HE’S GOT THE POWER
Statistically, he could be the greatest sportsman of all time. A 16-time world championship winner, his record boasts 81 major title victories among 205 career titles. Darts these days is serious business and Phil “The Power” Taylor is its King. But beyond the titles and trophies, his greatest legacy could be his role in establishing the sport as a professional career path for emerging darts players. The Professional Darts Corporation tour returns to Australia this week with the Perth and Sydney Darts Masters events.
Phil, thanks for sitting down for a chat. So tell me, why darts? Why do you play darts?
Why do I play darts? It’s what I earn my living doing. It’s my job. It’s made me rich.
How does a man start out playing darts for a living?
Started for fun. I started playing with my Dad once a week at what is called the CIU League. Then it just took off from there really. I was good at it. Tried everything else; tried every other sport which I was mediocre at but darts I was good at. It was just natural.
And now you’ve reached a point where you’re doing it professionally
Yeah. And it’s better than doing three jobs that’s for sure. I was getting up at six in the morning, and going to work throughout the night.
What were you doing before taking up darts professionally?
Well, I was doing three jobs then. I was working in a factory, I used to repair cars for people when they came over and then I used to work down at the bar at night, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturday, Sunday that was. So I thought, this is an easier life.
And now you bring people in to bars to watch you play.
Yes. I suppose so. Yeah.
I would imagine you never would have thought it would get to the point where it is now?
I always knew it would grow bigger. We broke away from the BDO (British Darts Organisation) to promote the game. So we knew that – well, I did – that if we got the right promoter and the right TV company, when SKY came along, that it would take off. But I never thought it would get this big. Never in a million years.
Darts fans are mad aren’t they? I mean we see it on TV and they just look mad …
Are they mad? Not mad. They just come here to enjoy ourselves. A few of them are. Not all of them.
I mean they’re dressing up. They’re in costumes. They look mad!
You come out and enjoy yourself. There’s not many places now where people can go … especially in the UK. Well there are night clubs which a lot of people don’t want to go there. Most cabaret bars have closed down. So it’s a place where you can come and watch the darts and have a bit of fun.
There is a real sense of theatre about it when we see it on TV? As a player do you thrive on that? Does it make you a better player when the atmosphere is good?
It can work both ways really. If you’re struggling, it makes you worse and if you are playing well, it makes you better. The atmosphere is all part of the game now. It does get a bit boisterous at times though.
Do you call yourself an athlete?
Would I call myself an athlete? No.
What would you call yourself?
Ummmmmm. I’d call myself a dart player.
Sportsman yeah. That works for me. Haha
I guess the point is, when it comes to television coverage, darts is now incorporating a lot of the broadcast techniques that are usually reserved for athletes. Things like extreme slow motion replays.
To be honest really I wish I wasn’t a sportsman. I wish they’d class me as a non-sportsman. Can I tell you why?
Because we don’t pay tax on pastimes or hobbies. So if I’m not a sportsman then this is a pastime or hobby.
How much longer do you think you have left in this sport then? I saw you say recently you think potentially you have another couple of years.
Another three or four years and then I’ll be done. That will do me. I’m ready now to be honest with you. Especially the travelling. Travelling gets me down a bit.
You train pretty specifically for this though don’t you?
I work hard. But there are some tournaments I do to just enjoy myself. I’m enjoying the career but I’ve got to pick and choose now more than what I used to do. Where as once I was chasing every tournament, now I am a bit more selective now.
What’s your routine to make sure you’re ready for tournaments?
Me. What do I do? I’ll go across to the gym first and do some cardio. I’ll do about 40 minutes and then practice again in the afternoon. Then I’ll go to the gym at night.
How important is the physical side of this sport then?
For me now personally, it’s massively important. It’s more important than practicing for me now. For my longevity, for my overall fitness and health, it’s important for me.
From a performance point of view though, does it help in anyway when it comes to darts?
It does me. It does me, yeah. Because if you’re fit in your body you’re also fit in your mind as well. That will get you a long way. It’s about 60% in your mind this sport. So, if you’re fitter in your body, then you’re fitter in your mind.
The great cricket wicketkeeper Ian Healy used to talk about the importance of switching on and switching off between each delivery. Do you have to do that as a darts player?
Yeah absolutely. It’s crucial in darts. You really have to be able to switch on for the execution of a shot.
So what’s your routine?
When I’m playing the game I switch on when it’s your go and obviously you try and switch off when you walk back. You couldn’t concentrate for that long otherwise. But when you’re in your zone, when you go into that little bubble, then you don’t think about it really. You just do it.
The rivalry looks very calm and placid at the end of the game? You’re friends but is there intense rivalry amongst players?
Yeah. Yeah. Everybody wants to win. It’s not just for show. There are certain players which are still friends when you’re on stage but when they’re up there and the competition is on, they all want to win.
I guess increased prize money creates that too, doesn’t it?
Oh, it sure does. You can earn millions now you know. It’s massive.
Can you get injuries playing darts?
Yeah. There are certain people who end up with tennis elbow. You know repetitive strain I suppose. I’ve been very lucky though and never really had any injuries.
At my level, it’s a very social game. But most of us aren’t professionals. Do you ever have a beer when you’re playing?
Do I drink beer? No. Not at all.
You never do? You saying you never have a beer even when you’re playing a social game of darts? Is that totally off limits among the pros?
What some of the players do, I wouldn’t know. You’d have to ask them. Me, personally if I wanted a drink, I’d have a glass of wine. But I really don’t drink at all now, probably one glass of wine does me anyway. I’m not, look as you get older you don’t drink as much anyway. You best not keeping on asking about beer and shit like that.
Well, I guess it’s just that for a lot of us that’s how we are exposed to darts. It’s a game at the pub while we’re having a beer.
I’ll tell you what we don’t do. We don’t take drugs. So if you’re talking to cyclists, would you be asking about drugs? You’re being a bit unfair really about this.
Fair enough. What I’m getting at though is that as the game has become far more professional and everything, the stakes are higher, there’s a lot more on the line.
Oh yeah. I earn three or four million quid a year. So if you want to fuck about, then you ain’t gonna win nothing. It’s entirely up to you what you want to do with your life you know. If you want to be a winner, then you’ve got to behave like a winner. Its dedication and preparation.
Can someone train themselves to become a better darts player or is it just a natural thing?
You can become a better dart player like you can be a footballer, by practicing, being dedicated, doing everything properly, getting the right equipment and just keeping at it. But you’d never become a champion. It’s only certain people. It’s like a footballer really. Anyone can kick a football but whether they can be good enough to play for Manchester United, no.
Is your ability to hit a target limited to a dart? I mean as a kid could you pick up a rock and say I’m going to throw this and hit that bin over there?
Probably. I’ve always been natural at it. It’s always been easy for me. So it was a way of not working, a way of not doing three jobs. A way of paying your bills. I had a little terrace house that cost me seven and a half grand. Now I’ve got 16 houses, two shops and two holiday homes.
It sounds like the game has been kind to you then.
It’s been very good, yeah.
Can it go any further than what it currently is with the lights, the theatre, the whole show that you guys put on?
It keeps going. It keeps pushing forward, I mean each year we keep thinking, will the bubble burst but with guys like myself, SKY and most of the players keep on chipping their little bit in it keeps getting bigger. Worldwide.
Are you a bit of a mathematics wiz then?
I go okay.
I mean every dart player must be great at quickly adding up numbers in your head.
Yeah. You’ve got to have your basics in this sport for sure.
So when you’ve got 82 to win and you’ve got 3 darts …
Oh it’s easy then. It’s knowing the, I mean, 82 is easy, that’s Bull, double 16. It’s knowing if you miss the Bull. If you’re missing it, a big 11, then you’ve got to know what’s left.
And you’ve got that ability?
71, treble 13, double 16. Yeah.
Have you always had that ability or is it something that you’ve had to do train yourself to do?
It’s something you have to learn. You have to learn it. You’ve got to practice it. You’ve got to do your apprenticeship I always say. You’ve got to learn. So you do your three or four years learning everything about the game. Familiarise yourself. It’s not like it’s, I mean, any sport looks easy till you have a go yourself. I thought tennis was easy til I played it. I thought badminton was easy til I played it against a good player. Everything is not as easy as you think.
Well, darts looks pretty easy when I watch you play! You’re a true champion Phil. Good banter. Thanks for the chat.
No. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.