Former darts champion Eric Bristow not happy with Anastasia^s inclusion
Darts legend Eric Bristow is about as unreconstructed as they come, but he can admit to several defeats by a woman without having to emigrate.
Self-imposed exile in the Nevada desert was on the cards for Hawaii 501, aka Wayne Mardle, had he lost a recent match to Anastasia Dobromyslova, a controversial wild card invite for the PDC World Championship starting at Alexandra Palace in London tomorrow.
‘Maureen used to kick my ass on occasions,’ Bristow confesses. Sometimes when playing darts.
The ‘Maureen’ in question is Maureen Flowers who, when she was the best woman player in the world, shared her life with the best player in the world. That was Bristow.
Never mind the mathematical impossibility of it, Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor should have been their love child instead of merely his prodigy. Just because Bristow is prepared to concede a woman can do things in a pub other than pull pints does not mean he agrees with the presence of ‘that Russian bird’ in the world championship.
‘She shouldn’t be in it,’ he insists. ‘I don’t know what that’s all about. A lot of professional darts players are not very happy about it.
^They chase all around the world to qualify for the championship. If a handful of women joined the PDC next year, played on the circuit and earned their right to play in the biggest tournament, there would not be a moan from anyone because they would have proved worthy of their places.
‘But you can’t just decide "we will have one in it". I feel sorry for Trina Gulliver. She won the world champs seven years on the trot. Last year she loses to this Anastasia. It’s wrong, especially if it is down to how she looks. Anyway, Trina’s not a bad-looking chick.
^Anastasia is a lovely girl who they claim is the best woman darts player ever. She lost a women’s event the other week. A cup of tea on the stage and Maureen would have killed Anastasia.’
Bristow wishes to this day that he had filmed the surreal spectacle of Flowers and Billy Leonard on stage at an exhibition, drinking tea from a huge pot watched by hundreds of blokes tanked up to the gills with foaming ale. Flowers loves her tea. Dart players love their drink.
‘Darts is drinking,’ Bristow says, as his autobiography, The Crafty Cockney, graphically illustrates. It is a story of tons and ton-40s, of doubles and trebles, and of pints, quarts and magnums. Any score, any finish and any measure of alcohol that can be quaffed.
‘They will all be in the bar downstairs before they go on (at Alexandra Palace). They will all be at it. They could all throw without it. Just not that good. It makes you feel more relaxed. The ones that last longer are the ones who keep off the top shelf and keep on the beer.’
‘The boys get ready. They are professional dart players and they are professional drinkers. Many of them you would not know they had had a drink, though I have seen a few of them over the top on stage. You can take them anywhere.’
We meet in a London pub, of course. Bristow, 51, is tanned from a recent trip to Las Vegas. Ever smiling, ever cheeky, he has worn better than you might have imagined had you read the intoxicating 337 pages of his autobiography.
‘The red shirt with the trademark Crafty Cockney’ emblem on his back indicates he is about to work: an exhibition for City workers who will probably have sore heads in the morning. Despite competitive retirement, decades of suffering from dartitis (like the yips in golf but now gone) and the fact that his last world final was in 1990, Bristow’s 2009 diary is already full of such engagements, and bigger.
A theatre tour of Britain with John Lowe and Bobby George is scheduled.
The no-longer smoky but still chalky atmosphere has been his life. He started playing darts in pubs when he was 14.
‘I did a lot of bad things when I was 14 as well,’ he admits. ‘I used to knock about up the road in Brick Lane. Close by was the pub, the Queen’s Arms, where we hurt a bloke. There was another one, the London Apprentice it used to be called. We would run back to Hoxton from there with the police after us.’
Those were the days when Bristow never went anywhere without a claw hammer stuffed down the front of his trousers. In case of trouble. The adolescent Bristow was a burglar and would probably have ended up in prison but for darts.
The game took the former tearaway to Buckingham Palace in 1989 where, after receiving the MBE and breaching protocol by turning his back on the Queen, he inadvertently blurted out the immortal words, ‘sorry, darling.’ Her Majesty apparently smiled.
Bristow will be at Ally Pally as spotter for Sky Sports, sitting in a truck telling the producer where on the board to direct the cameras.
‘Say a player wanted 86. He would go treble 18, double 16. If he hits single 18, then it would be another 18, bull. Or if he hits treble 18, he would be left with double seven. If you want 91, you got to go treble 17, tops. A single 17 leaves 74 which is treble 14, double 16. But if you hit a single 14, single 20 leaves tops.’
He trots out the baffling mathematical permutations as quickly and easily as most people breathe. When not spotting, he holds court: a godfather to whom all the modern players pay their respects.
‘They come over to talk to me. I tell them they are playing s***. They laugh and think I’m off on one again. But I tell the truth. If you don’t, they don’t respect you.’
Bristow reckons he might ‘spot’ not one but two nine-dart finishes this coming fortnight, so well are so many top players performing at present. Only one winner, though.
‘This could be a Taylor benefit. Having lost the last twice, Phil is so ready. Most only play to beat a person. Phil plays to kill them which is fair enough. It’s in his DNA. He is a mercenary darts player.’
Not like the fun-loving adventurers who went about with Bristow in his heyday. ‘We used to spend three weeks in the States, first on the Queen Mary at Long Beach, then in San Francisco. A pocketful of dollars, crazy drinking and women all over the place. Then we would fly to Vegas and lose all our money.
‘The game has changed because now you have got a few robots in for the money. No characters. Phil is no personality. I love him to bits but you would not want to be stuck in a lift with him.’
And you would not want to be stuck in a pub with Eric Bristow.
The Crafty Cockney is published today by Century, price £18.99.