Five-time darts world champion Eric Bristow has hailed Michael van Gerwen as a great ambassador for the game as the Darts Premier League playoffs approach.
The now retired 59-year-old was in Manchester as the city hosted the final UK round on May 5 before the playoffs in London next week.
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PDC world number one Van Gerwen and the ever-present Phil Taylor both secured wins on the night to remain level at the top of the league and set up a thrilling final few weeks of the competition.
“I think Michael van Gerwen is just a different breed,” Bristow told MM in Shooters Bar where he was hosting a relaxed darts session with fans.
“We all thought Taylor was on a different planet and we didn’t think it would get any better.”
Retired for nine years, Bristow now works as a pundit and commentator for Sky Sports where he has been charting the rise of Van Gerwen and other young players.
“This young lad has come along – who reminds me so much of myself it’s unbelievable – and he just loves darts,” Bristow added of the Dutch master.
“He doesn’t know what prizes he’s playing for and that’s how I used to be.
“If you cut him open, darts would fall out.”
Despite the sport increasing in popularity and the biggest televised tournaments now drawing close to 2m UK viewers, critics still linger, citing poor physique and a lack of professionalism.
As blunt as ever, Bristow dismissed doubters, saying: “People have always said it but we haven’t got to justify ourselves to anybody else.
“To be quite honest, a lot of people say they want darts in the Olympics, but I don’t want that.
“It’s full of druggies anyway. Every time someone wins something there, a month later they take it off them.”
When he originally burst onto the scene as a teenager in the 1970s, darts was only just becoming a mainstream sport.
He played in the first ever Darts World Championship in 1978 in which he was knocked out in the first round, walking away with the modest prize sum of £250.
By 22 though, he had already played for England and won the World Masters and British Open Masters becoming the first darts player to make £1m in career earnings.
He went on to dominate the 1980s by holding the world number one spot for seven years all while helping to draw in fans with his natural charisma and confidence.
By the time he was in his mid 30s though, the sport’s TV coverage began to wane drastically.
Bristow, alongside the other top 15 players in the world at the time, decided to split from the governing body the British Darts Organisation (BDO) and form what is now the PDC.
Bristow said: “We went from about 14 tournaments a year on TV to just one.
“The people in charge weren’t doing a good job and as it turns out, we made the right choice.
“I can’t knock the BDO though – it’s like amateur and pro as far as I’m concerned so if you do well with them, you try your luck with the big boys.”
In 2010, the PDC attempted to buy out its junior for £1m but it was swiftly rejected with BDO chief Olly Croft labelling it a ‘publicity stunt’.
Bristow now believes the two organisations will never join but retains good memories from competing in BDO tournaments.
“When me and Jocky Wilson used to play in the 80s, we hated each other. The officials used to crap themselves too because they thought there’d be trouble.
“We were actually great friends though and after the match, we’d shake hands and I’d go buy him a drink.”
With Phil Taylor only four years his junior and still giving the younger guys a good run for their money, does Bristow regret retiring at just 50?
“If I was in my prime, I’d have given anyone a game. In the end though, I just wasn’t good enough anymore.
“What is the point in carrying on playing the game you love and getting beat by idiots that you would never have got beaten by before?”
Bristow famously suffered from the feared phenomenon ‘dartitis’ in the late 80s, a nervous condition – much like the yips in golf – which causes hesitation when releasing the dart.
“It’s a good thing it didn’t happen 20 years before otherwise I’d have won nothing and been nobody.
“Now I’m retired, I can at least let the darts go – but I don’t know where they’re going.
“Some of the young guys today have so much natural ability and I have to say that the standard has definitely improved.
“Van Gerwen is better than Phil Taylor without a shadow of a doubt though I don’t think anyone will ever break Phil’s 16 world titles.”
The Darts Premier League continued in Rotterdam on Thursday – with Van Gerwen pipping Taylor 7-5 – and culminates in the playoffs between the top four at the O2 in London next week.
Taylor 5 mvg 7 great game taylor not finished yet will be interesting next week
— Eric Bristow MBE (@ericbristow) May 12, 2016
Image courtesy of DartLoupeTV via YouTube, with thanks.