Bobby George has been left “gutted” by the death of close friend and former five-time world champion Eric Bristow just hours after sharing a drink together in Liverpool.
Bristow suffered a heart attack after attending a corporate event ahead of Thursday’s Premier League fixture at the Echo Arena. He was aged 60.
The Professional Darts Corporation announced his death midway through the night’s play, with fans breaking into a spontaneous rendition of “There’s only one Eric Bristow”. Rod Studd stopped commentating out of respect.
Bristow, known the ‘Crafty Cockney’, won his first world title in 1980, beating George 5-3 in a thrilling match which captured the imagination of the sporting public.
The pair had been friends since their teens. Speaking to BBC Radio Two, George said: “In the afternoon, I was doing a show at a pub opposite the Premier League (darts) building, and he just came in, said ‘hello’ and had a pint, then said ‘see ya’, I said ‘see ya’ because I was working… he went across the road, and two-and-a-half hours later, he was gone.
“It really shocked me bad, I was gutted. It made me feel ill, I couldn’t even sleep last night thinking about it. Terrible.
“I knew him when he was a teenager, a young man. We used to play at all the different opens and shows, or at money racing where another guy would put the money up and we would play – you had to do all that to get recognised. It was like an apprenticeship.
“Eric lived on a dartboard every day. He had one week at a job before he gave that the elbow to keep to the darts, which he did well.”
One of darts’ first superstar players, Bristow won his five titles in the British Darts Organisation, dominating the sport between 1980 and 1986, which saw the beginning of the sport’s television boom.
It was a far cry from their early days of playing the smoke-filled pubs around London.
“We used to split the money we won, we played pairs – we would never think that a year later we would be in the (world championship) final playing each other,” George recalled.
“I wore the sequins, had a candle, people started singing. In that match, myself and Eric, we changed the game.
“Everyone was saying (shouting) – Eric Bristow! Bobby George! The audience got involved, it changed darts.”
Bristow was part of the group which formed the breakaway World Darts Council in 1993, which eventually went on to become the phenomenon which is the lucrative PDC circuit of today.
The Londoner also acted as mentor for Phil Taylor, who beat Bristow to win his first world crown in 1990 before going on to become the greatest player in the game.
‘The Power’ took to Twitter on Friday morning to pay his own tribute to the man who was the biggest name in darts throughout the 1980s.
“Words cannot express how sad and shocked I am to hear the terrible news about Eric’s passing a huge influence on my career and a larger than life character the world has lost a legend. RIP pal #16,” wrote the 57-year-old Taylor, who retired following his defeat in the 2018 PDC World Championship final.
Bristow won a new generation of fans when he finished fourth in ‘I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here’ in 2012 and moved into broadcasting with Sky Sports, combining commentary duties with working as a spotter, plotting the checkouts for the players that viewers see on their screens.
His time with the broadcaster ended in 2016 after a series of tweets relating to the Barry Bennell abuse scandal. Bristow later apologised for his remarks.
“I know what Eric was like, he couldn’t keep his mouth shut, but he didn’t care. If he thought he was right, he would just say it,” George added.