Eccentric. Arrogant. Genius. There will never be another Eric Bristow.
The following article appeared in the June 2018 Edition of Darts World magazine (Print):
Darts said goodbye to “The Crafty Cockney” last month after one of the sports greatest players died, aged 60, (it is poignant that he had reached treble twenty years) while attending the Premier League event that evening.
It tells you all you need to know about Bristow that news of his passing spread so widely with the tributes and warm messages flooding in from all parts. The darts on show in Liverpool took an understandably sombre but, nevertheless, celebratory and almost thankful tone. Tears were shed in sadness but also happiness at a life lived, and a career forged, to the fullest.
Eric was all of us, the good and the bad. Born in Hackney, he embodied the idea of “man of the peope”.The ultimate showman, eric not only beat his opponents but did so with cheeky frowns and grins.
Darts was not just a sport but a form of entertainment to the great man, showcasing the brazen side in all of us. He was outspoken, brash and often controversial. However, show me a man claimed to be perfect and I will show you a liar. geniuses are often flawed but often that endears them to us even more. Eric was as to the point with words as he was with his arrows, you can truly say you always knew where you stood with this larger than life character.
In an incredible career, Bristow was darts first superstar, ushering in the first golden age of sponsorship deals, terrestrial tv coverage and all that razzmatazz. Without him, darts may never have reached the dizzy heights that it managed during the 1980s. As a mainstay of our TV sets, he set up the game, both through his own performance and in setting up the PDC, for the high level of professionalism seen today.
“The Crafty Cockney” was five times during the 1980s, he also reached five other finals. In addition, he claimed five World Masters titles as well as every other available major title. The son of a plasterer, Bristow reigned supreme, he topped the ranking for seven years in a row as world No.1. It all started in the world final of 1980, against Bobby George. His win established him as the best in the world. Many will always think of him that way.
More World Titles followed as he collected the title in 1981,1984,1985 and 1986. This was the first period of sustained dominance in the sport which had a massively expanding reach. Even defeats were not run of the mill. The crushing defeat, to Kieth Deller, in the 1983 final, saw the underdog triumph in one of the biggest upsets in darting history to date. Despite confirmation that the Eric was not invincible, he showed grit and character in re-establishing himself as the undisputed champion by winning the title for the next three years.
It genuinely seemed that Eric had the world at his feet. The famous Sid Waddell quote ” When Alexander of Macedonia was 33 years old, he cried salt tears. For there were no more world to conquer”. “Eric Bristow’s only 27!” did not seem exaggerated.
Like many a great emporer however, just as he rose and conquered he subsequently fell from grace. The sudden, and severe, the onset of dartitis effectively ended his time at the peak of his powers and the very top of the sport.
Eric rose once more though, vicariously through his darting prodigy. A fellow by the name of Phil Taylor. Bristow was the 16-time world champion’s mentor/coach in his early days and in his own words “created a monster”.
Taylor, reacting to the news of Eric’s death, said the he “owed everything” to Bristow. This complete praise owes not just to the fact that Eric provided Taylor with the financial and professional means to reach the highest level, but also the psychological/mental strength to believe in his winning ability.
Taylor famously recounted how he would ring Eric to tell him he had reached the Qtr or Semi-final of some event or other. ” Only ring when you have won” would be the shouted reply. The great man’s will to win almost transcended his normal self. Taylor commented that “that mentality is his legacy”.
Bristow was also a major player in the foundation of the PDC as the game split in two in 1993. In 2005 he was inducted into the PDC Hall of Fame alongside old friend and rival John Lowe. He finally called time on a storied playing career in 2007.
The stories about Bristow would continue to pile up. Exploits on the exhibition circuit being as legendary as his professional success. The Hackney-born lad’s warm heart was also related by many. From VIPs to members of the general public, reports were of him being a complete gentleman to the last.
The sport of darts owes an awful lot to Eric Bristow. The game will remember him as one of it’s greatest sons. The world, however, will also be a worse place for the loss of such a kind, funny and competitive soul.
Bradley West – For Darts World (Print) June 2018
(DW Staff – Slight abridgement and hindsight editing.)