Nobody celebrates the fall of a regime at the moment it goes. The oppressed know that’s the exact moment where the door for something worse to take over happens. Why go dancing in the streets of Tashkent at the overthrow of the Soviet yoke if you’re just going to end up governed by Islam Karimov for the next 20 years?
Clarification: I am in no way comparing Phil “The Power” Taylor to the Uzbek warlord and dictator. Karimov is not a convicted sex offender who tried to rape two women in a Scottish caravanette, for one thing. But it’s Taylor’s statue that has hung over professional darts for the past two decades. The PDC is known as “Phil’s Darts Club” for a reason. But not for much longer. He’s waning.
Taylor’s post-match interviews have long hit the same points over and over again, a dialetic take on the bingo cards they produce for primary school students. The phrases are still there, but the undercurrent is fucked now.
When he said “I’m 63-years-old, you know!”, it used to be a brag about his ability to stay on top of the sport for so long. Now it’s an excuse for poor stamina.
When he said “There’s some great lads coming through the ranks”, it used to be him playing the company man and making a sop to the endless stream of jobbers and tomato cans he hammered in the early rounds of TV tournaments (Alan Tabern, Roland Scholten, Les Fitton). Now it’s an admission that youngbloods like Michael Smith can turn him over.
The endless references to Sid Waddell, the man he sought to build an Ali/Cossell public relationship with (or, considering their various levels of dignity, Bruno/Carpenter) are touching. Then you remember that Taylor didn’t attend Waddell’s funeral because he was off in Australia playing a few exhibition games for big money at the Canberra equivalent of Rileys.
For a man who is meant to be a dominant figure in his sport, an Esther Vegeer with slightly more leg speed, the 2010s have been a wasteland for Taylor. He has only made the final in one of the past four World Championships, being knocked out of this year’s tourney by the aforementioned Smith. He is no longer world number one. He didn’t win last year’s Premier League, a tournament created solely for him to dominate. And it was one man responsible for the latter two occurrences.
When people start to love darts, they love it wrong. The pageantry is the shittest part of darts. When you get the once-yearly column about “why I love darts” in The Guardian or The Times, they focus on the part of the sport that is basically Barry Hearn living out his 80s cokehead fantasies. Why would you enjoy that? The best parts of the Rocky series isn’t Apollo Creed strolling down to the ring like the wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube man as made over by Betsy Ross. It’s either a) Apollo fighting Rocky one-on-one at the end of the second film or b) Apollo having his skull caved in by a goddamn commie. Respect is a legitimate sporting attraction. Destruction is a legitimate sporting attraction. Showmanship isn’t. This isn’t roller derby, thank Christ.
A lot of the crowd don’t get it either. They don’t need to. To tick off another box on the Taylor bingo card: “they pays their money”. Discussing the actual sport darts with the average attendee of a PDC TV tournament is like trying to exchange Ted Chippington bootlegs with an office Christmas party who’ve turned up to their local Jongleurs. They’re not there for darts, they’re there to chant “STAND UP IF YOU LOVE THE DARTS” or “YAYA KOLO” or the light-hearted class-warfare of “WE PAY YOUR BENEFITS” from those in the tables to those in the stands. These people don’t get the sport, so they need the cue cards. They need to be told when to boo, when to cheer, and when to cough up £18 for another pitcher of Carling.
Sport very rarely gets a culture clash as big as the one darts has right now. In one corner, “Mighty” Michael van Gerwen, a vision of George Dawes in Kelly green. The man who dethroned Phil Taylor, and the man who can now decapitate the Stoke-born sex offender.
And in the other corner… Peter “Snakebite” Wright. The man who is there for those who Do Not Get Darts Right. These people need a gimmick, so he has a wacky haircut and dresses like the pencil case I had in Year 6. Why does he do that? I dunno.
You need a big rousing walk-on theme that sums up your character, so Wright has “Don’t Stop the Party” by Pitbull. How does that fit in with his end-of-Blackpool-Pier blue comedian get-up? Dunno.
How do either of these things match his personality, which could best be described as “90% of all factory foremen currently working in the UK”? No clue.
Gimmicks for the sake of gimmicks. No thought, no reason, no point.
And there’s an edge to Wright. Not in a shit-talking manner, but an ugly spite. In the 2012 PDC championships, at the start of MvG’s rise to dominane, he and Wright met up in the second round. In a pre-match interview, Wright opined of the baldy Dutchman “he’s had his little run”. “Snakebite” was promptly curbstomped 4-0 in a game it’d be sporting to describe as a “contest”.
That soundbite was played over and over again prior this year’s final, in which MVG triumphed over Wright to gain his first world title. When asked about it, Wright played it off as a little ribbing between two good friends. Van Gerwen visibly paled and said he doesn’t speak to Wright off camera.
But they’ll have the chance to go to war again in tonight’s Premier League, a tournament theoretically comprising the world’s best players. It doesn’t.
The qualification rules for the Premier League are a movable feast. This year, the world’s top four players got in automatically. Then the PDC themselves got four wildcard picks, and Sky got to choose the final two. And so this year’s tournament has nine of the world’s top ten ranked players. With the exception of James Wade.
Wade has officially been excluded for “health reasons”, a reference to the fact that the man is bipolar. Weirdly enough, Barry Hearn has never used Ronnie O’Sullivan’s battle with the disease to exclude him from snooker tournaments, despite the fact that “The Rocket” regularly comes home to find that the black dog has pissed all over his living room carpet.
Wade himself has said there is no health risk associated with him playing, that he has never asked for time off, and that his doctor has never suggested such a thing.
It’s a worry. Wade already has the facial expression and stubble of a man who has had every single one of his dreams exsanguinated. He was meant to be darts’ golden boy. When he broke through, he was nicknamed the “Cristiano Ronaldo of darts”, giving you a rough idea of the entry requirements for being considered attractive in this sport. And then he apparently forgot to talk his meds for about seven years, got dumped by Helen Chamberlain (ask your dad), and proceeded to choke, bottle and collapse in every important match he played in that point on.
In the past year he left his previous girlfriend, a kindly-faced type who looked like she might run the custom jewelry stall at your work’s Christmas Fayre, in order to date one of the PDC walk-on girls. My assumption is he did this because promotions girls are the only people on the planet with deader eyes than James Wade.
So Wade isn’t at the Premier League this year. A lot of people who should be aren’t.
Kim Huybrechts, one of the few players who has been allowed to mature and progress under the current PDC tour qualification system.
Michael Smith, who could benefit from the big stage, week-in week-out experience that the Premier League providers.
Stephen Bunting, the reigning BDO champion who has just defected. Peter Griffin as sketched by Robert Crumb.
“Big” John Henderson and Mark Webster, a fat cunt and bodrick who put on the greatest game of the recent Ally pally tourney.
Ted Hankey, who clearly smells like ammonia and family law courts, but at his best he is captivating.
None of these people will be present. Instead we have the eight of the ten guys who played last year.
Adrian Lewis, a disgusting slug of a human being who is enough to make the most fat-positive social justice warrior start doing empty stomach cardio and the 5+2 diet.
Simon Whitlock, shitlocks, shit grin, shit performances. Nice walk-on though.
Wes Newton, a man who briefly experimented with spelling his name with a “Z” last year but soon switched back. That is his entire career to date.
Raymond van Barneveld, 10 pounds of quit in a five pound bag.
There’s others. They’re not important. What is important is Van Gerwen and Wright. Van Gerwen killed him in 2012. He killed him in 2013. This is the moment the soul of darts can be saved.
If MVG wins this year’s Premier League, the future of darts is Duran, Hagler, Hearns and Leonard.
If Wright wins, the future of darts is some 5’11” dude dressed up as The Undertaker wrestling the bouncer from The Pitcher and Pot in front of 32 people at your local town hall. This tournament is that important.
Of course, what’ll actually happen is that Taylor will win the league at a canter and extinguish all hopes of him ever fucking off again, but that’s darts for you.