After winning his 16thworld title last night is Phil Taylor a world class sportsman or just very good at a pub game? Two JOE scribes argue the toss.
Conor Heneghan says... during the course of discussing today’s Burning Issue and the various points we might address in the article, Phil Taylor was mentioned (I won’t say by whom but you won’t have to look very far down this page to find out) in the same sentence as the names Tiger Woods, Alex Ferguson and the phrase ‘world class’.
Taylor, of course, has plenty in common with those two giants of the sporting world.
They have all had incredible careers in their chosen sport, between them they have enough medals and accolades to fill a hundred trophy rooms, they’re driven, determined, single-minded and, for the reason Woods and Ferguson in particular were mentioned, they have been guilty of behaviour that has tarnished their reputation over the years.
But it’s the tag ‘world class’ that sits uncomfortably with me as far as Taylor is concerned and that is not so much down to the man himself as the sport from which he has made quite a living over the past few decades.
Now I don’t have anything against darts per se. I do tune in occasionally and get caught up in the atmosphere and it makes for great entertainment. I once had a dartboard, but my parents soon got rid of it when the holes in my bedroom wall got so big that I was ordering six foot posters and disposing of more wall plaster into the bin than Andy Dufresne did in the yard of Shawshank prison to cover the damage (anecdote may have been slightly exaggerated).
Of all the sporting events one could attend, the darts is often at the top of the list for many of my friends. And, as an event, it rarely disappoints. How could one fail to be excited, for example, by Michael Van Gerwen’s 17 perfect darts earlier this week? Or by the oche girls? Or by the often brilliant and excited commentary that goes with it?
No, my problem is with the ‘world class’ tag being associated with a practitioner of a sport in which many of the main competitors are clinically obese or very close to it, a sport where alcohol (admittedly mostly in the old days) wouldn’t actually be classed as a hindrance for competitors and a sport that has been described – a tad unfairly – by its biggest detractors as nothing but a glorified pub game.
It takes many qualities to simply reach the level that ‘The Power’ has in the sport and many more to remain there for so long and remain the best despite the efforts of so many pretenders.
Skill, dedication, fight and most significantly, nerve under pressure; Taylor possesses all of those traits in abundance and he deserves all the acclaim that has came his way for his achievements.
When I think of the term ‘world class’ across the sporting landscape, however, I think of names like Messi, Bolt, Jordan, Ali, Schumacher, Woods and Phelps. I could go on and mention dozens more names but no matter how much I would be prepared to elaborate, Phil Taylor wouldn’t fall into that category. Even if another darts player surpasses Taylor's achievements in the future, I wouldn't deem them worthy either.
Is Taylor brilliant? Bullseye.
A world class sportsman? I’m not buying it.
Sean Nolan says... if you class darts as a sport, which I do, then there is no doubt Taylor is one of the world’s greatest sportsmen.
The dictionary definition of sports is an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess. The level of athletic activity is not stated so the tungsten throwers get a pass and they move just as much as an archer or a rifle shooter and they are both Olympic sports. That should end the ‘is it a sport’ debate but we doubt it will.
And I’ll grant you, most of the players, including Phil Taylor, are not exactly in great physical shape but neither is Shane Lowry or Miguel Angel Jimenez and nobody gives them grief about it.
With that cleared up, let’s look at the man himself. Sixteen world titles in any sport is beyond all comprehension. The nearest comparison may be Jack Nicklaus’ haul of 18 golf Majors, but the Golden Bear got four shots a year for 30 years to hit his total. There’s only one world darts championship. Well there’s two if you count the BDO but you know what I mean.
Since winning his first title in 1990 Taylor first saw off the original greats of the game like Eric Bristow and John Lowe before stamping his authority on everyone who has appeared since. Now 52, he has outpaced much younger men like Adrian Lewis and Michael van Gerwen and shows no sign of his lofty standards slipping.
After Lewis won the last two titles, there was some talk of Taylor finishing on 15 but like a great champion, he came back and won another one this year, further cementing is place as the greatest ever darts player.
Of course, following on from the unsavoury scenes at the end of his semi-final win over Raymond van Barneveld, many took the opportunity to announce once again how much they dislike Taylor’s personality and actions.
That is valid and a well-worn criticism. But boorish behaviour on and off the field of play aren’t part of this debate. From the pure perspective of sporting greatness, nobody dominates his sport like The Power.
Undoubtedly he is good for the game, forcing others players to strive harder and making the sport a TV spectacle because whether you want to see him win or lose, you will want to see it.
Like any dominant force, from Michael Schumacher to Tiger Woods, people get bored of greatness and want a fresh face. But Taylor is unique, a one-off and his feats will never be repeated in darts or any other sport.
His longevity, skill, tenacity and record mark him down as true champion. The ‘beer and bellies’ image of his chosen sport has meant Taylor doesn’t get nearly the kudos he deserves. It’s a shame, but fans of the sport know what the rest surely should eventually; he is one of the greatest sportsmen any of us will ever see in any sporting arena.