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Article: Eric Bristow. The Crafty Cockney who put Darts on the Back Pages

Eric Bristow. The Crafty Cockney who put Darts on the Back Pages

It seems somewhat ironic that the man who made darts so relevant, made the darts so irrelevant. Around 10pm at the Echo Arena, Liverpool on Thursday night, news filtered out that Eric Bristow MBE had died of a heart attack. Suddenly the arrows didn’t matter anymore. The outpouring of emotion for the greatest character ever to grace the oche was tear-jerking, heartbreaking, spine-tingling. After the initial shock that Brissy had been lost at the age of 60, the 8,000 fans stood one-by-one and sung their hearts out. The Echo Arena was the appropriately-named amphitheatre as “Walking In A Bristow Wonderland” reverberated around the terracing. There were unforgettable images of Peter Wright breaking down in tears as his match ended with Daryl Gurney as the crowd chanted “Bristow”. Gurney had only hours earlier been celebrating the birth of his son Daryl Junior. But Eric was the man who truly made sure darts was born, the first household name of the oche. The man the housewives and husbands loved to hate but secretly admired. The arrows were making an impact in the early 70s. Alan Evans, Leighton Rees, John Lowe were bringing the working man’s game into the public eye. But The Crafty Cockney came along and put darts on the back pages. Eric could divide opinion in a blink of an eye. He was arrogant, cocky and damn right rude at times. However, he was the superhero for the lager-swilling, 40-a-day fag-puffing Minder and Sweeney generation. Brissy was Marmite by the bucketload, a Peter Stringfellow who could throw darts with nerveless accuracy. Love him or loathe him, you simply couldn’t ignore him. His matches with Jocky Wilson were blockbuster box office, the stuff legends are made of. The Scot once kicked him so hard on the shin before they came out to face each other, he drew blood. But Eric, typically, had the last laugh and went onto win the match. With bulging eyes, wavy highlighted hair, lanky demeanour and that famous pinky in the air, Eric was unmistakable. Suddenly in every pub in the land, blokes were hitting the board raising their little fingers like they were having tea in bone china cups with The Queen. But Eric was darts and sporting royality. Newspapers loved his outspoken arrogance, ITV’s World of Sport lapped up the audiences he brought them. He was the Paul Gascoigne of darts when Gazza was still in nappies. The Crafty Cockney was the first big nickname of the sport. Without Brissy, who knows whether we’d have ever had a The Power, Jackpot, Voltage, Bully Boy or Superchin. He was an outstanding darts player, the first king of the mind games. He could wind up a rival from 100 yards away. Five world titles in a seven-year spell between 1980 and 1986 and pretty much hoovered everything else up during that golden era of the oche. Dartitis was to eventually curtail his competitive career but he still continued to have a huge impact, mentoring Phil Taylor into becoming the most successful player of all-time. Eric also played a big role in the split from the British Darts Organisation to what eventually became the Professional Darts Corporation and the subsequent boom of the sport. He has left darts during its biggest boom, 8,000 fans sung his name, a true testament to the legacy he leaves behind. Perhaps somewhere up in the sky he is reunited with the men who put the oche on the map. Eric v Jocky, commented by Sid Waddell and Dave Lanning, and a few beers no doubt. What an occasion that would be. It was those matches that made darts what it is today. In every household in Britain, he made the arrows unmissable and relevant. Eric Bristow. A legend. Never to be forgotten. Eric Bristow, 1986, 5 Times World Champion, Red Dragon Darts
Gary Anderson admitted he was devastated that one of his biggest “inspirations” oche legend Eric Bristow had died of a heart attack. Anderson said: “It’s just shocking news. I fell in love with the game watching Eric play Jocky Wilson in the early 80s. My dad never missed it and the atmosphere and banter was brilliant. It made me want to pick up a set of darts, he was an inspiration. “Eric was a straight guy who never pulled any punches and I liked that about him. A real legend, a five-times world champion and one heck of a player. “It’s a sad day for the sport but up there it’s going to be some match between Eric and Jocky now.” Bristow’s best pal Keith Deller said: “I’m devastated. I was working here when the news came through. Eric and I were together all the time. “If it wasn't for Eric the sport wouldn’t be as it is today. Eric always said it as it was. I think everyone loved Eric for that. “He always had the belief and would always tell us he was taking home the trophy and we always did have to watch him put it in his car. “When we used to stop in a pub on the way home from the Matchplay, it used to take him 20 minutes to walk five yards. That’s because everyone wanted to talk to him. They just wanted to say hello, to shake his hand. They just wanted to meet a superstar of sport. “Eric Bristow is the biggest name this sport will ever have. When you look at the superstars of Britain, Eric will be right up there at the top.” World Champion Rob Cross said: “Such sad news losing a proper legend like Eric Bristow. “The sport of darts owes him everything, he made it the huge success it is today. He was the first superstar of darts, an amazing player but also a massive character. “One of my biggest inspirations. He’ll be sorely missed.” PDC Chairman Barry Hearn added: “Eric will always be a legend in the world of darts and British sport. He was a tremendous player and a huge character and even after his retirement fans would travel for miles to meet him and see him play. “Eric was never afraid of controversy, but he spoke as he found and was honest and straightforward which is what people admired about him. The PDC, and the sport of darts, will miss him.” By Phil Lanning (@lannomedia)

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