Ahead of the Darts World Championships this month, former two-time World Champion Dennis Priestley has spoken exclusively to SafeBettingSites, lifting the lid on the drinking culture within the sport, what Phil Taylor was really like away from the oche and who he thinks will win this year’s £500,000 prize pot.
How are you feeling going into this year’s tournament? The Darts Championship has brought in a whole new set of fans, so how are you feeling going into this one?
Obviously, I’m excited to see all the players from around the world. It truly is a world class competition.
Who would you say is the one to watch out for?
Michael Van Gerwen is the one to beat. He’s done remarkably well this year. However, we don’t know how good the newcomers are going to be. There are people to really watch out for and I’ve been reliably informed that the best bet will be a first round game with Madarz Razma to win three sets to nil.
One player I wanted to ask you about is Josh Rock. Obviously he was unlucky against Van Gerwen when he hit that 9 darter yet still went on to lose. People are tipping him for great success in the future; what do you think he could do at these world championships?
Josh Rock will do well at the World’s. Another young lad, Nathan Rafferty, is up there in the same league as Josh Rock. We have Raymond van Barneveled back too, which is good for the older supporters.
We saw Michael Smith recently break that awful run that he was on by not managing to get over the line in a major final. He’s finally got that major title, but do you think he can follow that up at the World Championships?
Yes, Michael can follow up on his first major title this month, but he will have to be on his toes during his first game, which is not always good for Michael. The further he progresses, though, the more you have to count him as being one of the favorites to win it. He has a very tough game to begin with.
Another name that people always talk about is Fallon Sherrock. She’s been granted her place at Ally Pally, but there has been a lot of mixed opinions on her game in general and the way she is treated in comparison to other players who have played a bit better. What do you make of the situation?
I can see the commercial aspect of it. You have to feel sorry for the one person who has had to miss out though. He would have been an unlucky bloke.
When you think of the players coming through, particularly on the women’s side of the game, you have Beau Greaves. Have you seen much of her?
Beau only lives three or four miles away from me, the young girl. I’ve not seen her in person, but she’s got the game which is a lot better than the other two ladies. When Fallon Sherrock was first making her debut two or three years ago in mens’ competitions and did ever so well, she lit it up for the ladies. She wasn’t the best player on the circuit at that time and yet she did what she did. Obviously Lisa Ashton has been setting the standard for the last five or six years. It’s about doing it there and then on the big stage and she lit up the game for the other ladies.
I want to ask you about Jonny Clayton. Previously, you said that he needs to go pro. He seems in the recent tournaments that he has picked up a little bit and been more consistent. Can you see him regaining a bit of confidence and form at this tournament?
He seems to have gone off the boil a little bit. He’s been there and done it so he has the experience now so you can’t count him out. There’s a lot of interest in the Welsh. Richie Burnett has come back onto the stage, an old embassy winner and World Champion. Obviously there is also Gerwyn Price and Jonny Clayton. Clayton has a nice game when he is on form. He can beat the best.
I remember you telling me last time we spoke that Gary Anderson seems to have fallen out of love with darts a little bit. He’s now back at Ally Pally, how do you see him performing? Do you think he can find a love for the game again, or do you think he’ll still struggle?
I think he’ll still struggle. Like you said, he’s got other priorities. It’s when you get older, your priorities move and start to go onto a different line. He’s got finances and age to think about, so he’s not someone I would put in the mix to be honest. I hope he proves me wrong though.
I like fellow Scot Alan Soutar too, I watched most of his games in the last tournament. He’s a much-improved player.
When looking at the outsiders coming into this tournament, there’s a couple of names that I’m not sure how much you have watched. One of them is Danny Baggish and the other is Leonard Gates. Both are American, and just looking now Leonard Gates is against Stephen Bunting. With the American’s, we saw the tour go over there earlier this year. Do you think the American’s have the chance to really make a name for themselves in darts?
They haven’t done and they’re struggling. The problem is, they are not getting top class competition week in week out like our lads. Unless they cover over here, they are never going to have competitive high standard darts the whole time. It’s a massive problem for the American’s and the Canadians. If they are not getting the competition like most of the lads on the tour who get in, it is a problem.
Another youngster who has impressed me is Keane Barry. Not long ago, he knocked Jonny Clayton out of the tournament. He, and Josh Rock seem to play with no fear. What have you made of Keane Barry? Would you say he is on the same level as Josh Rock?
He’s definitely someone who I have put down as doing really well and one to watch out for. Matt Campbell as well is very good.
Are you a fan of there being 64 players in the tournament?
As a player I wouldn’t have been. When I won my first PDC, there were only 24 players. But I am a fan now, as it opens up opportunities for players in Europe and around the world. I’m massively in favour of it now.
I want to talk to you about how things are changing. We’ve seen darts grow massively, particularly over the last few years. As a player, what was it like going into a tournament of this magnitude and how has it changed given there is a lot more competition, and the growth of darts in general has been incredible. What was it like for you when you were playing?
We had to put a lot of practice in on our own. It’s always helpful when you can get someone to practice with, and I was lucky in that aspect. Now, they are playing week in week out and it is top quality games that they are playing. So, there is no time to really rest on their laurels. It is a full fixture nowadays, we play a TV competition, maybe once and then you are on TV again.
When I played in 1994, I wasn’t playing very well but when I got to the tournament, I just improved every game. It is definitely a lot better for them now.
You mention the preparation stuff now, and darts players seem to be very focussed. What was the preparation and build up for you? Was anyone still out drinking and partying?
Yes, I imagine there was. Obviously, people would not have been professional about it. It was very difficult and you only got a few days’ break. You would have to miss Christmas eve and Christmas day and then New years eve. It’s nearly two tournaments in one. You start on the 15th all the way until the start of January.
You mention that some players would not take it as seriously. Was there a time where people would have a few beers before a game?
Out of the 64 players now, if there is a double handful who don’t drink, that is pushing it. They get as much as they want to drink before they go on stage, so there aren’t many who won’t have a drink. I was part of that as I was brought up like that. I never drank in excess though like others. I saw people drink whole bottles of Jack Daniels or other spirits. It was unbelievable how much alcohol people consumed.
When you look at darts now with the fans, everyone is dressed up, drunk and having a good time. Do you think there are any players who are also like that?
I’m sure there is. There isn’t a festival as fun as darts. Out of 3,000 people, there are probably only 500 who would want to watch darts in a controlled atmosphere. The other 2500 people though, are there for dressing up and partying. Fair do’s to them, as they pay the money and enjoy it. The people who have never been to a live one will never understand what the atmosphere is like.
You mentioned some stories of players with the Jack Daniels, do you have any other stories you look back on as the highlight of the tournament for you?
I remember playing John Ferrell at Blackpool and we were in the practice room. He was well on his way to being really drunk. I couldn’t believe how well he played and he even beat me. I took the game lightly as he was that worse for where with his drink. It was unbelievable how he sobered up and played so well. It was off putting as he’d get a 26 or a three and then he would get a 180. It was very unusual.
With all the pressure on stage as well, is there an incident you recall while you were up there?
I had a streaker when I was at Blackpool. He came up on stage and shook my hand. I looked down and thought, ‘that’s just my luck, it’s a bloke.’ That was funny. One of the comments made by a player when I was fully focussed and in the zone asked me to ask the referee to get some water. After we came out after the commercial advert break, all I heard was the crowd, as he planted that seed in my head. I went on and lost.
If there was one current player who you would love to play against, who would that be?
I love Michael Smith and Michael van Gerwen and the pace they play at. Because I’m a steady player, I used to like playing the fast one’s as I went at my pace. I would play the game at my pace and not at 100 MPH. I had a fantastic record against Michael van Gerwen just before he won the world Championship. I beat him 6-0 or 6-1. I had a good record against everybody except for Phil Taylor, yet my record against him was exceptional until 1996. Despite the ten year age difference, he was a good darts player, he had a good attitude and put the work in.
People still know who Phil Taylor is, even if they do not know about darts. When you look at the younger players, do you think someone like Josh Rock could get anywhere near Phil Taylor?
No, Phil and his record will never be overtaken. It is possible, but in my opinion, no one will get near 16 world championships and all his other titles. If you are a top player and dominate for a decade, you have done extremely well. Phil more or less dominated for two decades which was remarkable. AP Mcoy did something similar in jump racing. He won 20 odd titles and to have that mindset, is something special. Also, with all the money in the game now, there is not a need to try and dominate the game for 20 years. If you have a great ten years, you are set for life.
Do you have any stories with Phil Taylor?
I have many stories with him. We used to room together, we would do circuits together over a long weekend, we would get there on a Friday and go straight into the hotel. We would play Friday night, then we would play all of Saturday. We would play Cricket in pairs and we would count up our dollars at the end of the day and see how we got on. We won most of them actually.
Given how successful he was and how he was the face of darts for so long, how was he in person? Was he a model professional or was he as crazy as everyone else in terms of going out?
He wasn’t the type to go out. When he was at a tournament, he was there to do business. He was not a party animal, but he also was not a monk. He was very professional. Looking back on the situation, I struggle to really let him get that close to me in terms of friendly wise. I was ten years senior to him, and I was not a teenager in my twenties. I believe he learnt a lot from me but I should have not let him get too close to me; I should have kept him at arm’s length with more distance. Although, it did make me more hungry.
What was the name of the player in Blackpool you mentioned?
John Ferrell. He would drink excessively before games. I’m not going to mention other names but you would see top eight players down bottles of spirits. It is mind blowing when you think about it. When I won the world Championship in 1991, I probably had 4 small bottles of drink against Eric Bristow. They would have a bottle of Vodka or of Jack Daniels though.