And so the very first day of 2018 witnessed the departure of sporting titan, a man who, perhaps more than any other, has shaped his sport and made it what it is today. From a fringe pub sport to a global game that is enriching its major players with serious sums in front of packed houses up and down the country, darts wouldn’t be what it is today without Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor. Yet there is side to him that has rendered him unlovable to many.
Taylor is the most decorated man in darts, with 16 world championship titles and a plethora of other trinkets from the sport. He has been the standard bearer since 1990 and by far and away its most important component. Whilst no one is bigger than their sport, Taylor came as close as you can get to being just that.
He is to darts what Ferrari is to Formula 1, or Real Madrid is to football. Darts without Taylor is almost unimaginable, yet that is what the future holds now.
Had Taylor retired 10 years ago, he would have been leaving the scene in a sorry state. He was the first player to go out and consistently record a three-dart average of over 100 in games.
Were Taylor to be emerging now, like the man who beat him the 2018 World Championship final, Rob Cross, it is highly unlikely that he would get anywhere 16 world titles. The standard has improved immeasurably in recent years and that’s thanks largely to Taylor. Where one person excels so markedly, others must up their game. An average of 100 these days is, well, average and that’s thanks to Taylor.
A glimpse at the PDC finals down the years is indicative. Dennis Priestly, the inaugural winner in 1994, beat Taylor with an average of 94.38. Cross, who beat Taylor to claim the 25th title in the tournament’s history, beat Taylor with an average of 107.67.
When the PDC broke away from the BDO in 1994, a glitzy new era for darts was promised. Sky Sports got involved, Eddie Hearn started promoting it and the interest followed. Taylor, who won two BDO world titles before the separation, even leant the PDC £40,000 to help get it started. His involvement in its evolution has been absolute and his influence cannot be overstated.
It wasn’t until 2008 that Taylor so much as failed to make a final. He won eight consecutive titles between 1995 and 2002 and reached the first 14 finals. In 25 years of PDC darts, Taylor featured in 19 finals. He never lost a semi-final. His longevity is as remarkable as his performances.
Sport may never see the likes of Taylor again. In other individual pursuits, total domination is often fleeting as the effort required sees the participant burn out. Perhaps in modern sport, the only comparable dominance is Rafa Nadal’s near total hold over Roland Garros, with 10 French Open victories since 2005.
Taylor leaves darts in the rudest of health. This is his cathedral and this is his legacy. The sport has new superstars now and Taylor’s dominance had started to wane. He’s leaving at the right time. Michael van Gerwen, Cross, Gary Anderson and Peter Wright lead the way with exciting prospects such as Jamie Lewis and Dimitri van den Bergh also starting to make their presence felt. This is a younger man’s game and Taylor is 57.
For all his achievements, however, Taylor was not universally loved or admired. The respect for his sporting feats in unerring, but the man himself often left a bitter taste. His arrogance, whilst justified, never portrayed him well. His desire to be the centre of attention often left him looking like a petulant school boy. Even in the final final, he was often gesticulating to the crowd – they hadn’t come to see the darts, they had come to see Taylor in his eyes.
He yearned for recognition. He never received an MBE, which must grate a noted Royalist, especially when you consider that Paul Collingwood received one for playing one Test match of the 2005 Ashes series. He was never Sports Personality of the Year. He was just never truly embraced.
Of course, the sexual assault charges arising from an incident in a caravan in 1999 with two women did much of the damage. He denies the charges to this day, but he was found guilty, which doesn’t help when one is protesting one’s innocence. But for that, he would have had his MBE and, probably, wider adulation.
As a result, Taylor never truly seemed content with his lot. He was a poor winner; bizarrely for someone so successful, it seemed to bring out the worst in him, yet he was often a gracious loser. It just didn’t happen that often. His attempts at humour with the commentators and pundits were usually cringingly bad. His false modesty was exactly that. He claimed after the final game that he had never played for the money, yet gave several interviews in which he placed money front and centre of his career.
He was a contradiction of a sportsman, at once admirable and repugnant. His domination was total, his character questionable. He could be respected and laughable. The one constant was success.
Whichever way you view Taylor, love him for his achievements or loathe him for his exploits, he will be sorely missed. Since 1990, darts has been walking in a Taylor wonderland, as many thousands belted out at the Alexandra Palace as he exited the stage one final time. He was a focal point of darts. A glittering, yet questionable, career is over. Judging him solely on the sport, there have been few better.