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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Tetchy Taylor to blame if final fling falls flat

The Thursday column

Phil Taylor’s antics have cost him the affection of some darts fans
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Presumably at some point, possibly next year, Roger Federer will announce he is playing his last Wimbledon. The reaction will be excessive but understandable to a degree.

The queues to see him one last time will extend from the All-England Club to the M25, the Daily Mail will produce commemorative mugs and, when he has played his final shot, he will float out of the arena on a river of tears as even the hardest hearts melt.

And while the fancy-dress-and-lager crowd across London at Alexandra Palace are as different a sporting audience to the middle-class, Radio Times-wielders who attend Wimbledon as you will find, a similar thing should be happening in the coming weeks as Phil Taylor prepares to fling his final arrer before entering the post-competitive world of exhibition evenings playing Dave and Don at the Dog and Duck.

Taylor, a world champion 15 times since beating Eric Bristow to claim his first crown in 1990, will retire from competitive darts after the PDC World Championship.


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Based on his astonishing achievements, this sporting legend should be looking forward to an emotional final journey to Ally Pally, confident that he will be cheered to the rafters for however long he survives in the tournament.

But that will not be the case. Certainly the impending end to his glorious career will not go unnoticed, but nor will it be the emotional lap of honour it should have been given all he has done in nearly 30 years at the top level.

People have fallen out of love with the Power and that strikes me as a shame as he enters his final preparations for his farewell to professional darts. A shame but also a logical consequence of recent events.

Taylor has gone from being almost universally loved to being at best a love-hate figure, a man who has gone from attracting boozy cheers to not very cheery boos.

How did this happen? It would have inconceivable not many years ago that his retirement would have been accompanied by so much rancour.

As an example, here are some of the responses to a tweet from Chris Dobey after he expressed his delight at drawing Taylor in the first round: “I really hope to watch as you send him packing into the sunset.” “Please knock Phil out. Then we’ll have no madcap interviews or antics in the later rounds.” “Please beat him so I no longer have to see his face.”

And, of course, Twitter being Twitter, those were among the more polite messages. I can’t see whoever is paired with Federer in the first round of the Swiss’s last Wimbledon receiving similar messages.

There was a time when Taylor’s popularity was enormous. He was a winning machine and the crowds would lap it up as he performed his trademark act of taking the board off its mounting and, along with his opponent, signing it so it could be used to raise money for good causes.

In 2010 he was runner-up to Sir Anthony McCoy in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year vote, which annoyed bitter golfer Ian Poulter but delighted virtually everyone else.

But gradually, as the second decade of the 21st century elapsed, his public affection waned. His dominance deteriorated with the emergence of Michael van Gerwen and, to a lesser extent, Gary Anderson, but whereas the public was always happy to continue embracing a fallen idol as long as they met with defeat in the same way they tasted victory, Taylor’s lack of sportsmanship did not go unnoticed.

His television interviews grew increasingly tetchy and were sometimes simply ridiculous. This very month, for example, he upbraided Daryl Gurney for not pouring him a glass of water during a match. “Show some respect,” he told a TV interviewer afterwards. “Without me there would be no PDC.”

Taylor has indeed done a huge amount to boost the popularity of darts, but he has made a lot of money in the process and it is for others to make such statements.

Should the Stoke man reach the closing stages of the World Championship, it is likely that there will be a groundswell of support for him provided he reacquaints himself with the word grace, but even if he wins the final he will attract nothing like the love he should have considering that he has been at the top of the tree for over a quarter of a century. And, while that is sad, he really has nobody to blame but himself.

Naive to believe Johnston would back wind-ops rule

I love that Mark Johnston is so full of strong, punchy opinions on all aspects of racing and so willing to express them at every possible opportunity. I just hope that one day I might actually agree with one of them.

The eminent trainer, who will this year break his record number of winners, is seldom short of a view on the many hot topics that enable us to fill so many pages of news and comment and it will not worry him a jot that his viewpoint has an almost uncanny knack of being the complete opposite of mine.

My first joust with the Scot came at Deauville when he claimed the Racing Post focused far too much on betting and did not cover racing as a pure sport in sufficient depth. He cited tennis as an example of a sport that did not need to be viewed through the prism of punting as much as racing is.

As well as pointing out that, away from our tipping section, we devote a significant proportion of our editorial pages to racing without the merest hint of betting, I also tried to illustrate the extent to which racing’s appeal is built on its popularity as a betting medium and that nobody should object to that in the slightest as the betting activity is what enables the sport to host around 1,400 annual fixtures in Britain. He wasn’t having any of it.

Since then Johnston has continued to have his say on a regular basis, be it in the media or his in-house magazine the Kingsley Klarion, while journalists with whose views he disagrees are liable to be contacted and, with the deployment of words like ignorant and naive, have their opinions challenged.

When I saw he was appearing on the new RUK Sunday morning show Luck On Sunday I actually (naively as it happens) thought he might just share my view that the BHA’s decision to make it mandatory to declare wind operations was an excellent one that was to be commended.

But no. Johnston claimed “bad science” was behind the move and that it was a “tragedy for the breed”.

I have no doubt he didn’t just spin a coin to decide what his view on this issue was, but once again he failed to grasp the need to enable punters, whose bets keep the whole show on the road, informed about veterinary procedures that can cause marked improvement in horses’ subsequent performances.

He is not the only one. There has been a dismally vehement reaction to the news that punters will now be allowed to know before a race that a horse has had its wind problem treated rather than finding out in the winner's enclosure, and the collective disdain horsepeople (not horsemen by the way – some of them are female, I have noticed) have for folk who like to bet on racing is something that needs to change.

Johnston’s claim that declaring wind ops will affect the thoroughbred breed in the long-term is open to debate, but if punters do not start being regarded as the vital part of the funding equation and being accorded due respect then the racing industry will have shrunk so much by the time that particular chicken does or doesn’t come home to roost that it won’t really matter.


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Taylor is at best a love-hate figure, a man who has gone from attracting boozy cheers to not very cheery boos
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