Andy Murray, Stephen Hendry, Kenny Dalglish and Chris Hoy are all Scots who conquered their respective fields, but there has been no absence of Scottish influence in darts either.
Peter ‘Snakebite’ Wright recently became Scotland’s fourth darts World Champion (and the third to win it twice ) when he overcame Michael Smith at the Alexandra Palace and it reminded us of the huge influence that the nation has had on our sport. Here we take a look at six of the best to come out of the Land of Cakes.
6. Rab Smith
Sometimes in sport, titles don’t tell the full story about a player and that is definitely the case with ‘Mr. Golden Darts’. A fluid player with a clean-cut image, Rab Smith claimed his fair share of trophies throughout the late 70’s and early 80’s. He was Scottish Champion, British Matchplay Champion and famously won the Golden Darts Championship in 1977, winning a prize of £1,000 and a set of 18 carat gold darts. However, he was never to progress beyond the quarter-finals of the World Championship, a statistic that betrays his talents.
Smith, a patriotic Scotsman, did captain his country to win the 1981 Nations Cup however, defeating Eric Bristow and his England team in the final, no mean feat in those days. In all, Rab Smith represented his home nation for more than a decade whilst healso has a rare claim to fame in that he is the player throwing darts on a television in a scene from the Academy Award winning horror film ‘An American Werewolf in London’.
5. Robert Thornton
‘The Thorn’ has never quite achieved household-name status, but he is undeniably one of Scotland’s most successful darts players.
Recently crowned World Senior Champion, and winner of the BDO World Masters in 2007, Ayrshire’s Robert Thornton made the switch to the PDC in 2008. Through some admirably consistent performances, he was in the top 16 players in the world in just two years. Thornton’s television breakthrough came in 2009 when reaching the final of the Players Championship, where he went down fighting against Phil Taylor. Away from the television cameras, he became only the third player to win back-to-back Pro Tour events over the same weekend.
A bout of ill-health was to halt Thornton’s progress but he came back in 2012 to land his first PDC major title at the UK Open in Bolton. Battling through a terrible draw that included Gary Anderson and Dave Chisnall, Thornton took the ultimate scalp when beating Phil Taylor 11-5 in the final, earning £40,000 for his troubles. A place in the lucrative Premier League followed in 2013 and 2014, as did a remarkable nine-dart-finish in the double-start World Grand Prix in Dublin.
Thornton’s biggest triumph, however, came in 2015 where, following a career-best quarter-final run at the World Championship, he returned to Dublin to win the World Grand Prix. He defeated world number one Michael Van Gerwen 5-4 in the final, sealing the £100,000 first prize and a rise to number five in the PDC Order of Merit.
Since 2015 struggles with form and personal problems have seen ‘The Thorn’ slip down the rankings, but recent signs of a resurgence suggest there may yet be another chapter in his rousing story.
(Editor Note June 2022: Indeed there was Robert returned to decent form and in 2022 became the inaugural World Seniors Champion defeating Martin Adams at The Circus Tavern)
4. Les Wallace
Scotland has often been the source of colourful, entertaining and unpredictable characters in darts and ‘McDanger’ certainly fits into that category
Known for playing many of his matches in a traditional Scottish kilt, the popular Les Wallace first appeared on television in 1984 when, at the age of just 22, he competed in the Dry Blackthorn Masters. It was not until 11 years later, however, that he made his debut at the BDO World Championship when losing in the first round to Raymond van Barneveld at the Lakeside.
He was to improve on that the following year by reaching the semi-final, but in 1997 he gained revenge on van Barneveld en route to a thrilling World Championship victory where he defeated Welshman Marshall James 6-3 in the final, becoming the first left-handed player to win a world championship (BDO or PDC) and only the second Scot.
Wallace’s success continued the following year when he defeated a stellar field to win the BDO World Masters, his victims including Alan Warriner-Little, Martin Adams and Ted Hankey, no less.
Sadly, that was to be as good as it got for Wallace as personal problems, including brushes with the law and personal tragedy led to a prolonged loss of form and regular absences from the tour. However, the World Championship/World Masters double is a feat achieved by very few and ensures the talented ‘McDanger’s’ place in darts folklore.
3. Peter Wright
Despite being based in England since the age of five, ‘Snakebite’ is proud of his Scottish roots, having been born in West Lothian.
Peter Wright’s story is a truly inspirational one. Having taken up darts at a young age, he had a promising junior career and qualified for the BDO World Championship in 1995 where Richie Burnett knocked him out in the first round. This was the first and last time he would play darts on television for over a decade.
Wright spent the next 10 years playing darts in local leagues, moving around from town to town, seeking employment where he could get it. Then one evening in
2007, at the age of 37 and unemployed, Wright declared he had unfinished business with darts and joined the PDC circuit. A naturally shy man with a history of self-doubt, he reinvented himself as ‘Snakebite’, adopting a Mohican haircut styled by his wife Jo and dyed various bright colours, matched by equally flamboyant shirts and trousers. He also developed the habit of changing his darts as often as his hair colour!
After an uninspiring start in the PDC, Wright began to make notable progress from 2009 onwards. This culminated in a first PDC title in 2012. His big breakthrough, however, came in 2014 when he made the World Championship final, losing 7-4 to Michael Van Gerwen. Since then, Wright has constantly been in the top 10 of the PDC Order of Merit, becoming a Premier League regular and a genuine contender for major titles. However, before his World Championship win this year, he had won only one major final (UK Open, 2017) from 11 attempts, leading many to label him a nearly man.
That all changed in January as ‘Snakebite’ claimed the ultimate crown and £500,000 at the age of 49, thoroughly deserving of his victory over Michael Van Gerwen, and so completing the most remarkable and heartwarming journey.
(Editors Note June 2022: After a truncated and restricted reign, due to Covid-19, Wright won the title again in 2022 defeating Michael Smith in the final and later that year became World number one.)
2. Gary Anderson
There is simply no better sight in darts than ‘The Flying Scotsman’ in full flight on the oche. The super-talented, heavy scoring Gary Anderson is a giant of the game having captured eight major PDC titles in addition to 31 PDC Pro Tour event titles. However, at various stages of his career, one could have been forgiven for fearing the Musselburgh man may not fulfil his obvious potential.
Anderson began playing darts at the age of 24 and first rose to prominence with an excellent run to the semi-final of the BDO World Championship in 2003. Subsequently he won a number of titles, but a television major eluded him. His form in the World Championship completely deserted him, winning just one match at the Lakeside in the period 2004-2007. This led to many questioning if Anderson had the temperament for the big occasion.
That changed in 2007 when Anderson participated in and won the televised cross-code International Darts League, defeating Phil Taylor in the final. Confident he could now beat the best, Anderson switched to the PDC in 2009 after a run to the quarter-final in his final appearance at the Lakeside.
Within six months of being on the PDC tour, Anderson had won his first Pro Tour event and hit a nine-dart-finish. The following year he reached his first major final at the UK Open, followed by a breakthrough run to the final of the World Championship where he lost 7-5 to Adrian Lewis. Despite a major title eluding him, Anderson had secured a place in the Premier League and reached number 4 in the PDC Order of Merit.
Anderson enjoyed the short format of the Premier League and remarkably won it at the first attempt, beating Lewis 10-4 in the final. Personal tragedy and injury problems meant that Anderson had to wait over three years for his next major title, but the birth of his son Kai seemed to inspire him as he won, first the Players Championship, and then the World Championship where he defeated Phil Taylor 7-6 in a classic final. He went on to retain his crown the following year, defeating Adrian Lewis to become a back-to-back, two-time world champion.
A popular, humble man, Anderson has crossed eras with both Phil Taylor and Michael Van Gerwen and yet has got the better of them both on many occasions; he must go down as one of the greatest darts players of all time.
1. Jocky Wilson
It’s hard to argue that Scotland has ever produced a finer player than Gary Anderson, but the legend of John Thomas ‘Jocky’ Wilson will always leave an indelible mark on the darts world. Anderson himself says he would never have picked up a dart were it not for his ‘hero’.
Raised in a children’s care home in Kirkcaldy, Wilson had a difficult upbringing but would find a way to twice become the champion of the world in an era where darts went from pub pastime to television entertainment and a working-class man could become a hero to the masses.
As a young adult Wilson found it very hard to find employment and spent a lot of time in his local pub, ‘The Lister’, honing his darts skills. In 1979 he entered a tournament at Butlins, Ayrshire and won the first prize of £500. This triumph convinced Wilson he should turn professional.
Just three years later Wilson’s profile was propelled in to stardom as he won the BDO World Championship live on BBC2, defeating John Lowe 5-3 in the final at the Jollees Cabaret Club in Stoke.
Almost overnight, Wilson became a hugely popular nationwide star and appeared on a number of television shows including Terry Wogan, Russell Harty, and even Top of the Pops! Meanwhile, the tabloids were always keen to run a spread on any story they could find. There were plenty of stories to be found due to Wilson’s chain-smoking, excessive drinking, brushes with authority, and financial problems. Wilson was uncomfortable with the attention but a media fascination with his rags to riches story meant it was unrelenting.
Undoubtedly Wilson’s finest moment on the oche came in 1989 when he recaptured the World Championship, beating his old rival and world number one Eric Bristow 6-4 at the Lakeside. A respectful Bristow would later admit that Wilson was one of only two players (John Lowe being the other) who he could not influence with pre-match mind games.
Tragically ‘Jocky’ left darts in 1995 and was never to return. He became a recluse, unwilling to leave his home in Kirkcaldy that he shared with his wife, and sadly died of lung disease in 2012. His legend lives on in a sport that he helped revolutionise.
Text: CJHH & James Lincoln
Pics: PDC (Unless stated)