Phil Taylor has now departed the oche for the final time, and Alexandra Palace, much like the Circus Tavern before it, owes a lot to ‘The Power’. Yet he won’t be leaving without a tainted reputation.
So often, competitiveness is overstated in sport. Sometimes in order to build a discipline, you need a household name to relate to. The familiarity with Taylor as a brand – as early as the late-90s – attracted more sponsorship, as the PDC delivered on what players felt the BDO were incapable of producing.
Total prize money for the PDC World Championship was £64,000 in 1994. The winner on that occasion, Dennis Priestley, took home £16,000. Today, the total pot is £1,800,000 and the champion nabs £400,000. The fact that Rob Cross could potentially afford to buy a three bedroom semi overnight in London is down to the exploits of Phil Taylor.
Despite its growth, the public perception of darts is still quite mixed. Many choose not to take it seriously, as it doesn’t require any level of athleticism. But to measure sport simply by athletics is undermining of the concept in the first place.
To consistently hit a miniscule target with a tungsten tip from seven-feet, nine-and-one-quarter-inches away is remarkable. It requires skill, focus and all the intangibles that make sport such a central part of our lives.
Taylor is the greatest player of all time, and with his final game of professional darts being a world final, he has further cemented a legacy. Even away from this particular tournament, Taylor’s won 16 World Matchplays, 11 Grand Prixs, six Premier Leagues, six Grand Slams, five Desert Classics, five UK Opens and countless other minor tournaments. But what exactly is the depth of his legacy?
Embarrassing mind games, pathetic manners and further incidents outside of the sport.
Building up a sport commercially doesn’t mean much when you drag it through the mud with your behaviour both in front of, and away from, the dartboard.
You can make as much of a case that the ill-perception of darts players stems from a few incidents that Taylor’s been involved in over the years. On top of those, his general demeanour in the spotlight that he created for the industry, has often been condescending.
Maybe it’s easy when you’re so clearly the best on the planet? Or should it be more difficult to appear so sour?
Taylor hasn’t always been like this, though. He’s always had an understanding of gamesmanship, but during his run of winning eleven of twelve world titles, he was calling younger players out for their mannerisms, and now, since he’s slowed down somewhat, has resorted to becoming a more boisterous, arrogant thrower.
The incident with Dean Winstanley in Gibraltar made some headlines, as Taylor missed double twelve, but was awarded the leg.
He didn’t inform anyone of the mistake, and carried on as if nothing had happened.
His constant snarky interaction with various media has earned him a reputation, and he’s likely at the stage of his career where he doesn’t feel the need to correct himself.
It may be a case of a man who believes his own hype. But the difference in being the best and thinking you’re above the sport is seismic.
Last night’s story is nothing new. The narrative had been written before. An aged athlete coming back for their swansong.
It’s the feel-good story that people crave. It’s very hard to be British, at the top of your game, and have your own people actively dislike you.
Darts is certainly in far better shape than it was before he landed at its peak. But the measure of an influence can stretch beyond number crunches – the essence of the game has always been a workmanlike pastime that slowly evolved into a career for those who devoted themselves to it.
While Taylor’s been atop the mountain for decades now, he’s frequently kicked snow onto the exhausted climbers below to maintain his dominance – as younger players’ averages grew and grew.
He has perfected his craft and been more consistent than anyone.
His consistency should be commended, but the consistency of his offences – major and minor – should never be forgotten.
The darting world should be emotional as its all-time greatest player departs the world stage.
Instead, the atmosphere around it, and the feelings associated with Taylor are muddled. They’re muddled at best.