Darts is mourning one of its favourite sons after the death of five-time world champion Eric Bristow on Thursday. He was aged just 60.
Bristow suffered a heart attack after attending a corporate event in Liverpool ahead of the Premier League fixture at the Echo Arena.
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.
He later called ‘The Crafty Cockney’ the “biggest star darts has ever had."
It was a fitting tribute to the man PDC chairman Barry Hearn described as “a legend."
One of darts’ first superstar players, Bristow won his five titles in the British Darts Organisation, dominating the sport between 1980 and 1986. His first title, a 5-3 defeat of Bobby George, marked the start of his dynasty.
A founder player as a number of leading names formed the breakaway World Darts Council (now PDC), Bristow continued to be a key personality within the sport even after his talents waned.
His friendship with Phil Taylor saw him mentor the ‘The Power’ to become the greatest player of all time, initially sponsoring him and showing him the ropes in his pub, ‘The Crafty Cockney’. Taylor, who is expected to be enormously affected by the news, has yet to pay tribute. He ended his glittering career in January.
Bristow eventually 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. Celebrity followed too, going into the jungle in 2012 when he finished fourth.
His time with the broadcaster ended in 2016 after a series of tweets relating to the Barry Bennell abuse scandal. He later apologised for his remarks.
Hearn was left in shock by Bristow’s sudden death.
He told BBC Sport: “It’s just unbelievable. He was working as normal in hospitality, started feeling ill and collapsed and died. Our thoughts go out to his wife and family because this has come as a massive shock to the whole sport of darts.
“You had players in tears on the Premier League stage tonight and the crowd chanting his name endlessly because of the influence he had on darts. The word legend is overused but it’s an understatement for Eric Bristow.
“We often talk about the absence of characters in sport but Eric Bristow was a character with a capital ‘c’. He was very much a man of the people. He understood what crowds wanted to see – he was controversial, he was a maverick, he spoke his mind and upset a few people from time to time, but the man in the street warmed to him because he was very much one of theirs.”
The unexpected death of Bristow cast an immediate shadow over events in Liverpool.
As news broke, the players on stage – Peter Wright and Daryl Gurney – and Sky’s commentary team were unable to contain their emotions with all in tears.
Keith Deller, the 1983 world champion – beating Bristow in that final – said on stage: “I’m devastated, me and Eric were together all the time.
“What he’s done for our game, tonight, if it wasn’t for Eric, no one would be here.”
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