Enjoy him while you can – Phil Taylor reaches 50

August 13, 2010

Fifty years ago today in Stoke, the western world’s most successful sportsman was born.

Phil Taylor’s achievements are both inimitable and incredible. Were his sport one which had originated from the fields of public schools rather than the fug of public houses, Sir Phil would long since have been invested alongside greats such as Bannister and Botham, Hurst and Hoy.

Taylor’s dominance of darts is quite extraordinary: fifteen world championships, eleven matchplays, nine grand prix – and an uncanny knack of winning every new tournament that the PDC can create. These stats will not be matched in darts, and simply can’t be equalled in most other sports.

Taylor – and darts – have their critics. Few sports allow overweight ageing participants to continue to thrive. But to denigrate his achievements is to fail to understand the magnificence. Remarkably, he’s still getting better, driven by a desire that few observers can comprehend. More extraordinarily, for a country in which the underdog is usually everything, he remains eternally popular with fans, always a favourite whenever he plays.

I interviewed Taylor at the launch of the charity event Deafinitely Darts in May, a few hours before he completed another first – two nine-dart legs in a single match. Due to a power failure the previous evening, the games had been shifted a day later, and the other three players originally due to appear didn’t surface. Taylor sat listening patiently during the speeches, took questions, faced the obligatory photo shoot, and still had fifteen minutes for The Wrong Bed.

The man is cocky, yes, but that comes with the territory. He remains remarkably humble despite the plaudits, seems to genuinely to remember what matters in life, and, like true sporting greats, the seldom losses are received with extremely good grace.

Unfortunately, the lack of a current genuine rival continues to rip the sense of anticipation out of the sport – the identity of his final opponent the main discussion point as tournaments kick-off.

Darts will celebrate once Taylor starts to lose regularly – Margaret Thatcher was still in charge when Phil Taylor won his first world championship, and he’s at odds of 2/5 to secure his sixteenth in January, under his fifth PM. But once defeats start to come thick and fast – or if the great man decides to put his arrows away for good – the clamour to turn The Power back on will begin at once. That’s because sport may never see someone of his ilk again.