Unsung Heroes – Tony Ayres

The UK Open of 2010 is fast fading into the mists of time. Gary Anderson reached the final, Phil Taylor won the title and in many ways, it was a typical tournament of the time. There was one exception to this however, his name was Tony “T-Man” Ayres.

For much of the proceeding few years, the PDC had been a little predictable. This was not exactly a bad thing. Taylor and Barney had had a superb rivalry, Manley, Mardle, Wade, and a few others had provided the supporting cast. With the exception of Kirk Shepherd, in 2008, very few outside or underdog tales had caught the imagination of fans. If major shocks did occur they were usually in the early rounds and the winner did not then go much further Ayres confounded that pattern.

The T-Man was hardly an unknown before the event, previous wins on the World Championship stage and elsewhere had helped him reach the low fifties in the world rankings, but many would have described him as a journeyman at best. Entering at the last 96 stage Ayres defeated Paul Whitworth, Peter Fisher, Mark Walsh, and Alan Tabern to reach the Qtr Finals.

Most such runs tend to peter out at this stage. Big stage matches are assured, TV coverage is almost guaranteed and fatigue/satisfaction can set in. Players such as Chris Thompson, Steve Hine, and later Mark Hylton have fallen at this hurdle.

No such issue for Ayres, his victory over James Wade was probably the highlight of the event and superb for drama and excitement. After matching Wade for most of the game Ayres found himself one down with two to play. Wade had three darts for the match while leading 9-8 but surprisingly missed. Ayres then stepped up and checked out 152 to take the match to a deciding leg! He then claimed the match, winning the deciding leg against the darts.

Sadly, for the neutral, Ayres could not lift himself to those heights again in the semi-final and he was defeated handily by Gary Anderson. However, Ayres had provided an example for many to follow and the UK Open has been targeted by up-and-coming players, or those with something to prove, ever since. The Open draw, middle length format, close crowd and quick-fire nature of the event present more opportunity for shocks and ranking climbing than the other major events and certainly ensure greater exposure for lesser-known players.

As for the T-Man, it is a tale of what might have been. Later in 2010, he missed out on a World Championship place at the final hurdle. Had he been able to add even early-round prize money to his UK Open funds he would have been much higher in the ranking when the Tour Card system arrived. Who knows if he could have solidified his ranking and a career at the highest level.

Less well known is the fact that Tony’s signature dart is a gem and highly unusual. Made by Red Dragon it comprised a straight rear section with an atomized bulbous lower section. The rear section is gold plated and makes the dart very distinctive and premium-looking. The dart was later named ‘Flashback’ and was very popular especially at the lighter 19g option.

I chatted with him recently and he seemed happy to be playing very well at the County level and did not rule out the possibility of another chapter in his darting career.

Sadly, Tony passed away on the 27th of November 2021

“The PDC is saddened to learn that Tony Ayres has passed away, aged 54. Everyone at the PDC sends their condolences to Tony’s family and friends.”

The article originally appeared in Darts World Magazine in 2019.

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