world cup final!

The English were convinced that they would not dominate the Australian pack as easily as they had done some others, they also thought that they had seen some Australian weakness in the flanks during their summer trouncing. Combined with the stick they had taken over their style, in a home world cup, they decided to play an expansive game and attempt to outplay the Australian side. The Aussie side included David Campese, Micheal Liner and other quality ball players. Despite a dominant first half from England, including huge possession that their normal tactics would have seen turned into a large lead, the Australian side adapted and England had to chase the game. The Australians had adopted a much more pragmatic approach, almost in the England mould, just as the hosts attempted the reverse and the Southern hemisphere side did the better job.

Despite this not being quite the great Aussie con job that is often suggested. The fact remains that management, captain and players all agreed to change a winning formula for a one-off final and it backfired completely. Would the more blunt and robust England have won their first world cup in 1987 instead of having to wait another 16 years?

4. Brentford Football Club 2015:

A very smart individual, stats obsessive? Seemed to miss out a key variable with Brentford FC?

A very smart individual, stats obsessive? Seemed to miss out a key variable with Brentford FC?

Another grim decision by those who should know better. Toward the end of the 2014/15 season, Brentford let it be known that their popular and successful manager, Mark Warburton, would not be offered another contract and would leave at the end of the season. The club was in position to qualify for the playoffs for a Premier League place at the time. Despite this decision seeming a little odd, most folk seemed content to let the rich owner who had bailed out the club and invested heavily, do things his own way. He had been successful in all ventures and seemed to have a plan to develop the club even further. The manager also seemed to accept the decision quietly and with little fuss.

Fast forward twelve months and the decision looks anything other than planned or progressive. Brentford missed out on the playoff places in 2015. In addition, they have dismissed their choice of replacement manager and are already debating another change. The 2015/16 season sees them struggling in mid-table and going backwards. In the meantime, Warburton has become the first Englishman to manage Glasgow Rangers FC. In his first season, he has gained promotion to the Scottish Premier League, won one trophy, their division and reached another final. In addition, he has defeated arch-rivals Celtic in his first old firm clash, despite being in a lower division with little money!

Should Warburton be, even moderately, successful in the top division those from Brentford may rue the day even more than they must be currently?

5. England Football Team 1970 World Cup: Sir Alf Ramsey

One decision in 1970, tarnished Sir Alf reputation for far too long.

One decision in 1970, tarnished Sir Alf reputation for far too long.

For a period of time, it appeared that Sir Alf Ramsey could do no wrong. As Ipswich Town manager he had overachieved with a small club, so much so that he was appointed the manager of England.

Ramsey’s tactics and team building technique had many critics early on and right up until the 1966 world cup in England he was regularly attacked for his style and manner. Yet he was proven right in some style. England won the event with superb wins of difficult sides including Argentina and Germany and Ramsey and his men were heroes throughout the land. A knighthood followed and many had to keep their powder dry.

By the time of the 1970 World Cup the confidence in the team was sky-high, could they defend the trophy and become the first European side to win the tournament outside their own continent? Despite being drawn in a group with the now legendary Brazil side England managed to qualify reasonably well. Even the game vs Brazil was tight and only decided by a single goal. Ramsey was beginning to worry about his player’s ability to deal with the heat. With some of the players nearer to the end of their careers than the start. The Brazil game illustrated this point, England had had to work very hard to stay in the game, whereas Brazil’s relaxed patient style suited the searing conditions.

The quarterfinals provided many talking points, Gordon Bank’s food poisoning proving a matter of intrigue as well as misfortune. Yet the ultimate decision fell to Ramsey. Having played superbly for the first half, England were 2-0 Sir Alf decided to rest his star players for the later games. The substitution of Bobby Charlton and Martin Peters seemed to change the game. Franz Beckenbauer’s influence grew and grew, without Charlton to dominate for England. As the Germans dominated the pressure increased and reserve goalkeeper Peter Bonetti made a number of mistakes. From 2-0 up the German side levelled at 2-2 forcing injury time. Thus the non substituted players would have to play an additional 30 minutes in the sapping conditions.

The incomparable Gerd Muller scored in the 108th minute to put an exhausted English side out of their misery and the competition.

Sir Alf’s clear blaming of Bonetti’s mistakes did not sit well with players and followers alike. Thus, having failed to qualify England for the 1974 world cup, Ramsey was dismissed with his stock far lower than his achievements deserved.

6. England Cricket: World Cup 1979

Even the brilliant are capable of great blunders.

Even the brilliant are capable of great blunders.

As if losing a world cup, through tactical errors, in both football and rugby was not enough, it could be stated that England possesses a unique hat-trick. Hosting the first three cricket world cups surely should have resulted in at least one triumph? To be fair, the one day game and world cups were in their infancy and England was not enjoying its strongest period at the time. However in 1979 they were beginning to put together a return to form. Ian Botham had established himself, Boycott & Gooch looked like a good pairing and of course, they were skippered by Mike Brearley one of the great test captains.

The resurgence was looking good when they played themselves to the final of the second world cup (some would say first genuine one) only to be faced by cricket’s new force, Clive Lloyd’s fearsome West Indies.

Despite the odds being against them England started well and made early inroads into the WI batting order. This served to bring to the crease a certain IVA Richards. ‘Master Blaster’ proceeded to illustrate why he carried that moniker. Hitting 138 runs in 157 balls, this without fielding restrictions, power plays or a friendly white ball, leading his side to an imposing total of 286 from their 60 overs.

Yet all was not lost for England, they had a good batting line up, were at home and on a decent wicket for batting. They started well using Mike Brearley, as a makeshift opener, with Geoff Boycott to ensure a solid start. Strength-in-depth, in the batting combinations, meant that hope was not yet lost. Indeed the skipper was quite optimistic.

Yet somehow, in the last minutes of the tea interval, one of the shrewdest captains cricket has ever seen, was talked out of the blatantly obvious plan of action. Derek Randall, Ian Botham (of all people) and others prevailed upon their skipper, stating that he and Boycott were doing fine and there was no need for the immediate all-out assault that was planned. Thus with a ‘steady as she goes’ policy in the place England fell more and more behind until the task became Herculean. Then, desperate for quick runs, the batsmen faced the incomparable Joel Garner. Five wickets fell in eleven balls and the contest was over.

It would never have been an easy job to chase such a total against one of the greatest sides. But the tactical blunder ensured that no pressure was ever applied and in the end, desperation was all on the home side.

The last case should illustrate that tactical blunders are not made only by fools or the incompetent. They can be made by almost anyone, even by the greats of the games or sport. Nearly always they can be easily explained or justified and had they have come off the decision maker would have been lauded as a genius. On such final margins, great sporting moments are built.

 

 

 

 

 

Darts, The Technology Game? Part 1

The Tech Explosion.
As with many sports, darts has been inundated with “technological” advances over recent years. Due to the large audience, increased exposure and huge participant numbers, manufacturers have been seeking to develop products that will tempt the ordinary player and, perhaps, give professional players that extra % that will make all the difference.
One of the great advantages of darts, as a participant sport, is its relatively inexpensive nature. A decent board, other items needed, in order to play the game can be obtained and installed for less £100 or even less than £50 with the help of Ebay or swap & sell sites.
Surges in popularity of Golf & Tennis, among others, also lead to technological leaps, both for amateurs and at the professional level. Yet in these sports the advances can be clearly demonstrated, explained and sometimes obviously visible. Sweet spots, head size, string power or spin generation, length of shot, reduction of mis-hits etc.
The biggest change in darts was the use of denser metals, such as tungsten, in order to make darts thinner at the preferred weights. Tennis and golf have had their equivalents with changes in shaft and frame material respectively. Again in such sports these changes lead to measurable increasing in power, durability, flexibility etc.
A few years ago however darts manufacturers began to introduce other changes. With these came increased costs and what could be termed premium level darts and accessories. Along with the design “innovations” came new cosmetics and terminology in order to persuade players that these items could really make a difference to them. At the highest level players were tinkering, with the help of manufacturers, almost constantly to create the impression of an evolving process, thus meaning new generations of players, or classic, darts and the creation of a market that now sees many amateur players changing darts annually or even more often! It seems that a combination of sport tech and mobile phone / football shirt fashion have entered into the game.

 Do darts Innovations Work?

There are three main area’s where advances are claimed. Barrel design, and manufacture, accessories that complete the dart, often known as the “Set Up” and more recently the third area, point design and manufacture.

The Start of The Technology Game in Modern Darts?

The Start of The Technology Game in Modern Darts?

 

The recent increase in these areas of innovation can probably be traced back to Unicorn’s, and Phil Taylor’s, development of development of the Sigma dart. Much fanfare was brought to the creation of this ( Phase 4?) dart. Could “The Power” be made even better? Rocket scientists were apparently involved, later known as UniBoffins! and “dart & accessories designed to be as one” from point to flight became a watchword.

These darts were then packaged in premium cases and sold with serial numbers and assured weights, laser etched on the barrels, and quality guaranties etc. These were short-lived in terms of Phil’s use and , due to his struggles, The Phase 5 was swiftly introduced. Yet the die was cast and the annual launch, technology heavy and premium looking package, formula now became the norm.

Slick marketing, space age tech and premium sets. The new way?

Slick marketing, space age tech and premium sets. The new way?

Hidden in this tale, however, is a possibility that manufacturers would not like to dwell on. Namely, that the advances are myths and depend totally upon the player. “The Power” could not get on with the newly created darts, something had to be done, so some old tech, the “John Lowe”barrel,  was swiftly adapted into the Phil Taylor Phase 5. Even the one piece side loading stem was very similar to those used by Lowe and others in the 1980’s. Taylor went from strength to strength, different editions of the Phase 5 were launched, colour hjgcoordinated and coated for fashion preference and the day was saved, The Phase 5 is now known as the most successful dart ever made.

Despite being based on very old tech. The Phase 5 follows the same formula and triumphs.

Despite being based on very old tech. The Phase 5 follows the same formula and triumphs.

Barrels & Grip

If barrel technology was moving the game forward at rapid speed, or had changed anything significant, the current crop of the games elite would be using different equipment, or much improved versions, than those of 10 or 20 years ago. If we allow the argument that those players had grown up with the older equipment, and struggled to change, then surely the younger generation coming through would be using newer  kit or dramatic variations of the older styles.

Yet a good look at the rankings may show us a different story. The top twenty PDC players include players whose age range is from mid fifty’s to early twenties. They are a mix of players, some who have grown up with darts early TV age and those who will have been heavily influenced by the more modern Sky/PDC game. They also differ in speed, style, rythym just as much as previous generations.

Of the current top twenty. Eleven use a  straight or tapered barrel with a cut grip. These are either simple ring cut, combination cut or a “purist style” cut. Phil is currently the only player in the top 20 using a classic Lowe/Sigma barrel and similar set up. Of the other eight players, two use knurled grip barrels, variations of these have been around for decades. Too more use very smooth barrels of slightly different types. Although Stephen Bunting is trying various new grips, his most successful darts were very light, simple and smooth. Jelle Klassen and Simon Whitlock are using an interesting looking barrels, yet upon close inspection they have much in common with other tapered nose barrelled with ring cuts placed where they like them and a scallop or similar toward the rear of the dart. Even the weight used by players is not changing greatly. Phil’s 26g is still at the high end, Bunting at the lower end with 12-17g. The vast majority seem to sit between 20 & 22g. Not much has changed here (for example John Lowe prefered 21.5g) in over over thirty years. It does seem however that lighter darts have the slight upper hand. Priestley, Hankey and Bunting have won world titles using 17g or less. The 21g or less professional group seems to be gaining momentum.

 

Ultimate Retro? Dolans history making darts. Simple, tungsten, ring grip darts.

Ultimate Retro? Dolans history making darts. Simple, tungsten, ring grip darts.

What of the younger generation of players, perhaps less set in their ways or more open to the newer styles? Micheal Smith uses a very simple ring cut barrel with soft snub nose, Dave Pallet uses Adrian Lewis  type darts made either by Unicorn or Bulls. It is a tapered nose edition with ring step cuts all the way down. Keegan Brown uses a Unicorn dart that uses simple cut sections and smooth blanks. It looks like cross between Barney, Bob Anderson and some One80 barrels.

Bully Boys darts are again simple, ring grip darts,slightly snubbed nose. No Whistles or bells.

Bully Boys darts are again simple, ring grip darts,slightly snubbed nose. No Whistles or bells.

The newer grips that are being developed, produced and marketed include nano grip, pixel grip, micro grip, diamond grip and more. None of these have yet made the grade in terms of a player coming through having adopted one of these from early in their career or changed to one and transformed their performance. Although a special mention should go to Red Dragon/Winmau here. Around 2010/11 they introduced the diamond fusion grip. Selected designs of premium darts were made with an encrusted diamond grip on sections of the barrels.

Diamond Grips for Diamond White?

Diamond Grips for Diamond White?

After trying various darts and set ups, during a “fitting session” Ian Diamond White was suggested to try the 22g edition. They were very familiar to him in shape, style weight & balance, the additional grip and security, of the diamond idea, seemed to really fit with Ian and over the next couple of years his career did indeed go to the next level. The problem is, this process had already started, Ian had qualified for the G Slam and Worlds in the previous few months and was already on a steep upward curve. It is very difficult to be sure how much the grip chance added to that. However I do believe it provided a confidence in his eqipement, and in turn his game, that helped him improve quicker and maintain his highest standard for longer periods. It is interesting that they have now introduced this into more models, in the Winmau Range, and Peter Wright’s Euro 11 dart. This is very similar to MVG’s dart. The combination of the two could be very interesting.

In some ways grip fashion is moving backwards, there is a renewed appetite for older style copper tungsten, and other mixed material, darts. This seems to be due to the fact that the metal, combined with use , sweat etc., seems to produce a natural grip not dependent on the added factors. Could this be due to added or surface grip wearing and being less consistent over time?

As can be seen the jury is still out on “technological advances” in the barrel and grip areas. Yet the development, presentation and marketing of these premium products goes from strength to strength. Makers such as Cosmo package their darts more like jewellery than sports items with Target’s recent £300 Elysian darts illustrating the extreme end of such a market.

Ultimate in Premium product marketing. Target's £300 darts!

Ultimate in Premium product marketing. Target’s £300 darts!

What about “set ups” can technology and innovation help the pro’s or the rest of us when it comes to flights, stems and other accessories?

Point, Barrel, Stem & Flight all as one. Fact or fiction?

Point, Barrel, Stem & Flight all as one. Fact or fiction?

The answer here may be even clearer……..

See Part II

 

 

Darts, The Ultimate Premier League.

Premier League darts has been a huge success. The opportunity to see ten of the best players, across a single raucous night, in huge venues has proven an important driver in PDC darts being the showcase for the professional game. Crowds, in the tens of thousands, flock to buy tickets for the biggest professional exhibition/competition.

The founder of the feast. Premier League darts has proven one of Barry's smartest moves.
The founder of the feast. Premier League darts has proven one of Barry’s smartest moves.

There is a healthy debate each year regarding who should be selected to play? Fans have favourites they would love to see in the biggest show. Even supporters of darts’ other code, The BDO, can’t help but wonder how their own players would match up, adding a little spice to the debate.

Discussions regarding how players from differing eras would have done, against the players of today, are commonplace. With modern conditions and advantages would they be able to hold their own or even outdo today’s superstars?

This divides quite nicely into two golden ages. The current, Sky Sports & PDC driven, times and the original 1970/80’s golden age which proved hugely popular and provided many of the templates for the success of today. Players from both eras are held up as icons and whilst some of the debate is, understandably, generational it is not the only factor in deciding who would make an ultimate league.

The skill factor of the players, the simplicity of the game and the intimate and dramatic  nature of the competition, the characters and emotions, or lack of, of  players at any time. These factors explain the popularity of TV Professional darts. The Premier League is about showing all these assets, to the maximum degree, in a single night and over the entire league. With finals night being the ultimate showdown.

With all that in mind, who would make an all time ten man line up, how would the generations match up?  How would the league progress? Who would triumph?

The Line Up.

1 – Phil Taylor: With 16 World Titles and a huge volume of major wins across the generations there is no doubt that Taylor would be the first name on the sheet. His overall skill level is simply unsurpassed and the Premier League distance is just long enough to show it. His competitive, or matchplaying, spirit is also beyond question, winning matches and titles from almost every position and against all types of opposition. The only dip would be the entertainment level, Phil entertains through excellence and offers little more.

cropped-philtaylor-bullet-dart-pic.jpg
The Power would be very keen to prove his prowess.

Skill Factor 10, Matchplay 10, Entertainment 8. Total 28

2 – Eric Bristow: Five World Titles, a ruthless competitor and the founder of the feast in terms of entertainment. A prime Crafty Cockney would be the biggest draw of the event and many would be desperate to see him bestride the event with the cocky brilliance of his pomp.

Skill Factor 8, Matchplay 10, Entertainment 10. Total 28

3 – MVG; A career slam of major titles and one of the driving forces upping the standard in the current era. Able to destroy any opponent MVG would also provide the clearest modern versus classic era battles. Not untouchable especially if dominated.

Skill Factor 10, Matchplay 8, Entertainment 8. Total 26

4 – Jockey Wilson; Twice World Champion, the totally unpredictable Jockey, would add to the event just by being in it. Yet viewing old footage reveal that he , and other past champions, were capable of 100+ averages even using old equipment. The short format of the these games and  Jockey’s sheer determination would mean shocks, sublime spells and probably defeats as well. Adding great drama, to the proceedings, especially in the Scottish venues!

Skill Factor 8, Matchplay 8, Entertainment 10. Total 26

5 – John Lowe; World Champion in three separate decades and a multiple winner in all formats. The ultimate example of the classic stylist. Totally unflappable and the first 9 dart TV hero. Lowe would provide huge contrast to some of the modern players. His battle with Taylor would also carry great interest in a contrasting way.

Skill Factor 9, Matchplay 9, Entertainment 7. Total 25

6. John Part: Darth Maple is a three-time World Champ across both codes. In his pomp his fluent style and deadly play would have seen him compete in any era against any opponent. Articulate and interesting when discussing the game, his media savvy may also add to the proceedings.

Skill Factor 8, Matchplay 8, Entertainment 8. Total 24

7. Gary Anderson: Double World Champion in an era containing MVG, Taylor & Lewis, to name but three, Gary brings phenomenal darts and differing laid back attitude. I suspect he would relish the opportunity to match with a variety of players from across time. Can have off nights as well which adds to the unpredictability.

The Flying Scotsman - Could the reigning World Champ hold his own with the legendary names?
The Flying Scotsman – Could Gary hold his own with the legendary names?

Skill Factor -10, Matchplay – 8, Entertainment – 8. Total 26

8. Bob Anderson: World Champion and three-time World Master. The Limestone Cowboy has already shown he could compete with the best from both codes across both of darts great eras. With phenomenal professionalism, and will to win, in many ways, Bob is the perfect example of a pro dart player. Reaching the semi’s of the PDC worlds in his late 50’s and winning the League of Legends in 2008 demonstrate his often underestimated ability. The shirts, the point, and the grit would all add the entertainment as well!

Skill Factor – 8, Matchplay – 9, Entertainment 8. Total 24

9. Adrian Lewis: Jackpot is another double World Champ and just like Gary he achieved them back to back. Another in the modern style who hits big scores for fun. But how would they adapt to the matchplay skills of some of the other players in this league? Adrian has been known to go missing or suffer bouts of frustration. I am sure this would not have gone unnoticed by others in the group. When inspired, Ade is a great entertainer with flash shots and a fun, quick-fire style.

Twice World Champion already, could team Lewis pull off another win?

Skill Factor 9, Matchplay 8, Entertainment 8. Total 25

9. RVB: Despite 5 world titles I had difficulty putting Raymond into this league. The important elements of entertainment and grit have been lacking  recent times from the Dutchman. Then I remembered the very best of Barney, winning World Titles in both codes, pushing Phil to ever greater heights and the ability to defeat MVG in big games even now!

Skill Factor 9, Matchplay 8, Entertainment 7. Total 24

10: Dennis Priestley: Despite hot competition, for the final place, it must be The Menace. World Champion in both codes, gritty competitor, revolutionary in the art of switching (18’s in his case). With Phil and Part the only member of the Older guard who has Premier League experience. Loved by all fans.

Skill Factor 8, Matchplay 9, Entertainment 7. Total 24.

Special Guests:

This league would be very competitive and every great show needs interval entertainment ( think Riverdance!). Special guest would be exhibition doubles.

BDO vs PDC “The Entertainers”

Tony O Shea & Daryl Fitton vs Wayne Mardle & Peter Manley.

How Would The Ultimate PL Go?

The above all time league would provide superb nights of drama and high quality competition every week with shocks and maybe even a bit of needle! Ultimately, with every player being in their prime, the last four would be very hard to pick, as would the elimination pairing, but here goes.

Elimination:

The two Johns would bow out at this stage. Lowe at his best was unbelievable consistent and would have battled in every game. I am not sure he would have had quite enough of a 2nd gear when needed. Part may get off to a slow start playing many of those who he idolised. This would see Dennis Priestley survive as he would start strongly although this would fade he would have the points on the board.

Last 4.

The second section of the League would possibly be the most exciting. Most of the big rivalries and cross era clashes would be seen again, this time each would have settled and be aware that elimination was at stake. I would guess that it would come down to the last week with many outcomes still at possible.

Finally though, the combination of skill, ego and sheer determination would see a Semi Finals between Eric Bristow & Gary Anderson and Phil Taylor vs MVG.

League Table:

  • =1 Eric Bristow & Phil Taylor
  • 3rd Gary Anderson
  • 4th MVG
  • 5th Bob Anderson
  • 6th Adrian Lewis
  • 7th RVB
  • 8th Dennis Priestly

Finals Night:

Semi 1: Eric succeeds by getting away well and thoroughly enjoying the massive crowd and atmosphere. Gary would catch fire later but Eric would get home reasonably safely.

Semi 2: A belter this one, MVG would be out of the gate and into the lead early. But the chance of playing Eric on the biggest stage and in front of the biggest crowd would prove a huge inspiration to Phil. “The Power” ups the gears and produces a stunning spell mid-match. MVG can not quite match the sudden burst and Phil wins by a couple.

The Final:

Each man in his absolute pomp, Eric enjoying the benefits of what he built and Phil suffering under the huge pressure that Eric exerted. Phil settling down and out playing Eric mid match. Eric however is less easily worn down and uses every tactic and psychological ploy to knock “The Power” out of his stride.

The last leg decider is certain to be the result.  The chance to be crowned the best ever, head to head, would prove the only inspiration The Crafty Cockney needed.

Winner: Eric “The Crafty Cockney” Bristow.


World Championship Darts and The Lakeside Myth.

The Lakeside. Venue & main sponsor for BDO World Championship Darts.

The Lakeside. Venue & main sponsor for BDO World Championship Darts.

 

With the recent announcement that the BBC will be covering a new darts event, staged by the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC), and featuring the top 8 players in the world, it can be argued that professional darts is now able to expand and reach a huge audience of both armchair fans and potential new players.
Of course, this news has also lead to much discussion regarding the long-running split in darts, which took place in 1993, and the future of players and events that are staged by The British Darts Organisation (BDO). The main source of concern seems to be the future of the BDO “World Championship” often referred to as The Lakeside.
The event is known as such due to its current venue and the fact that, in order to avoid classing it as a world championship, the PDC, and others, refer to winners of the event post-1993 as being “Lakeside” Champions.

The famous Lakeside stage.

The famous Lakeside stage.

The tournament itself is the continuation of the first darts world championship, held in 1978. The famous trophy is iconic in the sport and contains the names of those, Rees, Lowe Bristow, Wilson, Deller, Anderson, Priestley & Taylor to name a few, who built the game’s popularity over its initial glory period and then through to its current PDC Sky TV incarnation.

The Myth

Over the years the history of the event, the fact that it was the first incarnation, and its more recent venue have become into twinned to create a myth of Lakeside and its importance.
The first edition of, what is regarded as, Darts’ World Championship was actually held in The Heart of the Midlands Club in Nottingham and won by Leighton Rees. The event proved popular and featured an Englishman, Welshman (Rees) a Swede and an American in the semifinals.

1st World Champion. Played at The Heart of The Midlands Club.

1st World Champion. Played at The Heart of The Midlands Club.

The next seven events were held in Jollies Cabaret Club in Stoke on Trent. These events from 1979 until 1985 are regarded by most as darts first golden age. Most great memories of the game from its early TV days are formed here, the battles between Bristow and Lowe, the remarkable Jockey Wilson managing to claim the title against the rock that was Lowe and Kieth Deller managing to defeat all three of them to win his only title, whilst looking like The Milky Bar Kid! These were the kickstart that saw darts boom and created an opportunity for a truly professional game to later emerge.

The games initial great era was built in Jollies in Stoke on Trent.

The games initial great era was built in Jollies in Stoke on Trent.

The event then moved to its new home at The Lakeside Country Club. For the next 8 years, it could claim to be the home of the world darts championship and created some great memories of its own. Jocky’s incredible second win, Bob Anderson finally claiming the ultimate prize and the emergence of two fellows by the name of Taylor and Priestley.

A legend begins.

The Power, 14 world titles have been collected away from Lakeside.

So, from Its start in ’78 till ’93, the World Championship was played eight times at The Lakeside and eight elsewhere. Thus its claim, to be the spiritual home of darts or even The World Championship, is tenuous at best.
From 1994 there have been two rival world championships. Owing to the split between the top players and the BDO who arranged the events until that time. The WDC (later PDC) held their event, featuring all active world champions to that point and most of the top 32 world ranked players, at the Circus Tavern in Purfleet, whilst the BDO continued to use Lakeside. Each event is still providing stories and star players today. Over time the PDC retained the better players or attracted more with numerous TV events and higher prize money while the BDO and Lakeside remained substantively the same for the next 22 years.
Thus from 1994 onward, the Lakeside has held what, at best, can be described as a “version” of the World Championship, whilst another is held featuring the majority of the best players. Alternatively, the event could be described as a World Amateur Championship which happens to carry prize money!

The BDO circuit could easily be compared to The Championship, in football, with PDC darts as The Premiership. Lakeside could be similarly compared to the Play-Offs. The main difference being the winners don’t have to accept promotion and can choose to continue playing in and dominating the lower league.

BDO World Champ , Scott Mitchell, chose to remain within the system.

BDO World Champ, Scott Mitchell, chose to remain within the system.

Meanwhile PDC venues have  established their own spiritual homes of professional darts, with The Circus Tavern being the testing ground for the development of an event, and product, that can be deemed fit to be played on Pay For and Free to Air TV, and in front of  tens of thousands of fans, at The Alexendra Palace in London. The Winter Gardens in Blackpool, home of The World Matchplay and The Civic Hall in Wolverhampton for The Grand Slam of Darts, to name but two, have been enthusiastically adopted by darts fans producing superb and unique atmosphere’s of their own. The Euro tour is also producing such venues. Rotterdam & Dortmund are looking likely to become iconic.

Winter Gardens as dart venue

Solutions.

The current situation of the British Darts Organisation raises a genuine concern for the health of the amateur game and the future of two of the most iconic event in darts. The Original World Championship and The (Winmau) World Masters. Both of these are classic events with long-running histories. Where they are held is almost irrelevant, the truth is that they need to be well run and well marketed in order to ensure their continued survival.

The solution seems relatively simple. Forget the myth of Lakeside or any other venue. A world championship should be where the very best players have the opportunity to qualify and compete against each other during a single regular event. Thus the “Original” World Championship Darts Trophy should handed to the PDC in order that they run one professional world championship each year. Both the Classic & Sid Waddell Trophies would be awarded to the winner. In exchange for this, the PDC should support the running of a World “Amateur” Championship. Possibly for the Olly Croft Trophy.

Any player who has won or, possibly, reached the final of either current version should be granted an exemption into a prelim or qualifying round for the next five to ten years (golf manages this pretty well and it may assist in the transition). Other, time-limited exemptions, may be possible after discussions. The result should be one Professional World Championship and other tournaments in which the very best players qualify or have the opportunity to do so.

In exchange for this the PDC should support the running of a World “Amateur” Championship and lend its management and marketing expertise to the BDO, or other organisation, in order to stabilize the situation and ensure that an amateur system, such as currently exists with superleague & county darts, continues to thrive on a strong and secure footing.

The World Masters could then be staged as a single event open to all players amateur and professionals from across the globe, without its recent late-stage seeded format, jointly run and marketed by the two circuits.

Former PDC director Tommy Cox has offered to come out of retirement and help. His experience in directing tournaments all over the globe in ever-changing times could prove a masterstroke. The amateur circuit could include many current popular events and opens and the money earned viewed as expenses.

Without such an accommodation the consequences will be very damaging, the BDO “World Championship” & World Masters may be reduced to streamed or minority channel events, poorly produced, watched by few and cared about by less. The darts product has been superbly built over 40 years, first by the BDO and Olly Croft , then through the PDC via Tommy Cox & Barry Hearn.

It should not be cheapened, risked or demeaned due to pettiness, spite and or incompetence.