In 1990 the sport of darts was in turmoil. At the time the only event that was televised was the Embassy World Championship. The money was a fraction of what it was just a few years earlier. Enter a 32-year old from Stoke-on-Trent who would become the engine to which the sport reached insane heights.
Phil Taylor qualified for the 1990 Embassy and was listed by the bookmakers as a 125:1 underdog. He dropped three sets in the first four rounds before meeting his mentor Eric Bristow in the final.
Bristow had sponsored Taylor at the beginning of his career, constantly reminding Taylor what was owed and famously during phone calls where Taylor would tell him he reached the final to “call me when you actually win something.” In the final the student would give the teacher a lesson. After splitting the first two sets, Taylor blitzed the World #1 and five time World Champion over the next five sets, taking the title 6-1. Two years later Taylor would win an epic battle against Mike Gregory with the match coming down to a sudden death leg for the title. Then came the turmoil.
Without multiple televised events the top professional players were looking for ways to increase income and get other tournaments on the tube. British Darts Organization head Ollie Croft was reluctant and a battle ensued.
Croft felt his obligation (rightfully so) was towards the thousands of amateur members of the BDO and not just to the top professionals. The pros (rightfully so) felt the need to move on to bigger and better things. Where Croft was wrong was that he just should have let the pros move on. Instead he banned them from every BDO event and even attempted to get the banned by the World Darts Federation. After hundreds of thousands of pounds were spent on lawyers and courts, the two finally came to a compromise. The professionals – who had formed an organization called the World Darts Council – changed the name to the Professional Darts Corporation. They would once again be allowed in all of the BDO events, and were now able to go out and form their own TV events. This became Taylor’s time to shine.
In 1994 the PDC (still the WDC at this point) held their first World Championship in Purfleet and Taylor was bested by Dennis Priestley. Taylor would go on to win the next eight World Championships in a row, four of them against his rival Priestley. He would go on to start dominating just about every PDC event, including back-to-back whitewashes of Peter Manley and John Part in the World Championship finals of 2001 and 2002. In June of 2002 Taylor hit the first ever live televised nine dart leg, and averaged 116 for the entire match against Chris Mason. He became a sporting phenom across the world. And PDC promoter Barry Hearn knew it. The PDC grew to heights that even the 1980’s never saw and it was because of Taylor. Not just that he kept winning, but because of how he carried himself as a professional. As Hearn had once said, “If you don’t have Phil Taylor you don’t have a darts event.” And it was true. The late Sid Waddell once said “If Taylor were at the Battle of Hastings the Normans would have gone home.” He is easily the greatest ever to play the game. He raised the bar to a level that was never thought of or even dreamed of.
The best analogy is Tiger Woods. Tiger dominated golf and it wasn’t just the way he dominated tournaments. All of a sudden there was new way to be a professional. Tiger hit the weights, he kept himself in phenomenal shape, you didn’t see him at the 19th hole; he was at the driving range working on his game. Taylor was like this. The players since have followed suit. As a result the popularity of both sports boomed, and the quality of play took off as well.
In darts players took themselves much more seriously. No longer were there five pints a night superstars like there were in the 80’s. These guys spent 6-8 hours a day on the practice board. And they have again become celebrities.
Because of Taylor’s dominance he became a millionaire. Since 2010 the PDC World Championship total prize money of over one million pounds.
Over his career he has won 16 World Titles – just like Ric Flair – and overall he has won over 220 titles. The game has gone from one televised event to every weekend being a televised event worldwide. And a lot of it has to do with the Phil Taylor’s dominance. From 1978 through 1991 John Lowe and/or Eric Bristow reached every final. Taylor made the first 14 finals of the PDC World Championships. He was constantly the odds on favorite to win it. Now you have Michael van Gerwen and Gary Anderson and Peter Wright, and . . . well, you get it.
On December 14 the PDC World Championship begins. Phil “The Power” Taylor has announced that this is his last competitive event. Afterwards he is retiring. His first match is scheduled third on Friday the 15th. He is currently at 12:1 odds to win the whole tournament. If anyone’s curious, my pick is Gary Anderson at 7:1.
Whatever the case, those of us who pick up the tungsten arrows and enjoy the game and get to watch these guys perform at the highest level, a legend is leaving. Can the greatest player ever to toe the oche pull off the ultimate ride into the sunset? Let’s see. The best part is that we get to see.
And I wouldn’t put it past the man if he did . . .