In Depth

Five things you didn’t know about Eric Bristow

The ‘Crafty Cockney’ flirted with a life of crime before becoming Britain’s first darting superstar

Darts legend Eric Bristow has died in Liverpool after suffering a heart attack, weeks before his 61st birthday.

Fans and players reacted with shock and grief after his death was announced on Thursday evening.

Born in Hackney in 1957 to a working-class family, Bristow established himself as the wunderkind of the British darts scene during his teens, and won his first major tournament at the age of 20.

At his peak, between 1980 and 1986, he won five World Championships. He also claimed five World Masters titles and four World Cup Singles titles during his incredible career. 

His dominance in his heyday inspired one of darts commentator Sid Waddell’s most iconic quips: “When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer... Bristow’s only 27.” 

Here are five other facts you may not know about Bristow. 

Darts saved him from a life of crime 

Bristow claimed that as a teenager he had been part of a gang of hoodlums who called themselves the Oxton Boys. The gang “roamed the mean streets of Stoke Newington, in east London, robbing, joyriding, shoplifting and brawling”, says the Daily Mail

“We were good thieves, if there was such a thing,” he once said. “We didn’t trash people’s houses, we didn’t physically hurt anyone and there wasn’t a sinister side to us.”

Fortunately for the residents of Stoke Newington, Bristow proved more successful at darts than crime. 

He got his nickname from a pub in California 

Bristow was known in the game as the Crafty Cockney, a nickname he picked up not in his native Hackney, but rather during a visit to an English-themed pub of the same name in Santa Monica, California.

“After that, Bristow wore a shirt (which he received from the same pub) depicting a uniformed British policeman, a Union flag and the title Crafty Cockney whenever he took part in a tournament,” according to Welsh newspaper the Daily Post

He was Britain’s first darting superstar

As Bristow’s career took off in the late 1970s, televised darts tournaments began winning the game a mainstream following, and the “Crafty Cockney” had what it took to became the first darting household name.

His brash personality and unbashed self-confidence earned him a love-hate relationship with darts fans, but he seemed to revel in the boos and jeers that often accompanied his turns at the oche. 

His career was cut short by dartitis

In late 1986, at the height of his career, Bristow was struck down by an attack of “dartitis”.

Often compared to the “yips” that can strike golfers, dartitis is a psychological affliction that affects players’ ability to release their dart from their throwing hand.

 “Your brain is saying ‘for Christ’s sake, let the thing go,’” Bristow said, in quotes reported by The Daily Telegraph. “And your arm won’t go anywhere. It’s embarrassing.” 

Bristow eventually overcame the worst of the paralysis, and even briefly regained his No. 1 ranking, but his game was never the same. Aften more than a decade without a major tournament victory, he retired from professional darts in 2000, at the age of 43.

Other players who have battled dartitis include Phil Taylor, Mark Webster and, most recently, Dutch pro Berry van Peer, who broke down in tears at last year’s Grand Slam of Darts after struggling to release his darts.

Bristow gave Phil Taylor his start

 In the 1980s, Bristow owned a pub in Stoke-on-Trent, which he called The Crafty Cockney, where a young metalworker named Phil Taylor would drop in to hone his skills at the dartboard.

Impressed by the youngster’s skills, Bristow loaned Taylor £10,000 to allow him to concentrate on developing his game, and in 1987 accompanied him on his first international tour.

 Although Taylor’s meteoric rise in the early 1990s rise coincided with Bristow’s downfall, the two remained close friends.

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