"Who was the greatest ever?" That question is an insoluble as it is divisive for fans of most sports. But in darts, only one name really crops up. Phil "The Power" Taylor is entering his last world championship.
When Phil "The Power" Taylor won his first darts world championship, in 1990, Michael Schumacher was yet to drive a Formula 1 car, while Toni Kroos was an infant, born just a few days before the championship that January.
Taylor went on to win 15 more world championships, including a run from 1995 to 2006 when he only missed out on the grand prize once, in 2003. Even in the "sedentary sports" that don't require peak physical fitness like snooker or golf or chess, nobody can boast quite the same level of sustained domination. Something tends to slip with age — be it nerves under pressure, the ability to put in hours of practice every day, or perhaps simply the will to win.
Renowned darts commentator Sid Waddell, now deceased, once said: 'The major factor why darts is such a big hit is The Power'
That's true to some extent of Taylor as well, now ranked sixth in the world. The 57-year-old may not be the unstoppable force he once was in the world of darts, but the upcoming PDC Darts World Championship will revolve around the retiring superstar for as long as he lasts. And Taylor's win at this year's World Matchplay Championship, beating darts' new superstar Michael van Gerwen on the way, served as a timely reminder that he still has the tools to dismantle anybody on his day.
His career has survived a difficult era for professional darts. Sponsorship revenues and TV airtime tumbled after a heyday in the 1980s, the talent pool was diluted when the sport split into two rival organizations in the 1990s, and Taylor is responsible in no small part for the greater success of the "defectors" who joined the breakaway organization that's now called the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC).
Plenty has changed since Taylor's first world title in 1990, not least the size of his trophy cabinet
Humble roots, cocky character
The working class lad from Stoke-on-Trent, best known internationally nowadays as the city that voted almost 70 percent "Leave" in the Brexit referendum, has amassed more than 7 million pounds (around €8 million, or $9 million) in prize money over the last three decades. Not bad for a man who worked three jobs in his youth — at a factory making ceramics in the daytime, welding cars in his evenings, and helping out in a local pub (for "pocket money") on the weekends.
His father was a committed darts enthusiast and encouraged his son to try to go professional. But Taylor only started playing with real intent when he moved to a new house in 1986 near the "Crafty Cockney," the pub that 1980s darts hero Eric Bristow had bought and renamed to match his playing nickname. Taylor's wife Yvonne bought him his first set of darts for his birthday that year. Bristow later sponsored Taylor's bid to start a professional career, offering him an annual loan to cover his expenses, on the condition that he quit his other jobs and focus on the task.
Like so many of sports' greats, Taylor has a habit of rubbing people the wrong way, especially his opponents. His post-game interviews are legendary in darts circles, promising language worthy of a dock worker and the boastful bravado of boxers gearing up for a big fight. Taylor's interviews have become particularly fiery as his career winds down, as was showcased on his run to the semifinals of the Grand Slam of Darts last month.
Remember to offer him a drink
Taylor beat Northern Ireland's rising star Daryl Gurney in the quarterfinals but was seething afterwards at the strangest perceived slight in an interview on Sky Sports:
"I wanted to teach him a lesson, of course I did," Taylor told the interviewer. "Do you know what he did wrong? When he poured himself a glass of water and he left me out. I thought: 'You cheeky, cheeky young so-and-so' ... It's called respect. Without me, there wouldn't be a PDC. Have a little respect. I mean, come on."
In the very next round, this time a defeat against van Gerwen, Taylor argued with his opponent backstage, berating van Gerwen for celebrating. Van Gerwen's response probably didn't show the "respect" Taylor craved: "Honestly? You want to know what happened? I just walked off and had a little nip of my drink, and he came to me and said: 'Oh you shouldn't do this, you shouldn't do that.' And I just said: 'You're being a knob again.'"
'That's the one I wanted,' Taylor said of his last world championship win, in 2013, the only time he's beaten van Gerwen (r.) in the biggest game in darts
The Dutchman has a theory on why his games with Taylor usually end up being marked by some kind of drama away from the oche: "I think it's also the rivalry of our games, because we don't want to lose to each other. We try 200 percent of our best all the time."
The rivalry also pits the two most successful darts-playing nations of recent decades, England and the Netherlands, against each other.
Tantalizingly, Taylor and van Gerwen are on opposite sides of the draw for the world championship. So if they do meet one last time this year, it would be in a final to remember.