Tag Archives: Barry Hearn

Phil Taylor ‘arguably the greatest sportsman ever’ says Barry Hearn

Down the years, darts has had its fair share of legends. Eric Bristow, Raymond van Barneveld and Dennis Priestley to name a few. However, nobody has ruled the roost like Phil Taylor.

Over the course of a 30-year career, ‘The Power’ has utterly dominated the sport, winning 216 professional tournaments, including 85 majors and 16 World Championships.

Taylor is retiring 30 years after becoming professional in 1987

On Friday night, however, Taylor will begin his last World Championship and, indeed, last professional tournament at the Alexandra Palace in London.

Being a symbol of the game for so long, it seems scarcely believable to most darts fans that they will never see the 56-year-old play on a live stage again after January.

Not least, Barry Hearn, the chairman of the Professional Darts Corporation, who believes the likes of Taylor are from a breed hard to find.

“I think there will be a standard of play higher than what Phil played,” says Hearn, in an exclusive interview with Elephant Sport. “But for someone to dominate the sport the way he did will be extremely difficult.

“You can’t compare him. Look at all he’s won. He’s a unique champion sportsman and I don’t think we will ever see one like him again.”

The growth of darts

The Premier League now sells out arenas in  Germany and Holland

In the 1980s, when the likes of Jocky Wilson, Bristow and John Lowe would down pints of beer while playing in front of World Championship crowds numbering only a thousand at the cramped Lakeside, the idea that darts could rise to be a sport watched all over the world, like it is today, seemed far-fetched.

However, since the split from the British Darts Organisation and the creation of the PDC in 1992, aided by Sky Sports, the game has been transformed to a level where the winner’s share at the World Championship now stands at a huge £350,000, and the Premier League, established in 2005 and played all over the British Isles, Germany and Holland, is watched by crowds some nights totalling 12,000.

The group of 16 top professionals, which included the likes of Bob Anderson and Rod Harrington, could surely not have envisaged development on such a scale when they decided to form the PDC all those years ago.

Certainly, Hearn, who became chairman back in 2001 after acquiring a majority shareholding in the corporation, has no qualms in admitting that darts has exceeded expectations.

And he confirms that Taylor, being one of the 16 to make the breakaway and with his magnet-like pull factor, has been at the heart of its progress.

‘Frank Sinatra retired 11 times. You don’t close the door on someone like Phil’ – Barry Hearn

“Astonished would be the word,” says Hearn, with pride in his voice. “Beyond our wildest dreams. We’ve taken it in our stride. I’d love to sit here and say I saw this development coming, but I didn’t.

“We’re just at the beginning of something special in darts. It’s a British sport played by ordinary people. Every country wants more darts and more TV coverage. It’s all over the world. Dubai and Australia, the list goes on.

“Phil was the flagbearer for us and he’s done an amazing job. That’s for sure. Nobody dominated or led a sport like he has done for 30 years. Arguably, you could say he’s the greatest sportsman ever.”

Life after Taylor

With athletics facing up to life without Usain Bolt, golf struggling to replace Tiger Woods and tennis fearing the day Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal eventually retire, the golden generation of super champions across the sporting world does seem to be nearing an end.

Looking from the outside in, you’d think darts should be equally worried for the future with its greatest ever player retiring. But, on the contrary, Hearn believes darts is well placed to look forward with optimism.

Van Gerwen has taken over from Taylor as the dominant force in darts in recent years

“Without sounding cocky, I think we’ve been a lot smarter than other sports,” says Hearn. “We’ve built a strong infrastructure within the sport.

“The formation of the Qualifying School gives us a chance of getting good young players continuously coming through. You’ve seen that this year with Rob Cross [who has broke into the world’s top 20 in his debut year on tour].

“Michael van Gerwen [current world No.1 and defending world champion] is trying to step into his shoes but there are others as well.

“Overall I think we are in a good place. Premier League ratings are going up and tickets have sold out already for nearly every week next year.

“Its clear people have bought into darts as a game, and not just for Taylor.”

Grand finale

Taylor will compete for a 17th world title at the Ally Pally

Although, darts has developed tenfold over the last 25 years and is not perhaps reliant on Taylor as it once was, there’s no doubt the legend’s impact on the game and appeal to fans and viewers is still prevalent today.

Whether it is Blackpool, Sydney or London, you only have to be present on a night when Taylor is scheduled to play to realise the unique buzz in the air of the venue.

Hence, you do wonder if it goes without saying that darts will keep the door open for a U-turn in the future.

“Always,” says Hearn. “Frank Sinatra retired 11 times. You don’t close the door on someone like Phil.”

Having clinched the World Matchplay in Blackpool in July for a 16th time, Taylor can already mark his final season down as a success.

But the chance to go out on an all-time high by winning a last World Championship title on the grandest of stages at Ally Pally has to be on the Stoke-on-Trent man’s mind.

The tournament itself is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month and most in the darting world, including Hearn, would see Taylor triumphing as the ultimate tribute.

“The sport owes him a lot that’s for sure,” adds Hearn. “I’m sure it’s in his mind to win it. It would be a great achievement. Everybody would want him to do it.”

The World Darts Championships start on Thursday, December 14th and will be shown live on Sky Sports. For more details and ticketing information, click here.

Images courtesy of zimbio.com

Fans fear unhappy ending in Orient saga

Two years ago, Leyton Orient were a play-offs final victory away from promotion to the Championship.

They currently lie mid-table in League Two, having just sacked head coach Ian Hendon after a run of four wins in 21 league games.

The club’s Italian owner, Francesco Becchetti, faces accusations in Albania of fraud-related offences and is the subject of extradition proceedings. He completely denies any wrongdoing.

Even when Orient win, they make headlines for the wrong reasons, with Becchetti accepting an FA charge of improper conduct for kicking assistant coach Andy Hessenthaler after the Boxing Day victory over Portsmouth.

And with West Ham’s move to the Olympic Stadium next season threatening to hit attendances at Brisbane Road, the future is not looking bright.

Ambitious

So what’s gone wrong at Orient? When long-time owner Barry Hearn sold to Becchetti in June 2014, optimism and ambition was the order of the day.

“There is no question that Francesco is going to take the club further forward than me,” Hearn said at the time. “I’m only a multi-millionaire and these days that’s nothing in football. I am comfortable with the changeover.”

“Big wages paid to certain players helped to destabilise the previously strong spirit within the Orient squad”

But, less than two years later, with the threat of extradition – and potentially prison – hanging over the Italian, how things have changed.

Following Becchetti’s takeover, long-standing manager Russell Slade left the club early in the season. Caretaker manager Kevin Nugent succeeded by Mauro Milanese and then Fabio Liverani before Christmas 2014.

A disastrous second half of the season meant that Orient were relegated from League One. Liverani, with just eight wins in 27 matches, left the club by mutual consent in May 2015.

Mat Roper, joint chairmen of the Leyton Orient Fans Trust, believes big wages paid to certain players helped to destabilise the previously strong spirit within the Orient squad.

Massive contracts

“We will probably never know the exact reasons, but I would think that firstly the players brought in on massive contracts had a detrimental effect. We had a hard working team, all very together and on a similar wage structure.

“This was broken up in stages including the signing of ‘big name’ players on fabulous wages which in turn created a ‘them and us’ situation.”

“On Orient’s future, Roper admits: ‘No-one really knows, and that’s the worrying part’

Roper said the managerial merry-go-round has also played its part. “We simply became a circus, ending up with a guy [Liverani] with very little first-team managerial experience who couldn’t communicate with his players in training – sort of says it all!”

And what about the shadow of the legal and extradition proceedings against Becchetti – does the Fans Trust have any plans in place if his ownership of the club comes into question?

Roper said: “We have been working with other trusts to formulate a recovery plan. This is looking at what would be needed in any interim period if the fans were asked to make a play for the club – even in the short term.”

Sustainable

The plan deals with issues such as staffing, management, finance, Football League rules and is being formulated by asking other clubs who have found themselves in similarly precarious situations.

Roper said: “As always, the big problem would be finance. Even if the wage budget this year was even more sustainable than it actually is, most clubs the size of Leyton face the major headache of financing the club on a short-to-mid and then long-term basis.”

On Orient’s future, Roper admits: “No-one really knows, and that’s the worrying part.

“When Mr Becchetti took over, I wrote in the fanzine that this would probably either mean a miraculous rise to stardom or complete and abject failure, with no in-between.

“With 18 months under his belt, we have had five managers, one relegation, his personal court case, a large turnover of staff and many other rumours besides – unfortunately that doesn’t make good reading.”

Hope for the future?

“My own personal view is that we need to be very cautious, but if Mr Becchetti would be happy to meet with the fans, listen to others far more experienced in the world of lower division English football, yet still put money on the table to grow the club in the right areas, then there is no reason he cannot make a massive success out of Orient.

“We seem to be stagnating, and that is just as dangerous as dropping downwards as complacency in all areas can see clubs die a slow death”

“Firstly by putting us back in the second tier of English football but, just as importantly, building a legacy for the club off the pitch regarding such areas of new support, community initiatives, ground redevelopment, etc. As much as it pains me to say it, you only have to look at a club such as Brentford as a good example.

“This is one of the biggest things that I think Mr Becchetti has got wrong – not listening to the previous owner and CEO, who if working alongside him could have built (and still could) an exciting future for Leyton Orient.

“The biggest worry for me, aside from things like Mr Becchetti’s court case, is the lack of forward planning. We seem to be stagnating, and that is just as dangerous as dropping downwards as complacency in all areas can see clubs die a slow death, which is far more painful.

“But who really knows how this will all end?”

Feature image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.