The Power turns on the charm for SJA

Report by Steven Downes. Pictures by Steve Rowe
This week, it was an SJA lunch at the Old Bank of England. Next week, it’ll be the Rovers Return – life as the world’s best darts player is a constant swirl of high profile engagements for Phil Taylor.

“The Power” charmed our guests on Fleet Street yesterday, as he spoke on a wide range of issues, from his humble background as a £74-a-week sheet metal worker in Stoke through to his millionaire existence following a 20-year professional career that includes 14 world titles and has led to invitations to appear on Celebrity Come Dancing and, as next Monday will demonstrate, Coronation Street.

Taylor is clearly delighted by his walk-on part in the world’s longest running soap opera, although he delivered many more lines to his SJA audience on Thursday than he gets to speak in the television programme. But in the Rovers Return, at least Taylor gets to throw his darts – our hosts at the Fuller’s-run Old Bank of England denied us the opportunity to see Taylor in action, surely the first time that Taylor has visited a pub and not practised his craft.

Not that that bothered Taylor, who remains keen to improve his sport’s image from the old beer-and-fags cliché, to such an extent that he said: “I’d ban alcohol from the game altogether – you don’t need it.

“I wouldn’t let the players drink during tournaments and just leave it to the fans.”

At 48, Taylor’s enthusiasm in the game remains as fresh as it ever was – his two years without the world title firing his competitive ambitions afresh. “I realised I had to go back to basics, strip everything down, cut out all the unnecessary appearances, and just work really hard.”

He does not foresee a day, yet, when he will want to retire, describing his latest world title win as “really exciting, all the old adrenalin was there. I love it, absolutely love it”.

Another factor in Taylor’s refreshed appetite for victory was “three little words that Barry said – ten, million, pounds”, the estimate made by his manager, Barry Hearn, of the amount of prize money in the pro darts circuit within the next few years.

Taylor won £125,000 for his latest world title, and he reckons that with a globally growing game and the impact of events such as the Premier League, which can attract audiences of 10,000 spectators to a venue, there is already £5 million in total prize funds on offer in the sport each year, something he attributes largely to the hard work of Hearn.

But Taylor also pointed out the dangers of playing just for the money. “I can’t understand it when young players, or footballers or whatever sport, turn round and say that they can’t get motivated… You should not need motivation beyond wanting to be the best in your sport, the best you can be.

“Money is not a motivation when you have darts in your hand. I know they are all out there to beat me and that is a motivation.”

The Power returns to action in the inaugural Coral Players’ Championship tonight at the Circus Tavern in Purfleet, Surrey, a three-day tournament with £50,000 to the winner.

While in the area, Taylor may also take on the whole of the Chelsea football squad, following a personal invitation from one of his fans, England captain John Terry.

“John Terry is a mate and loves his darts. The boys are always playing darts after training and I hear JT is getting pretty good too. He even calls himself ‘John the Power’ apparently but I’ve told him there’s only one Power, mate.”

Taylor says that his drive to succeed began with the basic economics of trying to bring up three small children. “Everything we had at home when I first started was second-hand. So I’d go out and play in tournaments where there’d be maybe £100 as first prize and come back and find out what we needed to replace next – new towels, new pots…”

Twenty years on, and Taylor’s now mixing it with top footballers and pop stars, though he admitted to being slightly embarrassed in Los Angeles recently with his friend, Robbie Williams. “Some fans came up and asked me for an autograph… They didn’t know who Robbie was.”

Not that he does not wish to alter his own image: despite two hours’ practice each morning and swimming half a mile each day, he is not happy with his stout physique. “Imagine what I’d be worth if I went up on the stage looking a million dollars, if I looked the business like Beckham,” he said.

“I am what I am – a 48-year-old playing darts for a living and loving every minute. I intend to go on as long as I can.

“It only seems five minutes ago when I was on a factory floor earning £74 a week as a sheet metal worker, so I know what people go through.

“I tell the younger players to make sure they handle the money and success. The biggest bit of advice I give them is to put some winnings aside for the tax man.”

Taylor’s well-grounded approach is a powerful reason for him maintaining his common touch and popularity with darts’ ever-growing audience, where fans can enjoy a night out within almost touching distance of some of the best in the sport.

“This is a sport that beats the credit crunch because it doesn’t cost the punter much to have a good time,” Taylor said. “For £15 he can dress up, shout his head off, have a few beers, make himself look a fool and go home happy.”

Taylor’s return to top form after two lean years is something which he takes evident pride from. “The highlight of my career was winning the recent world championship because, for the first time, people had written me off. The bookies had me at 11-2 before the tournament – I’ve never been offered at odds as long as that before.”

Among the attendees at the latest SJA working lunch were Alan Hubbard, from the Independent on Sunday, the Daily Star’s Brian Woolnough and Gary Payne, from The Sun. At the end of proceedings, Taylor was presented with a specially commissioned Kevin Macey cartoon by lunch organiser Mary Fitzhenry (pictured above).

Taylor is the latest guest in a series of “power” working lunches organised by the SJA. Following the Wales rugby team’s assistant coach Rob Howley last week, next month the SJA will be hosting Peter Keen, UK Sport’s performance director, and Rebecca Adlington, the double Olympic gold medallist swimmer. Click here for booking details.

For more information on Phil Taylor and the Professional Darts Corporation, click here.

Read Gary Payne on Taylor by clicking here

To read Brian Woolnough on Taylor, click here

Provisional dates of other SJA events:

March 9: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, 6.30pm, at The Brewery, Chiswell Street.
Tickets for the awards dinner are £95 for SJA members and £120 for non-members and can be ordered from Start2Finish Events Management. Contact Sandra Phillips by email or telephone 0208 916 2234.

March: Andrew Hunt, the new chief executive of the British Olympic Association, meets the press

April 22: SJA annual meeting (12.30pm start), at UK Sport head office, 40 Bernard Street, London WC1N 1ST (nearest Tube: Russell Square). Only SJA members may attend – please contact Steven Downes, SJA Secretary, in advance to confirm your attendance.

May 5: SJA Spring Golf Day, Surrey Downs GC. Email Paul Trow to book your place.

All details are subject to change until confirmed by the SJA, both on this website and via emails to members.

â–¡ UK Sport is the longest standing lead sponsor of the Sports Journalists’ Association, with a partnership that goes back more than a decade. Sky Bet is the SJA’s newest partner, the sponsorship being announced in October 2008.

Both partners support the SJA’s two prestigious annual awards events, including the presentation of a special UK Sport Award for excellence at the SJA’s Annual Sports Awards and the sports betting writer of the year at the SJA’s British Sports Journalism Awards.

The SJA Annual Sports Awards are the longest established of their kind in the United Kingdom, having been first staged in 1949.

Join the SJA today – click here for details and membership application form