Who is the greatest darts player of all time? This was once a question that would spark furious debate about the merits of Messrs Taylor & Bristow. Not any longer. There might perhaps be some remote Polynesian tribe yet to be fully conversant with The Power’s achievements but I would be utterly amazed if anybody on the planet would contest the “Greatest” crown that one Phillip Douglas Taylor rightly wears.
The debate has shifted to who is the second greatest darts player of all time and The Crafty Cockney still holds all the aces. Tucked in closely behind are two titans of the game – John Lowe has little chance of improving his standing due to the passing of time but the other, Raymond van Barneveld, is still plying his trade at the very top and could yet seal his position as the second greatest player of all time.
Rewind a year or so though and this would have been a bold statement indeed. Barney’s Wheel of Fortuna had hit the bottom spoke and his future looked bleak. Demons on and off the stage had the big Dutchman visibly struggling and he troughed with a virtual submission to Taylor in the early stages of the 2009 Desert Classic final. There was much head shaking as his form fell apart and he endured a disastrous Premier League campaign in 2010. His long standing manager had also departed and Barney seemed rudderless.
Everything was compounded with blackmail threats earlier this year that sent him into a tailspin. The thugs were caught & arrested and thankfully that episode is well & truly in the past. Now Barney is back and, it would appear, born again hard.
A run to the final of the World Matchplay this month indicated a revival and although he succumbed to the imperious Taylor the margins of that loss were fine indeed. His progress that week was ignited with a 9-darter in the first round 10-1 mauling of Denis Ovens. He cruised through to the final, never looking troubled, taking out James Wade, Co Stompe & Alan Tabern along the way.
Phil Taylor had his own gutter moment a couple of years ago and it is comical now to recall that he was being written off in most quarters. He promptly bounced back to hoover up just about every title he’s contested and put himself nearly £900k ahead in the PDC Order of Merit – an unprecedented margin. Oscar Wilde once said that even those lying in the gutter are looking up at the stars and Barney must have taken inspiration from Taylor’s own resurgence. You’ve just got to keep believing in your ability he has said many times.
Last night Barney ground out a tight & gritty 6-5 win over Andy Hamilton in the PartyPoker.net European Championship in Dinslaken to provide more evidence that the Oranje star is rising once again, and in a curious twist of fate the one person who perhaps benefits most from Taylor’s domination is Barney himself.
You see number two in the world is not a bad place to be. The make up of most tournament draws keeps the number one and two seeds apart until the final and in an era when one player is so dominant coming second is almost like winning. You can’t tell Barney that of course and there are dozens of other players who would argue that it’s far from a bye to the final. However, given the choice of meeting Taylor early on or in the final I know what every players’ answer would be.
The prize money ain’t half bad for coming second and although Barney no doubt sees second as the first loser he often gets a shot at Taylor in his favourite conditions – the heat & intensity of a major final. The improved chance of going deep in the majors helps consolidate his number two position and it can be a cushy number at times compared to some players who curse at meeting Taylor yet again in the early rounds. It is a sobering fact that this almost always means an early bath.
Barney is a five time World Champion (equal with Brissy), two time World Master, and has won just about every other title there is. In the Taylor era his achievements are admirable and like Dennis Priestley he must have a tinge of “what if” when he looks back on so many near misses over a wonderful career. He still has time on his side and could yet etch the name of Raymond van Barneveld firmly in the number two position of greatest darts player of all time. If only that Stokey guy would hang up his arrers.