This is an editorial, but with an educational bent. Part of understanding the game is to recognize where we have come from, so that we may prepare for where we are going. It can give us calm to recognize where we exist in our ecosystem, but our existence was brought in it was brought about by the giants of the game. Paying respect to our forerunners is not about their accolades, it is about their journeys to reach such heights; it is about our ever-present retelling of these journeys so that they do not get lost to history. This is not a list of “The Best”; such lists are repetitive and based on specific criteria like earnings or trophies. Instead, the 10 most important dart players of all-time are names that are important to our dart biosphere, because of how consequential they are/have been to the game’s continuance and growth. Without these players, our game wouldn’t be on the trajectory it is on today.
“Important and significant and/or following as a result or effect.”
These DART players are both.
The Lore: William “Big Foot” Anakin
This story has been told many times over, and it happened so long ago that the specific accounts may still be lost in the ether. William “Big Foot” Anakin was a local legend in Leeds, England. At the time, betting on “games of chance” where alcohol was sold was not permitted by law. In 1908 pub owner Jim Garside of the Adelphi Inn was brought up on charges for allowing betting on dart matches. Anakin was brought into court and a board was set up in front of the judge, barristers, and the like, and he hit the targets called out to him at-will. Someone else in the room was asked to replicate the same feats and he could not. This was the precedent that recognized our game as one of skill and not of chance. It forever set in motion what we know today. It was the beginning.
The game we love is so often played in pubs. The professional game is sponsored by numerous gaming institutions. It is no coincidence that over 100 years later it is the foundation for which such sponsorship was built. We all have felt pressure on the oche but no one else has likely ever had to throw darts in a court of law. The literal game was on the line, and he came through for all of us. The other consequence to come from Anakin was the lore itself. There is not even a picture of the man (who had a dart nickname before anyone) which adds to the mystique. We all have legends in our locale, that emerge sometimes seemingly from no where, who blast everyone in the bar one night, and then disappear just as swiftly. Those stories spread quickly and get embellished in the most glorious of ways. Stories like this engage us and need to happen.
The Dazzler: Bobby George
There were other more accomplished dart players of his era, but none more brash and flamboyant. The King of Bling was perhaps the first debonair personality of the game. If Barry Hearn were creating a logo the way the NBA did with Jerry West as the iconic silhouetted figure, it would likely have been with Bobby George. He epitomized the promotion and showmanship. The gold chains and flared collars gave him a movie star quality. There would be no Peter Wright without George. What many don’t readily know is that he starting playing darts at the age of 30, a statement of hope for all of us that started later in life. He also was a two-time winner of The News of The World Darts Championship which was known as one of the hardest tournaments to win because of its short format. He has also toured England imparting the darting arithmetic lessons to young students across the country.
The Mentor: Eric Bristow
Iconic for his skill and his swagger, Bristow was the first superstar with staying power. Besides winning the world championship 5 times, he was also a 5-time runner-up. Though there were other greats of the game, he transcended the game, and engaged people who wouldn’t have otherwise watched the darts. It wasn’t just about his own accomplishments. He was the first to pay it forward in a major way. Not only did he own a pub, The Crafty Cockney that catered to darts, he personally mentored and sponsored a young, hungry upstart named Philip Douglas Taylor with £10,000. TIMEOUT. Let’s take a moment to analyze this. £10,000 in 2021 equals roughly $13,850 (upon writing). How many of us have that money to loan a family member let alone a fellow dart player with ambition? £10,000 in 1986 equals roughly £25,000 today, or $34,700. He had the caché, the money, the vision, and the venue to train the future messiah. Think about that for a moment. Imagine being on top, and deciding to create someone to be the future champion, someone better than you, for the love of the game. That is is epitome of control. The game never would have taken the steps it did were it not for his selflessness. After his playing days were over he parlayed his persona into work as a spotter for the greatly improving television coverage. A few years back, before his passing, Bristow was in NYC doing an exhibition at a pub. When he went outside for a smoke, I ushered a few newer, younger, less knowledgeable dart players outside to chat him up. Not knowing their darts history that well yet, one of them asked me, “Why do I want to talk to him? I thought Taylor was like Jesus Christ.”, To which I replied, “If Taylor is Jesus Christ, Bristow is the Holy Spirit.”
The Power: Phil Taylor
There are too many accolades, but that is not what has been most impressive. He took what was bestowed from Bristow and made it his own. He became the engine, the power for the PDC for years to come. He is the reason we watch, even after his retirement. He is the reason the the purses ballooned the way they have year after year. He reset the bar for greatness in the game on so many levels. Most PDC titles, most major wins, most championships all made possible by resetting the bar with an annual 3-dart average of over 100 from 2008-2014. To date he has the highest career 3-dart average of 101.28. He also did for Unicorn, and later Target, what Michael Jordan did for Nike. He changed the face of the retail darts market single-handedly. He became the pinnacle of the game, the icon, the reason and the curiosity for those that had no interest in darts, simply to watch greatness at its best. It was not just the fans that knew it, the dart players around him knew they were amidst greatness and enjoyed having the front row seat in watching, while having an out-of-body experience in needing to play him. Lest we not forget that he also paid it forward by mentoring his own protegé Adrian Lewis to two World Championships thus far.
A Canadian World Champion: John Part
With how global the game has become, it is challenging to think of a time when it was only British players winning the world championship. The BDO had seen it, but only from players within the United Kingdom. John Part became the first player not from the UK to win the BDO world championship in 1994, and he did it as an unseeded player. Some said, it was because the talent pool was diluted because of the PDC inception. If there were any doubts to his skill he would overcome the adversity. For the first seven years of the PDC’s existence, champion and runner-up were all under the British. In year 8 (2001) he became the first non-British citizen to make the final, and in 2003 John Part beat Phil Taylor in one of the best finals ever. This single-handedly ignited and reignited darts in North America. Never before had this been seen, and now thousands of dart players across Canada and the US were invigorated with hope. There would be no Jeff Smiths and Matt Campbells without John Part. He has parlayed a Hall of Fame career into being one of the best TV commentators, where, not only is he sound on his analysis, he gives insights to players’ thoughts in the high-pressure moments that he has been in. He is the only commentator without a British accent, which may not seem like a big deal, but it delicately announces that our game is not just a game of England.
A True Pioneer: Deta Hedman
Jamaica born, Hedman’s story is one of grit and bottle. Her parents moved to The UK and the 1960’s for a better life for their family, and Deta and her siblings stayed behind with relatives until they were settled. She moved to the UK in 1973 and began playing darts at 25. Until this past PDC World Championships there may not have been too many younger players to the game who had heard of Deta Hedman but she is simply one of the best female dart players of all time. With over 100 ranking titles to her credit, she was ranked #1 for four consecutive years (From ’94 through ’97), stopped playing for a time to tend to the priorities of life, and then returned to #1 again in 2010. We all saw Fallon Sherrock beat a couple of the men in the World Championships at the end of 2019, but it was Hedman who broke the gender barrier on television at the 2005 UK Open beating Aaron Turner and Norman Fletcher. It is evident to say she did this all as a woman of color, overcoming racist and misogynist comments along the way. Hedman has given so many players across the globe a role model of poise and greatness. At 61 years old she is still competing and currently WDF #1.
The Best Ever: Trina Gulliver
If there was a female equivalent to Phil Taylor it would be Trina Gulliver. Though not as prominent currently as Ashton, Sherrock and Greaves, the bar is set in the Ladies game by Gulliver and her 10 BDO World Championships and 6 World Masters Championships. They are just the crowning achievements to a career that has seen over 300 singles and doubles titles. She raised the bar for 3-dart averages having the three highest averages at the Embassy/Lakeside. Gulliver put women on the map as sponsored dart players as well, having been sponsored by Winmau for over 15 years.
The Legend: Paul Lim
If you don’t know who Jack McKenna is, you likely haven’t watched one of the most legendary dart clips of all-time. He was the unfortunate but gracious opponent when Paul Lim hit the 1st 9-dart leg in the 1990 BDO Embassy World Championships. There is a lot going on here, the ripple effect of which is still being felt in the most positive of ways. Lim is a native a Singapore, but at the time, Singapore was not affiliated with the WDF organizing body. Lim represented the United States and was wearing an ADO shirt, a huge boon for American darts. It was the first and only 9-darter in the BDO World Championships, while it was not aired live, it was televised, and it would be the only one in the either World Championship until 19 years later in the PDC. He took home £52,000 for the feat. Phil Taylor only took home £24,000 for winning the tournament that year. Lim has parlayed his iconic fame into the soft tip game across Asia where he is a global ambassador of the game. And at 67 years old is still competing having played in his 25th (BDO & PDC) championship this past year.
The Eagle has landed: Larry Butler
For years there was a stigma about American dart players and the lower standard of play. Had it not been for Larry Butler who knows where American darts would be today. He put America on the darts map by winning the inaugural staging of the PDC World Matchplay. To date he is the only American to win a PDC title/major. He defeated #1 Seed and 1994 World Champion Dennis Priestley 16-12 in the final. Despite taking 10 years away from the competitive play from 1997-2007, and taking time away after a health issue, he showed resiliency in returning to a highly competitive level. Without Butler having put the world on notice that American players should be taken seriously, there is no telling how long it would have taken for Americans to annually throw their hat in the ring for Q school or for Danny Baggish to come out of it triumphant.
The Future: Leighton Bennett
At age 11, he played for his county team in England, at age 12 he earned £1,000 winning his first BDO event overcoming Ricky Evans. At age 13 he won the BDO youth World Championship with an 86.85 average and followed up that performance with runner-up in the same event in 2020. He also became the youngest to qualify and compete in the adult version of the BDO World Championship in 2020. He has accomplished all of this, and beaten Phil Taylor in an exhibition as well, and has a recorded 9-darter to boot, all by the age of 15. He is sponsored by Target and has the weight of the dart world on his shoulders. Is he the “second-coming”? It remains to be seen, but he has game to back up his brashness. This is massively consequential to the youth movement and for the future of dart lore. The game needs dart players and stories of the impossible becoming possible. The game needs to watch players with justified hype, live up to the challenge and pressure, and follow their presumed trajectory to darting immortality. Whether it be he, or another, he has motivated a generation of youth to play.
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton
If we are to know more, and do more in the game, these are some of the giants whose shoulders we are to stand on. Somewhere along the way, these players have opened doors, and influenced all of us. I hope these tidbits of history spark your interest to further research. There is history to learn, and respect to be given to these players and others. It is meant to let us know, that no matter our differences, no matter where we come from, or what we look like, we are all in the same gang.