Saturday 24 June 2017

Waddell lights up Ally Pally after rare Power failure

Tommy Conlon

He was having troubles of his own, was the Power, having taken some heavy beatings in recent weeks and then enduring the worry of a grandson born prematurely to his daughter.

On Wednesday, the baby was removed from intensive care and on Thursday night the world champion began the defence of his title. The venue was the Alexandra Palace in north London and it was packed: Phil 'the Power' Taylor was in the house.

But of course there were two legends in the house because Mr Sid Waddell was also at hand to render his own brand of genius on the proceedings. Thick Geordie accent? Check. Random literary and historical allusions? Check. Wild fluctuations in tone? Check. Loud declamations for no apparent reason? Check. Sid, at 70, was as usual incorrigibly entertaining.

Oh, and pretentious comments just to prove that he's not a vulgar oik? That too. And rightly so. Every man is entitled to his morsel of vanity.

Taylor's opponent, Gary Mawson, was a Canadian/American with family in Lancashire. "And you'll not be surprised to know," Sid informed us, "that he's no stranger to Holland's meat pies. It's what his family were brought up on in Lancy!" Every Sid-sentence generally demands an exclamation mark -- sometimes every word.

Ladies and gentlemen, best of order please. First set, it's Gary to throw first, game on.

The standard of play was shocking. In June, Taylor had set a new world record for the three-dart average at 118.66. Midway through the first set on Thursday night, his average was hovering around 80. He's all over the place, said co-commentator Stuart Pyke.

Naturally enough, this prompted Waddell, a Cambridge graduate in history, to mangle a famous quote from another fat man who, if he didn't play darts, certainly liked his smokes and his booze. "Well, as Churchill said about Russia, an enigma wrapped in a miasma." Indeed.

Sid reckoned Taylor was having "ballistic problems" with the flights on his arrows. The Power had had the flights trimmed so the "angle of entry" onto the dart board wasn't quite right; and the weight of the dart was not in proportion with the size of the flight. "A lot of this is Newtonian physics! Those darts are difficult to throw! The boffin said it! Taylor's darts are so thick, you got to alter the angle all the time. Newton's second law of motion!"

But there is one arrow immune to ballistics and the laws of Newtonian physics, and that's time's arrow. Taylor is 50. He has been world champion 15 times. The other contenders are circling amid whispers of the great man's decline. It surely doesn't help that he's been carrying a lot of excess baggage for years. Back in 2003, he lost three stone in ten weeks and while it was good for his health, albeit a bit radical, it played puck with his darts. He lost his stability at the oche, his balance when throwing went out of kilter. He piled the pounds back on again. But recently he'd been pumping iron, according to Waddell, trying to get fit again. He was eating "egg whites and lettuce". And that's no diet for a man throwing darts.

Second set, fourth leg, Taylor is on a 24 checkout with three darts in his hand -- a simple double 12 for the set. He hits a single 12. But his opponent, a 500/1 outsider, was worse; Mawson was beyond useless. Taylor came back to the oche with three darts for double 6. He hit a single 6. He got another chance: three darts for double three. He hit a single 3.

"I literally," said Pyke, "cannot believe what I'm watching here Sid." Sid was stumped too -- but not verbally. "False teeth are falling out into people's hands! And I don't mean outside the commentary box! It's like pub darts. Pub darts late on a Friday night!"

Eventually, Mawson nailed a double to take the set to 2-2 in legs. Taylor had won the first set. Next leg would decide the second. And, as champions are supposed to, he found a spasm of form with his back to the wall. He stepped up and hit treble 20, treble 20, treble 18 for a decisive 174. Sid turned the volume up to 11: "Atavistic tungsten!"

The 1,500 fans at the Ally Pally had expected to see an imperious display from the champion. But

they were reduced to a murmur as the Power lurched from one bad visit to another.

"Well," said Waddell, apropos of nothing, "Achilles was loved after he got the heel trouble." "But," replied Pyke, "I wonder if all those challengers have seen enough here to find Taylor's Achilles heel?" "Well," mused Waddell, "I'd say it's about one inch above his ankle, and six inches below his knee."

Two sets up, all Taylor wanted now, reckoned Pyke, was to get the hell out of there with a win. "And get his feet up," added Waddell, "in his stately pad near Crewe and have some oatcakes."

Taylor again blew chances to wrap it up in the third set. "How many tests did Odysseus have? Seven! Taylor has had a night of woe." Finally he got the job done. But: "The look (on his face) says it all! Taylor Agonistes! Milton put it better than me!"

Churchill, Homer and John Milton: there's only one Sid Waddell.

thecouch@independent.ie

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