If you’re a darts fan or just a twitter devotee, you may believe that a thirty-four-year-old Welshman is the devil in a dart shirt. However, if you know anything of the history of sport you may see a character familiar to the development of most highly popular professional games. That of the marmite competitor or perhaps pantomime villain?
Six years ago, Gerwyn Price was a Rugby player coming toward the end of an up and down career that had many highlights but had not quite reached the elite levels he may have wished. However, he had discovered a talent for darts and determined that he would make it in a second professional game. By 2014 he had gained a professional tour card, at his first attempt, at PDC Qualifying School.
Price’s first year on the tour resulted in moderate success, reaching semifinals of Pro Tour events and qualifying for several European Tours. Reaching that year’s World Championships, at the first time of asking, was another landmark. During this time many, including the author, noted the impressive way Gezzy had adapted to pro darts, and how he did not seem to be bound by previous conventions, we put this down to the professional attitude, and strong mentality, that he had developed playing a physically dangerous sport that involved serious risk if not properly respected.
Now known as “The Ice Man” Price was starting to provoke grumblings. “Too aggressive”, “Over the Top”, “Bolshie” and other slightly surprising remarks were heard around venues. Many viewed this as a positive. Shaking up the status quo, not letting established stars intimidate you, trying to get the game onto your terms and other such counter remarks were offered by some.
2016 marked a real gear change for “The Ice Man” (even the choice of nickname was not without controversy!). Gerwyn claimed two Pro Tour titles and reached the later stages of European Tour events. He also made good progress at The World Matchplay, European Championship and Players Championship Finals. More bridges were to be crossed the next season.
Price reached the final of the 2017 UK Open, including a superb comeback and 160 outshot to defeat Ian White, and lead Wales to the Final of the World Cup of Darts. A combination of these successes and his strong image, as a battler with a totally different style of play, gained him a place in the 2018 Premier League.
This was a remarkable story, a player with no experience whatsoever goes from unknown to the Premier League in four years! It is also highly unlikely Price would have gotten as far or been selected, for the PDC’s premium showcase, had he have been a run-of-the-mill character. Other players have had superb spells of form and achieved similar results to Price. None of them had the back story or the onstage attitude of the fighting Welshman. These last two qualities propelled him from outside the top ten into the Premier League. In short, the PDC had a strong hand in making, and encouraging, Price.
The Premier League is hugely demanding and requires yet another stage of adjustment. It may well have been a bridge too far. In reaction to this, Price made a few poor choices. Social media proved to be a pitfall, not exactly unusual, as comments made in frustration and disappointment caused a fan backlash and sanctions from the games disciplinary body. Safe to say the Premier League had not gone well for ‘Iceman’.
Showing huge mental strength, perhaps learned through rugby, Price finished the main tour season like a train. He claimed victory in the European Open as well as reaching the Qtr-Finals of both the World Grand Prix & The European Championship. His form was superb and his competitive juices seemed seriously fired up. These factors, both positive and negative, all came to a head in the 2018 Grand Slam of Darts!
Price started the event playing well, but clearly keyed up, possibly in reaction to the Premier, or just another illustration of Price’s highly developed desire to win. Playing a sport in which physical harm is a daily risk gives a different perspective to ‘throwing sharp things at a round thing’.
By the Qtr-final stage matters were coming to the boil. In a tough encounter, with Simon Whitlock, Price was cautioned by the referee. It appeared to be for ‘over celebrating’ and or failure to keep within the designated playing bounds. A superb and dramatic match finished was settled by a deciding leg and, a hot under the collar, Iceman continued on. A relatively straight forward win over Mensur Sulijavic saw Price reach his first major final. Normally, this would be a completely positive story, but the encounter with Whitlock had seen the Wolverhampton crowd turn against Price, adding fuel to an already smoldering fire.
The long and short of the 2018 Grand Slam final is that Price won, from well behind, Gary was upset, the crowd booed and the PDC reacted by fining him most of his winnings as well as issuing various statements and warnings.
In years to come however, the trophy will simply read 2018 – Gerwyn Price. He appealed the judgements, the fines were substantially reduced, and simply continued on. That years’ World Championship proved tough, with the crowd being especially ruthless. Yet, the PDC decided to include him in the 2019 Premier League, you do the math?
Price’s response to this chain of events has been exemplary and very impressive. He put up a far stronger showing in the Premier League whilst kicking his Pro Tour up another gear. He is now one of a select band to claim back to back events on what is an incredibly high-quality tour. His consistency improved, during the middle season, before he again seeming to hit the accelerator near year’s end.
During September he put together a superb run to claim another European Tour title, before claiming a third Pro Tour title for 2019. Price then excelled at the European Championship. He reached another final and was looking even better than twelve months previous.
The circle of sport was completed with Price returning to Wolverhampton as the reigning Grand Slam of Darts champion. Determined to show he was not a fluke, or had only won due to underhand tactics, he blasted through the event to reach the semi-final stage, defeating Anderson along the way, and an encounter with MVG.
Despite all his improvement Price had yet to beat the game’s standard bearer, and world number one, in seventeen attempts. If Price was to again progress, he would have to get over this (psychological?) block. Get over it was exactly what Price did. Not some nervy last gasp win, but a sixteen – twelve decisive victory.
All that was left was to win the title and win over the crowd. Gezzy, obliged with a demolition of Peter Wright in the final. The presentation could not have been different to 2018. The back to back champion was joined on stage by his family and cheered by thousands.
Price swiftly followed up with a final spot at The Players Championship finals soon after, this time losing out, to Micheal van Gerwen, in a nail-biter that deserved a final leg. His results in the last few months have elevated him to No.3 in the World and second favorite in for this year’s William Hill, PDC World Darts Championships.
At the same time he is now cheered by far more than those who boo. It seems that Price has shown the benefit of bringing the tough attitude of the rugby field to the darting arena.
Bearing in mind that no Grand Slam Champion has failed to win a World Championship, perhaps all of us should keep an eye out. The Iceman Cometh!
A version of this article originally appeared in The Ultimate Guide to the World Championships :https://appsolutely.dev/darts/