Darts is big. Still big despite any number of makeovers and a deeply wounding schism at the very heart of the sport.
But big as it’s ever been? Not a chance. Because when darts was really big, it was massive.
It wasn’t pretty, just massive.
John Lowe, Leighton Rees, Jocky Wilson – beer-swilling, chain-smoking, polyester-wearing, pot-bellied, fat-fingered maestros watched by millions on terrestrial TV. They were household names, lampooned by comics and feted by darts’ very own game show, the so-bad-it-was-good Bullseye.
And top of the darting junk food chain was Eric Bristow, ‘The Crafty Cockney’.
Bristow was always different. He was young, thin (fairly) and sober (mostly). He was brash, arrogant, cocksure. And his style was all his own.
Not for him the standard pen grip or the straight-arc forward and back throwing style of his opponents. Instead, Bristow left his little finger sticking up and out and he threw his darts with a twisted, contorted launch and release that was unique, un-coachable, unfeasible almost.
His father hated it, refusing to take his teenaged son to pub matches because ‘he thought it (his grip) made me look like a poof’.
Bristow junior didn’t care. He went anyway and won anyway. But then he always did things his way, convinced that it was the right way.
He said: “I knew I didn’t want to be stuck in Stoke Newington for the rest of my life, hanging about with idiots. That wasn’t for me. I wanted to go out and have a look around.
“And when I reached my first World final, I knew I was going to win it. I was too good not to win it.”
Win it he did, the first of five World titles from 1980-1986 as darts took Britain (and much of the world) by storm and Bristow did the same to darts.
He was in his early twenties and earning huge amounts of money. Major titles came and his fame grew, much of it on the back of his cocky personality.
Nothing could stop Bristow. Nothing, that is, except himself.
In 1987, the darts just wouldn’t come out right. ‘Dartitis’ they called it, a psychological blip akin to the ‘yips’ in golf. And when any professional sportsman or woman starts thinking too much about what they do, starts to stand outside ‘the bubble’ and become conscious of what used to be automatic and natural, then the only way is down.
At least Bristow still had some major impacts to make on the sport.
In 1993, he joined 15 other big-name players in a breakaway from the sport’s governing body, the British Darts Organisation (BDO), to form the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC). Both groups survive to this day. They each run their own world championship and seek their money from different TV paymasters. The sport has suffered for the split, denying the players the fame that Bristow and his contemporaries took for granted.
In 1997, Bristow lost in the semi-finals of the PDC version of the world championships to Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor – the most successful darter of them all.
For Bristow, it was a bitter sweet defeat because he had been mentoring Taylor since the late 80s after noticing the talented, but still raw, player during a trip to Stoke-On-Trent. Bristow offered Taylor £9,000 to help him develop into a pro darter. It turned out to be money incredibly well spent.
After retiring in 2000, Bristow stayed in the sport as a pundit and occasional player in exhibition games before announcing himself and his own brand of abrasive confidence to a new generation of TV watchers when he appeared in the 2012 series of ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’, finishing fourth.
This new-found fame amused and bemused Bristow in equal measure, but he remains typically unapologetic about his life and legacy.
“Hopefully I’ve given something back to darts, which has been brilliant to me. Hopefully I made it a bit popular when I first started, I was part of the breakaway, and I also created a monster, so I think I’ve done a little bit.
“And if you don’t like it, up yours.”
We have a superb selection of Eric Bristow memorabilia hand-signed by ‘The Crafty Cockney’ himself. And all UK orders come with FREE postage.