From the mid 80′s through to the early 90′s, Mike Gregory was one of the top ranked darts players, he qualified for Lakeside 13 times in a row (when eligible) and reached the quarter finals or better an incredible 7 times. DartsMad recently had the pleasure of chatting to Mike, part 1 of our interview is shown below:
DM: Mike your back on the exhibition circuit, how long have you been away for and why?
MG: My partner of the last 10 years, she has a bad back and the last 2 or 3 years I’ve not been able to do anything as she has been waiting for an operation, if she had someone with her I could do 1 or 2 on a weekend. But things are ok now, she has I think one injection left and that should be it.
DM: So your looking to fill the diary up in anticipation of getting out more next year?
MG: That’s it, I’m not looking to to turn pro or anything again because its been a long time, but I do enjoy the exhibitions.
DM: Since leaving the pro circuit you have played in some capacity though?
MG: Yes I’ve played super league and county and entered a few local tournaments, but its been difficult with my partners health.
DM: OK, but there may be other options in the future, perhaps if something along the lines of the League of Legends, maybe a senior tour was introduced, it could provide you with an opportunity to play more competitive darts?
MG: Well, I signed a contract to be in the League of Legends, but in the end I got withdrawn………
DM: If an opportunity came along again in the future presumably you would consider it still? Do you have any relationship with those other players at all?
MG: I would yes, well, I’ve spoke to Eric and Bob and I went to support Steve Grubb at a couple of PDC events, explained to the organisers that I wasn’t there to cause trouble and a lot of the players came over and spoke to me. But some people can harbour a grudge for a lifetime.
DM: At the time of the ‘split’ it’s fair to say you were at the top of your game, did it have a detrimental affect on the rest of your career?
MG: That’s right, but I don’t think it was too much to do with the split I actually ended up parting with my ex wife, not seeing the kids much and it done me in a little bit if you know what I mean.
DM: Yes I suppose it can be tough spending most of your life on the road and away from family, speaking of which do any of your children play darts?
MG: Yes my son who is in his late twenties plays and I’ve played him in my local league actually (Paulton), and he beat me twice! He is playing quite well, and is really interested in darts and I’d like to see him go further. I’ve been thinking about setting up a big head to head with him, anyone can win over a couple of legs but to keep the concentration going for over 2 hours is different.
DM: Well he would have to play to a pretty good standard to nick a couple of wins over you I guess?
MG: Yes he did ring me the other day to tell me he had won the local singles league, and I said he needs to win it another 5 times to catch me up. That was a long time ago, but I won it 6 times and then I turned professional, and never played in it again.
DM: When you were playing professionally, did you have a manager to look after your business interests? If so did you benefit from it.
MG: I actually had 4, and the thing is now with the internet, facebook etc you can promote yourself and it’s basically free advertising. In my day it was necassary, you had to have people go to the breweries and attend meetings for you, but it’s all done different now.
DM: Its worth mentioning to any fans/promoters that you have a section on the Paulton website dedicated to you which lists your exhibitions. And you have recently joined facebook yourself…..
MG: I’m like any old fella trying to get into computers, I’m not too clever with it but I’ve learnt myself.
DM: I imagine it’s not easy if you haven’t been around computers before…..
MG: Well when I was a still a pro I had an old starwriter that I used for my accounting because no-one could read my handwriting, and I managed to delete 6 months of accounts. I wasn’t happy….. I had to go back through every receipt.
DM: Well what do think of drawing on your experience and managing a player yourself, much like Peter Manley and Alan Warriner-Little do with Wes Newton and Shaun Griffiths.
MG: I didn’t know they were doing it I might give one of them a ring, but I’m not really into all that I still love throwing darts. In my last super league match I played one of the best players in the Bath League and beat him with 29 average. I want to give the exhibitions a go and after a few months if I’ve got the game for it, I would like to start entering a few tournaments myself.
DM: So is there room for improvement on that average?
MG: Well I don’t know, it’s doing it when it counts that matters. As I said I just want to get back out playing and see what happens.
DM: I have a question from Steve Metalman (thedartsforum.co.uk), he asks do you think players from your era, if they were playing under todays conditions, and with the improvement in dart and board technology and funding, would they dominate, because he remembers the sheer quality of Lowe, Bristow, Wilson Big Cliff Rees and yourself etc all playing at the same time, whereas today its just Taylor and every couple of years a different challenger.
MG: How I look at it was in 1984 that was my first ever win, the Unipart British Professional against John Lowe, my brother wrote down every single score I had, and calculated that I had a 100 average back then, a 100 today is still a good average, I know a few players go over it. The only one really I can honestly say is Phil, he’s brilliant, he’s my hero to do what he has done keep the consistency and the concentration going thats why he is the best there ever will be.
DM: Yes,and you had your chance to beat him back in 1992 in the Embassy final which is widely regarded as the greatest dart match ever, what do you remember about that?
MG: The amazing thing about that, is the match darts I had were double 8, double top and double 10 which I couldn’t hit with 6 darts. And this is the honest truth, the very first exhibition I did after losing to Phil I left 76 and I hit it with double 8, double top and double 10 with 3 darts. I just thought… I could have been a World Champion.
DM: That’s the difference of the pressure of matchplay where the stakes are high, as opposed to practise and exhibitions.
MG: Yes, well when I was up there playing Phil in the final. it seemed like we were only up there for about an hour, and all the time it was hammer and tong, hammer and tong playing for just 1 leg. I enjoyed I thought it was superb.
DM: 53 legs of darts where played in that match, and it was the first final to go to a tie-break.
MG: The very first tie-break yes and I hit the bull to go first, and then I got a bounceout which probably cost me a shot at a double, I’m not saying I would have hit it, but it would have given me a chance…..
DM: You were playing on the old round wire boards with staples, do you see a noticeable reduction in the instances of bounceouts on the new boards?
MG: Todays boards are superb, and there are grooved points now which all help towards making the darts hold, but you will always get them, at sometime the point of the dart will hit dead centre on the wire and you will get a bounceout. I will be honest though, I played super league a few weeks ago and they had an old board and I must have had 15 darts end up on the floor. I won 3-0 but the average was absolutely terrible. But the newer boards do make a lot of difference yes and the technology keeps getting better.
DM: Moving on from the World Championships, the News of the World was your tournament wasn’t it, was it the hardest tournament to win?
MG: Yes, it was my baby I won it twice in consecutive years, only Bristow and a chap called Tom Barrett also did that. It was hard for me because the throwing distance was 8 feet, and I was playing BDO/exhibitions from 7′ 9 1/4 “. My step brother Roger Smith who was an England International got me started playing darts at the age of 4, he entered it and I thought I’m going to win that one day. And I actually got to the final 5 times. The two times a won it I played mediocre but I hit two good checkouts. The other times I played really well but couldn’t hit the doubles. That was the ones I wanted to win, it was like 3 legs and the toss of a coin.
DM: Did you have anyone that your really hated playing against, or a bogey player perhaps?
MG: No I didn’t hate playing anyone, Dave Whitcombe was my bogey player for a long time, until I think it was Denmark one year. Me and Jocky beat Dave and his partner and then I drew him again in the singles and beat him. But I never worried about playing anyone, they had 3 darts and I had 3 darts.
DM: Well, you mention Jocky there, are you still in contact with him?, he is a recluse by all accounts these days.
MG: No, about 5 or 6 years ago, maybe longer I was playing up in Fife just round the corner from where he lives, and he sent a bloke along to wish me all the best. I said won’t he come?, not play just sit and have a quiet a drink you know, but the guy said no he won’t leave the house. I used to call Jocky my dad, he looked after me we were both with Malcolm’s Management and we played a lot of pairs togther and he was really funny.
DM: I don’t know of any players doing it nowadays but were you involved in sharing prize money with Jocky or any other players?
MG: I didn’t do that until much later on, my motto was I won what I won. The title was the big thing and the money came with it. It was maybe the last 2 or 3 years of playing I did do that with mainly Eric and Jocky, it was quite good you have two chance of covering your expenses for the weekend.
………In part 2 we look at ‘the split’ in more detail and talk about Bullseye, the BDO and glasses!
DM: Lets talk about your best or favourite moment in your darting career, we may have covered it already with the News of The World?
MG: Well I won it the first time in ’87, that Christmas my Mum died and then when I was preparing for the next one a few months later my Dad died, it gave me some inspiration and I decided I was going to try and win it again for him, and I did….
DM: Under the circumstances that was a good win, and nice to do it in your Dad’s memory, obviously with the highs come the lows, is there a worst or unluckiest darting moment you can recall.
MG: If I lose I lose, if have darts to win a game and I miss them, then I blame myself….I don’t think I’ve ever had a worst moment in darts no, and that includes the split. At that time it wasn’t just my decision. I sat down with my wife at the time and we thought about it and we decided that I couldn’t afford to gamble the roof over our kid’s heads.
DM: Yes, when you did switch back to the BDO was it at the same time as Chris Johns?
MG: No Chris actually went back before I did, and one day during one of my exhibitions my manager at the time turned up out the blue, and suggested I take legal advise about the writ. And not being disrespectful to the people I was with in the WDC at the time I wanted to find out for myself, so I went and met Olly Croft and his solicitors, the outcome being when I asked them to put it in plain English, was if we lost the court case I could have lost everything. At the end of the day I wasn’t in the same position as some of the others like John and Eric, who could afford to take the big bump. I had not been playing as long, and you obviously you have to live and I had a big mortgage.
DM: That year (1994), you were unable to play in either World Championship event, did that affect you at the time?
MG: No, I could understand it, I went over then I went back, even though I did qualify for the BDO one, they had already made the draw. There was nothing I could do about it….
DM: Obviously the big news in the BDO this year was the departure of Olly Croft, was this long overdue in your mind?
MG: Personally I think the PDC is doing very well and I would have liked to have seen a deal between the two, it would have lifted the BDO. There are a lot of old thoughts within the BDO and they need to bring it up to the standard of the PDC. I think they missed out by not doing a deal with Barry Hearn.
DM: Perhaps the BDO should concentrate on the amateur game and leave professional darts to the PDC?
MG: Martin Adams wouldn’t thank you for saying that…..
DM: Well it’s interesting that you mention Wolfie, his situation is obviously very different from yours, but do you subscribe to the theory that by staying in the BDO he has taken the soft option?
MG: I think he has been very clever being a big fish in a little pool with not so strong players, I’m not going to run him down because he has played well to win his World Championships, and it was inevitable that he was going to win it somewhere along the line, at the end of the day fair play to the bloke. I don’t think he could have done it in the PDC, the depth in the PDC is tremendous and not taking anything away from the other players, but unless Phil is having a bad day the rest of the field are playing for runner up spot.
DM: Prior to switching back to the BDO you had won and retained the first ever WDC event the Lada UK Masters, what did you think to the format of that tournament?
MG: I did enjoy that tournament actually, it was equal darts and it wasn’t necessarily the best player that won it was the bloke who hit the double at the end of the day, early. You could share or draw the leg whatever, I did like the format yeah, it was good.
DM: There’s a pattern to your career of winning things twice which proves it was no fluke!
MG: That’s right, I also won the bronze Bully twice!, and hold the highest score of 380 with 9 darts.
DM: We recently went to the Bullseye theatre tour in Derby which was a laugh, but there are calls to bring Bullseye back to prime time terrestrial TV, what are your thoughts on that?
MG: Well after I came back to the BDO we started doing the Embassy roadshow where I would travel round playing the county players, and after a couple of years Tony had the idea that we should bring in Bullseye. We did that for about 9 years which was really a Bullseye Roadshow. They were good shows and I was really busy I would do 250 nights for Bass, and 40 nights for the Embassy roadshow. It would be good to see it back on TV, they have tried it before but they really need Jim (Bowen), of course everyone has there own style of presenting but Jim was so good.
DM: Yes he’s a one off, and unfortunately not been well following a couple of strokes earlier this year, although I believe he is recovering well now, and obviously Tony (Green) has had health problems to….
MG: Oh dear, I hadn’t heard about Jim, but funnily enough Tony has just been in touch about me doing an exhibition in Westminster in December.
DM: So you obviously watch the PDC tournaments then, who do you like the look of in terms of the rest of the field as it were?
MG: I used to play at The Lamb in Clandown which is Steve Grubb’s pub, Gary used to come in and I have seen him play, and practised with him and he’s unreal. If he could sustain that he would be right on Phil’s heels. But he seems to go bang, bang, bang and then he goes to sleep and cant wake up. James (Wade) he’s up and down like a yo-yo, and again if he could keep a nice consistency he would be winning more, if he asked Phil nicely!
DM: We’ve seen Taylor experiment with glasses and other players having laser eye treatment, how has the eyesight held up over the years.
MG: Actually I was struggling a bit in dark venues to see the trebles, and about 4 or 5 months ago I went to SpecSavers, drew a dot on the wall, measured out at 7″9′ 1/4 etc and said I want some glasses so I can see that distance. And they made me some glasses, which I found a bit difficult at the beginning, all it is is just the lenses with no rim and a bit of wire on the side and an ear piece, and it doesn’t look like you have any on. And it is a hell of an improvement, I can see what I’m throwing at! I’m quite happy with them now.
DM: Where you much of a drinker when you played professionally and did you have a strict practise routine?
MG: Believe it or not I hardly ever practised doubles, when I did I played like a wally! What I used to do was bang the treble twenty, and I got so consistent at it. And when you reach a certain level if you look at a double you should be able to hit it. With the drinking, I used to like to get to a certain point yes, but not go over it….and I did go up onto the Embassy stage once with two shandies, I’m glad I didn’t wear white trousers! that wasnt too good. But you have to try these things dont you, I’ve cut down quite a bit now though.
DM: Mike, it’s been a pleasure talking to you, could you end our interview by taking the Darts Mad double 5?
MG: No problem.
Darts used? – 25g nickel tungsten
Favourite Double or Out shot? – Double top or 10′s
Favourite venue? – Lakeside
Favourite player past or present? – Leighton Rees
Who would your ideal partner be in a pro/celebrity tournament? – Engelbert Humperdinck (I’ve played against him in Vegas)
Favourite band/singer – Meatloaf/Queen
Favourite food – Indian/Chinese
Favourite drink – Soda Water
Jeremy Clarkson, perceptive or prat? – Perceptive
Favourite comedian – Jethro