Last Stand On The Oche – Eric Bristow

Golf, bowling and darts: America’s everyman sports. Well maybe not darts in this country but the other two for sure. Anyone can do them. You don’t need to be an athlete; you don’t need expensive equipment. You don’t even have to be particularly skilled to have fun. They all came from England with our pre-revolutionary war forefathers.

Another thing about the three games is they are not actual sports. That embitters some of their more serious players to know end. But assuming you have two legs and at least one arm, you anyone can play them regardless of how obese, old or uncoordinated they are. If you don’t believe me, drive down to a local golf course on a week day afternoon and watch 70 year old ladies lugging their little oxygen carriers around from putting green to putting green. Golf requires you swing your arm 70 times in a four hour period, walk to and from an electric cart each time you swing your arm and periodically sip beer using the arm you aren’t swinging at the ball with. Donald Trump, who can’t walk up a path in Italy without nearly passing out, can play 18 holes of golf and still have the energy to pat some asses in the clubhouse. The average golfer’s caloric intake from the beer during a typical round far exceeds any burned through in an afternoon’s play. You can make the same argument with bowling and darts.

Beer is the twine that binds the games together though the part it plays varies by game. Golfers have to bring their own beer and since it is an English tradition that players stand upright through the whole game, its consumption is usually modest – a six pack a player a round is the common club rule. Bowling thrives on the stuff. Building a bowling alley is an excuse to build a bar. Beer Frames, Pitcher Perfect, Strikes and Splits – these are all time honored bowling traditions for guzzling brew at the alley. Remaining upright is optional going into the third game – that’s when most bowlers swear they bowl their best – their arms are finally relaxed and legs loose. Typically bowling nights end with a detailed post mortem of game strategy, plunkered balls and cheating over burgers and more beer.

Darts makes no pretense that a drink or two is incidental to the game. Darts is a drinking game. You play it in bars. You play it with dart in your right hand and a beer in your left when it isn’t holding a cigarette. Lose a game, chug a beer. Win a game, chug a beer. Waiting to play a game, chug a beer. It makes no difference. If you’re a darter, you’re a drinker.

Name any of the world’s top five bowlers (Dick Weber and Earl Anthony don’t count – they have both been dead for 20 years).

Darters. We don’t have real darters in the U.S. But England has them. They have lots of them and they are real good. Popular too – darters a better known in England than NASCAR drivers are in the U.S. They are certainly more popular than pro golfers and bowlers. (Though nobody knows any pro bowlers do they? (Hint, hint – the top four bowlers in the world aren’t even Americans. Betcha even Trump didn’t know that one or we’d be doing some serious bowling alley building in this country.))

Everyone knows the top dart players in England. They are on cable TV just as much a basketball players are over here. There are dozens of darting franchises organized into darting leagues which play each other in games for league championships which end up in inter-league championships which lead to world championships (very similar to our baseball’s world championships – only played by the British franchises that organized it).

That is why the U.K. is experiencing a time of somber mourning right now. Last Thursday, Eric Bristow, England’s most revered darter (think Babe Ruth, Mohammad Ali, or Michael Jordan) died at the young age of 60. He died with his boots on. He was in Liverpool as a celebrity host at a Premier League event in Echo Arena. He suffered a heart attack midway through the games and died immediately.

Eric Bristow in Liverpool prior to the start of the Premier League games.

Bristow was not the U.K.’s first dart world champion. He didn’t he hold that crown the longest. If you look at his stats compared to say Phil Taylor or Jockey Wilson, he wasn’t the best well rounded player either. But what Eric did have was wondrous charisma and great timing. He broke into the game in the late 1970s just as British TV was searching for any sport and any player that they could splash on the evening telly and grab an audience. Eric Bristow did that. His was boisterous, sassy, and fast on his feet. They nicknamed him the Crafty Cockney both for his ability to confuse opponents on the oche and his cocky panache. Born in the Hackney area of southeast London, he was about as cockney as you could get. He mixed charm and humor with the instincts of a street fighter; he had the face of a Dickinson street urchin grown adult – a round head that framed a full mouth of jutting gapping English teeth. When he smiled – and he loved to smile – he glowed. When he laughed, everyone around him gleamed in a piece of his halo.

Eric Bristow in the early 1980s.

Eric Bristow dominated the sport from 1978 through the late 1980s. But in late 1987, he developed a throwing condition called Dartitis that prevented him from controlling his throw/release. Dartitis is like Yips – a mental block a person develops that stops them from doing something they routinely excel. Eric spent the next 10 years trying to overcome Dartitis. He regained is control from time to time but it never lasted very long so he turned to what most jocks do when their playing days are over – he became a TV commentator. His network was SKY.

Bristow worked for SKY from 1990 through most of 2016 when he was sacked for texts he sent ridiculing some victims of a British soccer coach pedophile. It was Eric being Eric. He apologized quickly but you could tell he was trying to figure out why. (He basically said that instead of the victims waiting for 20 years to go to the police with their accusations they should have just beat the fucker up as soon as they were old enough.)

Eric at Jocky Wilson’s funeral. Pimping Harrow Darts. Jocky would have understood.

Eric wrote an autobiography in 2010. His basic message was that he lived a good life, had no regrets. He was what he was.

‘I never drink before a game.’

A commentator once asked Eric if he ever drank during league play. ‘Never’ said Eric. ‘Oh, I’d have one or two pints to loosen up before the first round but that was it until the game ended’. One or two pints didn’t count as drinking to Eric. He said he usually had 10 to 12 pints on average every day between tea time and closing time. The man liked his drink – a couple of pints before a game was nothing.

Eric was a heavy smoker and had a fondness for curry. ‘I should be dead by now,’ he wrote in the autobiography. And eight years later he was. Watching darts and sipping Guinness. He wrote that script.

Eric Bristow 1957 – 2018

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