How Andy Fordham^s battle with booze cost him a fortune... and nearly his life
^I must have been drinking at least a crate of beer and a couple of bottles of wine a day. Plus spirits.^
Andy ^The Viking^ Fordham may be a former world darts champion, but he^s never exactly been an ideal role model for the sport. In 2004, the year he won his title, not only did he weigh in at a vast 31 stone, but was, by his own admission, drinking nearly a crate of beer a day plus brandy and whisky and eating up to seven greasy takeaways a week.
So his fans were sad, but perhaps not surprised, when in January 2007 the 46-year-old from Dartford collapsed at the World Darts Championship at Lakeside and was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, spending three weeks in hospital. His condition, brought on by years of alcohol abuse, was serious enough to trigger a minor stroke and place him on the liver transplant list.
Fordham^s collapse, just before he was due to play his first-round match live on BBC, could have been the last we heard from ^The Viking^, had he not acted on the terrible wake-up call he received from his doctors. They gave him a simple choice: give up the booze and lose the weight or die.
Last month, though, having not touched a drop since then and an amazing 15 stone lighter, Fordham has been taken off the transplant list and is hoping to resuscitate his ailing darts career. No small achievement for a player who once boasted of drinking 25 bottles of beers before a match.
Sitting among his trophies next to the dartboard in the Cutty Sark, the pub he manages with his wife Jenny in Thamesmead, south-east London, Fordham looks a positively waif-like figure compared with his former enormity. And drinking a non-alcoholic beer, while laughing and joking with the bar staff, he^s no loner so boastful about how much he used to drink.
"It^s hard to put my finger on how much I was drinking, it was certainly every day and everybody around me said I must have been drinking at least a crate of beer and a couple of bottles of wine a day, plus spirits. In hindsight, towards the end it got really bad but I just didn^t think I was doing anything wrong. Getting a liver problem is one of those things you just don^t think is going to happen to you, but unfortunately it did," he says.
Fordham started to drink at just 13 years old, but he was able to keep his weight down at first by playing football. "Ironically, believe it or not, I actually played darts and started drinking through football. We used to go training on a Wednesday night and a few of the lads played in a darts team afterwards. One night they were a man short so I stepped in. I was crap but really enjoyed it. The atmosphere was good, I had a few beers and a good laugh, so I kept at it," Fordham says.
But as he became more successful as a darts player, winning numerous competitions, Fordham^s weight problem became apparent and his drinking began to spiral out of control.
"I don^t know if I^d have drunk so much if I hadn^t played darts. For me drinking has a lot to do with my nerves, especially with the spirits. The first time I qualified for Lakeside I got so nervous in the build up, as I realised there^d be a big crowd watching, I started to drink more and more and more," he says.
He maintains, though, that he drank no more as a darts player than he would have done in any other walk of life.
"You get different sort of alcoholics. I wasn^t one that woke up in the morning needing a drink. The way I was, was that everything I did was an excuse to have a drink. Whether it was darts match, or something like getting on a plane or meeting someone, I^d have to have a drink first so I^d be in the bar two hours beforehand," says Fordham.
By 2004, despite ballooning to 31 stone, Fordham had reached the top of his sport, winning the world championship, but was oblivious to the damage drinking was doing his liver. In fact his alcohol consumption was so heavy that he still has no memory of winning the title in a dramatic final at Lakeside.
His first real scare, however, came later that year when, sweating profusely, in a head-to-head match against Phil Taylor, he nearly collapsed. He^d been drinking since 10.30 in the morning and had a line of beers and brandies lined up at the bar for him before the match.
"Looking back, it^s a horrible memory but I still kept on drinking after that. Everybody thought I^d had an asthma attack so I was quite happy to go along with that. Saying that, at that point I still didn^t admit, even to myself, that the drinking and the weight were a problem. When you don^t think you are doing anything wrong, you just carry on," Fordham says.
Just three years later, though, he collapsed at the world championships. "The day I was going to play I walked over to the venue from my hotel and had to stop about seven times for air, I couldn^t breathe properly," Fordham says.
"I was left crying in the venue because I just didn^t know what was wrong and had to go out the back and tell one of the officials I just couldn^t play. My memories from there are pretty patchy, I don^t remember the ambulance being called or going into the hospital, except that the nurse had to cover my face to stop the paparazzi taking pictures. I find that difficult to accept, there I was on death^s door and all they wanted to do is take my picture."
At first, medical staff thought Fordham had suffered a heart attack, but when he arrived at hospital he was told his liver wasn^t functioning properly and that he would need a transplant as soon as an organ became available.
Also a build-up of 16 litres of fluid, which had to be drained, was crushing his lungs and causing him breathing difficulties. What is more, the day after he was discharged from hospital he suffered a transient ischaemic attack (a minor form of stroke) which, left untreated, could become a major stroke.
But Fordham, after meeting with doctors, vowed to adopt a healthier lifestyle, and as well as stopping drinking, has started to exercise more, cut out high-fat takeaways and has adopted a nutritious and balanced diet, heavy in fruit, vegetables and fish.
Now, almost two years later -- he had his last drink before his collapse on January 8, 2007 at 5.45pm -- his new lifestyle has seen him shed 15 stone and has boosted his ravaged liver, resulting in doctors postponing his proposed transplant for up to five years and taking the rare step of removing him from the liver transplant list.
Fordham, though, is not the only darts player to have recently adopted a healthier lifestyle. Phil ^The Power^ Taylor^s diet of late-night curries, burgers, chips and chocolate saw him balloon to 18 stone. But following advice from Kerry Kayes, the nutritionist of boxer Ricky Hatton, he has shed four stone and won 15 of his recent 18 tournaments.
"Fair play to him," says his former rival Fordham. "He showed concern when I was unwell, so I hope that might have prompted him to lose some weight."
Fordham^s return to health couldn^t have happened without his wife and partner of 29 years.
"All I^ve had to support me is willpower, and if I^m truthful, the strength of Jenny. Because if she had not been as strong as she^s been, I wouldn^t be here now. I know she suffered and several times she even told me, ^If you want to kill yourself though drink, just make sure you don^t do it in front of me.^ But she stuck in there for me. She^s been my rock and now, she says, it^s like having the old Andy back."
Jenny and Andy Fordham, though, must now also face up to the financial as well as the medical repercussions of his unhealthy lifestyle. Over two years Fordham estimates he spent "several hundred thousand pounds" on alcohol and is on the verge of bankruptcy. This isn^t surprising says his friend and manager Steve Mottershead. "Andy was always the most generous guy at the bar. No one else ever bought a drink."
The medical outlook, however, is more positive. Dr John O^Grady, Fordham^s consultant at London^s King^s College Hospital, says: "The liver has considerable potential to improve, particularly if you can control the process or substance that has been driving the damage, which for Andy was alcohol. Withdrawing that alcohol can bring improvement even in an advanced stage of chronic liver disease."
However, the sheer volume of alcohol that Fordham consumed -- Dr O^Grady describes it as "phenomenal" and "at a level most patients with alcohol-related liver disease would not consume a fraction of" -- means he is still not out of the woods.
"If he wants to continue with a reasonable life expectancy he will need a transplant at some stage, but his quality of life, sense of wellbeing and health have all improved dramatically as a result of the action he has taken, showing how restorative the liver can be if it is allowed time to recover," says Dr O^Grady.