Great Moments In Life: I Played Eric Bristow At Darts With Sid Waddell Commentating

In reality I had no right to share the oche with Crafty Cockney, and Sid let me know it, memorably telling me I had all the charisma of gangrene. It was one of the greatest days of my life...
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In the high stakes arena of competitive sport, it doesn’t get much better than darts. A gripping blend of science, mathematics and artistry, it requires super-human levels of concentration (and alcohol) to succeed. One player bestrides the world of darts like a colossus: Eric Bristow, MBE. Despite protégé Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor’s decade of dominance, for many, Bristow is still The Greatest Of All Time, and the man who did more than any other to bring darts to the masses, Jim Bowen notwithstanding.

The soundtrack to the drama of darts has always been provided by the legendary Sid Waddell, a commentator beyond compare. No-one has ever made a sport their own to the extent of the Geordie Genius, who once said of be-permed Coventry pro, Steve ‘The Adonis’ Beaton: “He’s not A-donis – he’s THE donis!”

Waddell’s association with darts goes back to the nascent days of televised tournaments, and his epic commentary of the 1983 World Championship Final resonates down the years, the feral cry of “Deller! For the title!” marking the moment when 100-1 Ipswich farmhand Keith Deller famously vanquished the mighty Bristow.

A similar challenge awaits Eric tonight, as he has an appointment with another plucky challenger at the Mecca of darts. The upholstered sewer that is Purfleet Tavern, Essex, is reassuringly, resplendently, rank, a heaving morass of cheap smoke, sovereign rings and spilt beer. Suitably unpretentious cuisine is available, and my tepid Chicken Balti pie could provide a comfortable home for a large family of streptococci.
The PDC World Championship is under way, and I pensively watch a few games in preparation for my big match. Waddell cheerily waves from the commentary box, where earlier in the day he became so animated that he spat out a tooth, the rogue dentistry thankfully ensconced in his pocket by the time our game comes round.

Up close, Bristow is a fearsome opponent, and he edgily prowls the oche. Unperturbed, I meticulously prepare my darts – £24.99 from Argos eight years ago (including board) – the jangling nerves eased only by five pints of cooking lager. In a cunning piece of psychological warfare, I shrewdly opt for the John Lowe Club Special flights, hoping to unnerve Bristow by playing in the colours of his archrival. He appears nonplussed, and is more intent on tracking down a set of arrows himself.

As he resumes his position at the bar, I ask Bristow how I can improve my game. “Get yourself some new darts.”

With both competitors happy and ready to play, it’s over to Sid: “Right we are, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Circus Tavern, Purfleet, and at no expense we have brought you a special challenge match between Steve ‘King Of The’ Hill against the one and only Eric Bristow, five times World Champion, the great Crafty Cockney. Hill in a shirt like an explosion in a paint factory… he starts off with a 60! Well dang my bones!”

It’s a mere sensation, my first arrow sailing into the treble 20 with what can only be described as aplomb, sending Waddell into delirium: his preferred state. Unfortunately, the next two darts both lodge themselves in the single one, bringing the hysterical Waddell back down to earth: “Oh, follows it with only two...”

Eric now at the oche, Sid at the mic: “Brissy, poised like a Praying Mantis, a bit high, tries to pull it, gets a fluky treble 12 and just misses the 60! So here’s Steve, the last man in Fleet Street to use a quill pen. I won’t tell you what he was using it for but he’s in good nick.”

And so on. Despite having apparently recovered from his lengthy bout of dartitis – whereby he could scarcely throw an arrow - Bristow is a long way from his A-game, and begins to mutter about “borrowed darts.” My measured approach also irks him, and he urges “Come on Steve, we got a game on here mate.”

As we trade scores of 43 and 30, Waddell maintains order: “Steve, gotta concentrate, on the oche, poised, in the Gucci loafers, and of course the Oxfam jeans. Bristow clad in the more straight gear, Prada shoes, Gucci shirt, MICHAELANGELO STYLE FLINGING!”

Misinterpreting my increasingly erratic aim, Waddell screams, “Steve ‘over the’ Hill ‘under the’ Hill starts throwing exhibition shots! Three doubles! Unlucky, tried to follow double 12, double 5 with a bull! The man’s got no respect for the man who put the ‘unt’ into Tungsten - at least I think that’s what I tried to say. Here he is, poised, back leg out of synch with the front leg, no coordination, angle of dangle of the right arm not exactly what it should be…”

As Sid’s analysis suggests, I’m not scoring particularly heavily. “Steve,” he announces, “You require a hedgehog, with bristles.”
“Extra bristles,” adds Bristow.
“Seven scored,” notes Waddell.
Demonstrating an extensive knowledge of arcane currency, Sid muses, “Bristow, a face like a figure on an Etruscan coin. Steve, with a face like a wooden nickel covered in cobwebs. All the charisma of gangrene.”
A dismal 29 prompts Bristow to ask, “How long have you been practising for this game?”
“Five minutes.”
“What a waste of time.”
With a finish in sight, Bristow begins showboating, but mathematically I’m still in it. As Sid says, “Steve, you need several. Has to get a big treble, like treble 121.”
I do finally manage a second treble 20, prompting Sid to gush, “Oh lovely, lovely, lovely, saving the best till last there. Steve, the man of whom Bobby George said ‘Who?’”
With Bristow stuck in the madhouse of double one - “We could be here all friggin’ night” - I have a real chance of an 84 finish. Hitting single 20, Bristow advises “14, Bull,” but I pull the second dart and The Crafty Cockney finishes at his next visit: “Game, set and the match.”
As he resumes his position at the bar, I ask Bristow how I can improve my game.
“Get yourself some new darts.”

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