Phil Taylor: 'It's the perfect time to go... I'd only come back for Olympic gold'Phil Taylor: 'It's the perfect time to go... I'd only come back for Olympic gold'
The voices that Phil Taylor still hears in his head, even at the age now of 57, also provide the most revealing insight of all into how one man came to dominate a sport for almost 30 years. “It’s weird but I don’t feel as though my parents are gone,” he says.
“They are still here. Especially my mum. ‘Oi, get up. Philip. Get yourself out of bed and get out to work.’ If not, the next thing, a bucket of water. It is willpower. Getting up there when you are at your lowest and giving it your all. Don’t give in.”
But does he ever pause to analyse just how he has been able to stay at the absolute top of darts for a period that now spans six British Prime Ministers?
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“Never. Why would I? It’s your job. You go out there and do your best. That’s what my mum told me. My dad would say, ‘Right, you've won. I don’t want to listen about that now. You’re only as good as the next one. Keep moving forward. If you’re any good, people will tell me.’ That was my parents. They still have an influence in what I do. Bloody right they do.”
Never satisfied. Never too low. But never carried away. Just keep working and relentlessly looking ahead to the next challenge.
That was the Taylor family outlook when they moved into a house in Tunstall near Stoke with no electricity, running water or glass in the windows. And that is also the simple but granite mentality that Taylor has applied to what is quite plausibly the most successful career in the history of British sport.
A monumental era, though, is about to end and after an incomparable double 16 of victories in the two biggest events - the World Championship and World Matchplay - Taylor will throw his last professional dart at some point between Thursday night’s first round and the 2018 world final on New Year’s Day.
In the blunt and unemotional one-word assessment of his career, you can almost hear his late parents, Doug and Liz. “Successful…that’ll do,” says Taylor. And what mark would he give himself out of 10? “Seven. I lost four finals you see.”
Taylor then explains how he was so influenced by Eric Bristow, the darts king of the eighties, who sponsored him when he started out.
“He made me into a winner but he used to wind me up. I would search for a telephone box that worked after a tournament. He would ask: ‘How did you do?’ I said: ‘Lost in the final.’ He would be, ‘f****** useless t***. Ring me when you win something.’ It had just taken me an hour and four phone boxes and he’d hung up. I was fuming but determined to win the next one. Eric would walk into a room and say: ‘You owe me £5,650. Get off your arse, stop talking to these guys, and get on that practise board.’ If he walked into this room now, I would still get up and start practising.”
Taylor describes Dennis Priestley as his “toughest” opponent and when he lists the matches that most stand out, it is noticeable that the rare defeats are lodged more firmly in his mind than the thousands of victories. Talent, he says, was never the decisive factor.
“I used to watch a lot of people and think, ‘You’re not dedicated’. It’s half an hour into the game and they have dropped their standard. They weren’t putting the effort in. I used to go into the practise room at 9am and sometimes I wasn’t playing until 6pm. The cleaners were in, hoovering up around me. I was fanatical. I was like Bruce Lee, making up my own style. You had to be selfish, cocky, dedicated. One hundred per cent the characters are going. They’re like robots now. They’re up there and half of them can’t smile. Come on. Enjoy it.”
As the 1990s wore on, Taylor sensed that just his presence and reputation became an advantage. “A lot of these players, I’ve been their hero,” he says. “It can be in their mind. It puts that little bit of tension in the arm. It’s like having to serve to beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon. There are a few young players who I do like. You’ve got to know how to prepare properly and half of them don’t know.”
But what does that mean? “They have to get this right,” says Taylor, tapping his head.
Taylor certainly demonstrated the strength of his mentality at the World Matchplay final in July when, with much of the audience and even opponent Peter Wright in tears at just his ‘I’ve Got The Power’ walk-on, he simply romped to an 18-8 win.
“Crying? What were they crying for? I won,” he says. It was a performance that made some question whether it is the right time to go after Taylor made the decision following a heart to heart with his “guru” Peter Williams, the dad of singer Robbie.
“He said, ‘You’ll wake up one morning and you’ll just know’. And I did. It’s the tiredness. Never in a million years did I think darts would get this big. I think we’ve peaked.”
And is there a danger of overkill? “Yes. It has killed me. But I am not a fussy person. I’ve done alright. The world is a dangerous place and I’ve had a nice fanbase without any of the hassle.”
So what next? “Decorate, stuff like that. I would rather be at home and do the normal things. I go to my Aldi and Lidl. I do get addicted to stuff. I tried playing golf and I was soon going twice a day. I would do the jungle (I’m a Celebrity). I am not so sure about Strictly Come Dancing, though it would do me the world of good as it would get me fit.”
And what about this time next year? Might he be tempted by just the World Championship? “I’d come back if it gets into the Olympics,” he says. “There is the gold medal. Otherwise, no. It’s the perfect time for me. Everything goes with age. Your eyesight, your energy levels. You go into a final tired against someone two-thirds your age. I shouldn’t be competing against Michael (Van Gerwen) and Jelle Klassen. I would have smashed anybody if I was their age.”
Indeed, with defending world champion Van Gerwen threatening comparable dominance after six ‘premier’ tournaments wins this year and three-dart averages that are similar to Taylor at his best, it prompts one last question.
Who would have won in a fantasy world final between peak Taylor and peak Van Gerwen? There is not even a moment’s hesitation in the answer.
“I would have done him,” says Taylor. “Trust me. I would have done him mentally.”