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Article: Interview with Peter Manley

Interview with Peter Manley


For a supposedly unpopular man, Peter ^One Dart^ Manley is proving to be extremely popular. His mobile ^phone rings constantly throughout our interview as he fields a succession of calls from people wanting to book him for exhibitions and from others wanting to talk to him in his role as Chairman of the Professional Dart Players Association, ^I am really sorry^ he says as he takes another call, ^It^s just crazy at the moment, I can^t believe how busy I am^.

If Manley^s one time nemesis Phil Taylor is the undisputed king of the oche then Manley is the top-dog on the exhibition circuit. It^s brought the former Surrey newsagent a level of fame and financial stability that a few years ago he would have thought unimaginable. ^I can remember turning up at events and nobody knowing who I was and trying to sell advertising patches on my shirt for peanuts to help make ends meet and then coming home out of pocket^, he recalls.

^Now I can^t visit many places without someone knowing who I am, and despite the booing and cat-calls I receive at the big tournaments, I always get a brilliant response from people, who see me as a bit of a character. On the money side of it, I haven^t got a mortagage now, have a few quid in the bank and have a great life travelling the world with my lovely wife Crissy - it^s just amazing^, he adds.

Leaving behind the world of 5.00 am starts selling copies of the Daily Mirror, packets of Benson and Hedges and Mars Bars was an easy one when Manley joined the then fledgling PDC in 1996. ^I had a dartboard at the back of the newsagent shop and I would always be practicising when we had no customers in. I had always wanted to give it a go and there were a few half decent paying tournaments in those days and darts was my passion whereas the shop wasn^t, so one day I decided to go for it full-time.^

Manley rose through the ranks to become the PDC World Number 1 and was soon a feature in the latter stages of the big PDC tournaments, although the big pay days were still some way off then, as darts remained a sport confined to the margins. ^The early days were ok, but the game still had an image problem and the PDC was still at war with the BDO following the big split. It was hard to make ends meet as I wasn^t well known enough to get much exhibition work and the big tournaments paid good but not great money,^ he recalls.

Enter Barry Hearn, the sports impresario had been invited to a darts tournament by the PDC hierarchy and he admitted to instantly ^Smelling money^. Hearn had enjoyed considerable success in both snooker and boxing, promoting the careers of stars like Steve Davis and Chris Eubank and he set to work popularising a game that had been on its knees. His forte was building sporting brands and seeing the stars of the sports he worked in as characters in a soap opera, with evolving plot and storylines. In the 1980s Hearn famously described snooker as ^Dallas with balls^ likening the green baize game to the then number one rated American soap opera and in Manley he was to find his darting J.R Ewing - the man the fans loved to hate.

For a while the role sat somewhat uneasily on Manley^s broad shoulders and following his refusal to shake the hand of Phil Taylor after a 7-0 whitewash in the 2002 PDC World Championship final, the banter became more personal. ^Nobody gives less of a monkey^s than me and if people want to shout and boo then I couldn^t care less^, he admits. ^However I had by then met Crissy (former England Ladies darts player Crissy Howat) and it seemed everywhere we went someone wanted to have a real go at me, she used to get upset and in turn that would get me down as well.^

Salvation was to come in the form of Peter Kay. ^Is this the way to Amarillo^ was out at the time and it^s one of those catchy songs everyone seems to love - especially as Peter Kay was part of it all as everyone loves him too^ recalls Manley. ^Crissy suggested I should adopt it as my walk on music and it semed to get everyone on my side as they enjoyed the song even if they didn^t always enjoy me.^ he recalls laughing. As Manley took to the stage a chorus of boos would still erupt, although he was quick to seize the chance to play to the gallery and use things to turn the tide in his favour. Cupping his ears begging the crowd to boo him more and even wearing ear-muffs soon saw the jeers become a sign of affection rather than resentment and a darting pantomime villain was born.

Manley soon evolved into one of the games biggest characters. Exactly at the right time for him as it coincided with Barry Hearn and Sky Sports helping make the game one of the most popular sports in the UK. The game had been taken from the pub into the UK^s major indoor arena^s and as a regular in the Premier League of darts, Manley found himself playing to audiences of between 5 and 8,000 punters. ^If you^d said a few years earlier that the game would have boomed as it has, I would have thought you were crazy^ he admits, ^However people really seem to have taken to darts and to be honest at the moment I think it can only get bigger.^

As a natural showman, with a shrewdness not seen in too many of his contemporaries, Manley was quick to capitalise on both his own and darts increased popularity and after securing sponsorship with pork scratching manufacturer Mr Porky^s - amongst others, success - both on and off the oche began to come his way. ^They wanted me to change my name to Mr Porky which was fine by me if they were willing to pay me enough, but the PDC stopped it from happening^ he smiles ruefully. ^So we settled on me wearing a bright pink shirt instead^.

He now lives the kind of life he once only dreamed of. ^I said to Crissy if we could visit a few places and have a good time and was able to fund it through darts and then it all ended and we had to go back to working for a living I wouldn^t mind. However we have kept it going and had a ball and I can^t see why it would finish just yet and for that I am really grateful^.

However his popularity on the exhibition circuit has seen his recent performances on the tournament oche suffer and for the first time in over a decade, he has slipped out of the top 16 rankings. ^It makes it more difficult and I now have to qualify for a few of the big tournaments. It^s strange being back in the mix when you have got used to being given an invite rather than having to scrap for one, but overall I can^t complain. Darts has been brilliant to me and I am really happy, but I aim to get back up the rankings and you haven^t seen the last of me on the television yet^, he says forecefully. ^Besides as the top man on the exhibition circuit I am really enjoying being the number one over Phil Taylor and not many people in darts can say that,^ he says laughing heartily and with more than a twinkle in his eye^.

Rob Finch.

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