On Paul Nicholson as the most damaged figure in darts

Darts is wrestling. It’s a concept that comes up again and again, both as an explanation and a criticism. They’re both bombastic, overblown “sporting events” that begin in the town halls and progressed to the larger stages. They both originated as working men’s pastimes. They both have a theoretical cast of thousands that effectively boil down to the same 30 or 40 people fighting it out for the top organisation’s titles. Each man has a gimmick, each gimmick has a theme tune, each theme tune has a designated crowd response. And in Stone Cold Steve Austin and Robert Thornton, both men have a slaphead wifebeater at the top table.

There is a major difference between the two though. Wrestling isn’t actually real. The results are all pre-determined. Darts is an actual competitive endeavour. In wrestling, a man like Barry Horowitz or Steve Lombardi or “Iron” Mike Sharpe can lose day in, day out and be happy, because that’s what he’s paid to do. If a darts player loses every single game he competes in… that means he’s shit. A failure.

Shit. Failure. Wrestling. And so to Paul Nicholson. Darts has four or five stories that come up over and over again. Phil Taylor loses form, then he comes back to win a tournament. Raymond van Barneveld loses form, then he comes back to lose a tournament final to Phil Taylor. Ted Hankey is box office. And Paul Nicholson will get cuntpunched in some minor event and have a major nervous breakdown.

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Paul Nicholson had one very perceptive brainwave back in 2008 when he made it to the PDC tour, and he’s been paying for it ever since. He twigged that wrestling and darts have followed a similar narrative popularity (80s boom, 90s bust) and that the then-nascent Premier League would be a gamechanger. Traditional darts gimmickry, throwing plastic bats into the audience or doing Suggs-esque Nutty Walks, was as dead as Hillbilly Jim. Darts gimmicks had to be the darts player themselves from that point on. And so he turned himself into a wrestler.

It’s been a painful downhill slide ever since.

The old joke about Paul Nicholson is that (despite his claims to be Australian), he proves the patheticness of English culture with his walk-on music. He does the CM Punk walk-on, with the Indian leg crossing, the “clobbering time!” shout, the sneer. CM Punk does this walk-on to “Cult of Personality” by Living Colour, the funk metal band mainly comprised of the Wayans brothers.  Paul Nicholson does it to Kasabian.

Paul Nicholson thinks he’s a wrestler, he wants to be the bad boy, the villain, but… a villain has to have a chance of winning for him to be one. How can I get angered and invested in the downfall of a man if in his first match of the day he loses 4-1 to Dennis Ovens?

It doesn’t work. He’s created his own little Premier League personality, but he’s got a League One darts style. The disconnect between his personality and his results is like watching Queen’s Park fit 300 people into a 50,000 capacity stadium.

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He’s tried to calm it down, he doesn’t do the bad boy routine anymore, but it’s like morbid obesity: even after you shift the weight the sagging skin is still there. He’s expanded his personality so much that even when he retracts it… it doesn’t matter.

I read through his Twitter feed a lot. He’s one of the few darts players you get a sense of as an “individual” through Twitter, even if that’s not what he’s intending to do.

There’s lots of discussion of protein shakes. Herbalife breakfasts, Smartshake memes being shared… Nicholson has always seemed skinny-fat, his “first job interview after university” get up doesn’t really help. So he wants to put muscle on, there’s a worry about self image there.

And then you get to outpourings like what spurred this whole article in the first place.

He’s not in this year’s Premier League. I don’t think he ever will be. And it’s a shame. He’s a perfectly capable mid-tier player, but he tried to be the superstar too early on in his career when he wasn’t ready for it, and the damage to his psyche that’s caused… well he never will.

It gets to the point now when I hear his name mentioned, I go “ah, fantastic, I love ‘Dancing with the Captain’ and I haven’t seen ‘Just Good Friends’ for ages”, before a Gilbert Ratchett-style “Oh no, it’s THAT kind of Paul Nichols’ on” response. And that’s not good for anyone.

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