We caught up with the Iceman, former world No. 1, ITV4 pundit and current CEO of the PDPA Alan Warriner-Little. With the CV above he should know his arrers!
DM: So you are currently back on the road again doing the exhibition circuit?
AWL: Yes had a couple of years off, but the thinking behind the exhibitions is to get playing and practising again, then review it in 6 months time see how I have progressed and see if I feel in my own mind I have the game to play some of the circuit events.
DM: What can punters expect from an evening with the Iceman? And are there any dates yet that we should put in our diaries?
AWL: I leave it till when I get there, when I know what kind of players they are and what they are expecting. They all know you can play darts so often they are looking for something different, so I might throw off a stool, hit a double covered with paper, on my knees off a tray into the bull etc. Which may only come off 2 out of every 5 times but when it does people are like ‘bloody hell did you see that’. Then when they go to work in the morning they have something to talk about. At the end of the day it’s an exhibition not an event. It’s all about fun and mingling with people. People want to meet players and stand at the bar and share a drink and a joke etc. I’m happy when people walk out the door at the end of the night with a smile on their face, although some people do just want to play against the pro and try to win!
I’ve got exhibitions coming up in Fife on 19th / 20th / 21st August and 14th October in Huddersfield. And a Manchester/Suffolk/Essex/Appleby/Morecambe/Ireland Tour yet to Confirm
DM: How is your game these days? Will we ever see you in a return competitive darts or are you happy with life as it is? Do you miss your former job as a psychiatric nurse?
AWL: Well I have just returned from a 4 day tour of Ireland and 3 of the 4 days I played really well, the 4th one I died a death near the end through exhaustion. In an exhibition you relax and have fun. Ask me again in 6 months about returning to competitive play, I wouldn’t put myself on the oche unless I had confidence in my own ability. I wouldn’t want to go up there and lose first round, as you see with Mardle and Manley 99% of the time at the moment, and no disrespect, not always to a good/top player.
Yes I had been a psychiatric nurse since 18, and believe it or not I only packed it in about 6 years ago.
DM: Do you miss it?
AWL: No, but have some good memories
DM: So when you were a pro you balanced the two?
AWL: Yes, but you have to remember 10 years ago there were not as many events, nowadays it seems like there is a tournament every week, but back then I could work 4 days a week and have a Monday or Friday off to travel to events so it wasn’t too difficult to fit it in.
DM: Would you have liked the luxury of being a full time darts player? More practise opportunities?
AWL: I suppose you didn’t need to be in the early days, but around the time Barry Hearn came in; ‘Yes’ it would have been beneficial.
DM: James Wade has recently made public his mental health problems, can you offer any advice given your previous vocation? Do you think there is too much pressure on the stars of todays game? With relationship breakdowns etc all making the headlines, is it just a sign of the times in this celebrity obsessed society?
AWL: Well I think it’s great that he has gone public and told everybody, James is a high profile sportsperson and if it helps other sufferers that’s great. It is an illness and like any other needs treatment. A few people close to him knew, and obviously things were discussed and it was decided to break the story and I think he is feeling a lot better for it. As with football, every time a darts player is on TV they are under scrutiny by possibly millions of people and the slightest things get picked up, maybe by one person and they put straight on Twitter etc. So yes there is a lot of pressure on them.
DM: You are a former celebrity darts player AND contestant on Bullseye!, I take it you are aware of the campaign to bring the quiz back to prime time viewing? Nostalgia aside, how good would that be? Will you be attending the Bullseye theatre tour later this year in any capacity?
AWL: Yes John Lowe mentioned it to me a while back, they have a big product with the name Bullseye and I think if they get the right format it will be popular, it’s a crowd puller. I might go and watch the theatre tour if there is one local to me. We watch the repeats on Challenge its unique, I love it and of course my wife likes to watch in case it is an episode that I am on! With the tour a good presenter who knows how to work the crowd will be essential. Someone like Paul Booth would get the job done with a bit of comedy in there. I hope it works for them.
DM: You’ve taken on the role of CEO of the PDPA recently, how much of your time does that consume and what are your responsibilities?
AWL: I’ve been involved for about 7 years and been the CEO for the last 3. It’s a full time job, and now we are based in Carlisle I can dedicate even more time to it as before I was travelling to the offices in Coventry which was a 4 hour drive. Peter (Manley, PDPA Chairman) lives in Carlisle and I’m not too far away in Maryport so it’s a logical move . Now we have a full time secretary I can work more from home doing emails, phonecalls etc. In simple terms we represent professional darts players, provide information, make partnerships, negotiate deals etc to enhance their careers. We liaise with the PDC, and the DRA in every aspect including tournaments, we now have a big say in the running of the game from a players point of view.
DM: Can you expand on that do you mean like a Union?
AWL: Well people get that impression but we are a players association and unlike Unions we work with the PDC and DRA in partnership, using our experience as players, to help promote the sport and get the best for our members. Between myself and Peter we do have a lot of experience in all aspects and know what players want, and although we might sometimes get some stick, I think they do respect our darting knowledge.
DM: The DRA dished out a number of fines/suspensions to players in their January meeting, do you have any influence over this process and do you think the punishments are befitting of the alleged misconduct?
AWL: We work closely with the DRA yes, and they will ask our opinion on things, but they are an independent body and ultimately they decide, and at the end of the day if a players actions or comments bring the game into disrepute then, they have to accept the consequences. People get the wrong impression of the DRA the last thing they want to do is suspend or fine anyone……….but players do need to be responsible and accountable for their actions. I’ve never really been into fining players, but what else can you do? There needs to be a deterrent just like there is in any other sport.
DM: We’ve enjoyed watching/listening to you on ITV4 for the past few years. Presumably for you there is an element of disappointment there for you with the Grand Slam coverage being taken over by Sky?
AWL: Personally I was absolutely gutted, I felt I’d found a little niche and just started to really learn the job with an accomplished professional team. I think Matt Smith is an absolutely fantastic presenter, and what I think people like about him is he knows exactly what’s going on with the darts but knows how to have laugh as well, and it’s a nice relaxed atmosphere to work in. As I said I’m gutted, but there is nothing I can do about it, presumably it was all down to money, and ITV are perhaps struggling financially. I don’t really know the ins and outs, and don’t want to get involved.
From a darting point of view, it’s disappointing as it took the PDC a long time to get on terrestrial TV. Plus the tournament was different and involved a few BDO players, which worked and is what the fans want to see. But Sky do a fantastic job with their existing darts coverage, as with football and have set the standard for others to follow.
DM: Would you take up a position with the Sky punditry team if the offer presented itself?
AWL: Yes I would have to seriously think about it, darts gets more coverage on Sky and is on all the time. But I didn’t think ITV4 would lose the Grand Slam so have never really thought too much about it.
DM: Does your ITV4 partner in crime Chris Mason have plans to get back on the tour or exhibition circuit?
AWL: I haven’t actually spoken to Chris for ages, and as far as I know he is not playing darts in any capacity these days. I wouldn’t expect him to return to competitive play though, he can’t handle losing and that is something I’ve always been honest about and told him straight, like my Dad said to me you have to learn to lose before you can learn to win…
DM: ITV4 have recently announced they will cover the European Championships, presumably you will be involved with that?
AWL: Yes I am really looking forward to it.
DM: You are involved in player management now and look after Shaun Griffiths……..
AWL:VYes a future world champion, he has everything you need to get to the top, amazing ability for a teenager, the will to learn and practise. He listens to me, I’m not just managing him by trying to get him sponsorship etc, I also advise him on his game. I try not to put any pressure on him, he is doing well on the youth tour, which is what I’ve told him to focus on, he’s also picking up experience on the main tour. I set him two goals for this year which was to qualify for the UK Open which he did easily, and to qualify for the World Championship which he is on track to do, maybe needs to pick it up a bit. But next year he really needs to make his mark. He’s a good kid.as well.
DM: Did anyone of the veterans of the time take you under their wing when you started out in terms of mentoring or player management?
AWL: No certainly not at the beginning, I grew up playing darts in the Lancaster where darts is massive and probably the hardest darts town around, the Lancashire superleague is probably the best in the country and you had to perform. I always wanted to be the best. I didn’t really get involved with the pros until I started playing on TV. The first player I got friendly with and still am is Eric, he took me under his wing a little bit and I learnt things from him ,and from other players just by playing them.
DM: We have a new world champion this year in Aidy Lewis, how do you think he is coping with the added pressure?, His semi-final Premier League defeat of Taylor and then subsequent loss to Anderson must hurt….
AWL: There is added pressure I don’t think there is any doubt about that; we knew years back he had the potential to become a world champion. But by his own admission he has failed to perform on certain occasions, but he is a young lad, pressures of life etc. Now though, he has done the business, next year it will be hard to defend his title they will all be after him so there is extra pressure. I think he will win more TV tournaments though.
DM: Do you think in Lewis and Anderson we will see the new Taylor v van Barneveld type of rivalry or is the standard such that we will see less and less domination by 1 or 2 players?
AWL: Yes Taylor was so far ahead for such a long time it was almost unbelievable when he lost in a tournament. What has happened now is that the players just behind him Anderson, Lewis, Wade even Nicholson have all beat him, so he knows he can lose and they know they can win. They have extra confidence knowing they won’t get battered, the standard behind Phil has improved I think, the others have caught up rather than him dropping down I think. But still whenever there is a TV tournament Phil is going to be favourite.
DM: Apart from Shaun Griffiths, who else on the Youth Tour do you believe has the potential to make a name for themselves in the senior game?
AWL: Joe Cullen is a star of the future who already has the advantage of playing on the full tour last year, Reece Robinson obviously has two appearances in the UK Open, and getting to the last 16. Aaron Monk hasn’t yet fulfilled his potential since winning the World Youth. The youth tour offers a great opportunity where previously there was nothing. For instance there is £2k prize money available at each event, there is good money and TV exposure with the World Youth. The lads can qualify for the Grand Slam and the World Championships so there is a lot for them to play for. I see a lot of these players as I try to go and watch Shaun as often as I can.
DM: Yes it’s a good structured route for them isn’t it?
AWL: I think it’s fantastic, obviously it’s the first year and there will be changes for the better to try and improve it. In the next couple of years I am sure that some of the current youth players will be seeing regular on TV events.
DM: Do you think the Q school is another step forward for the game, it certainly gives players opportunities to access the main tour doesn’t it?
AWL: Yes first year this year, and you learn what works and what doesn’t, next year I think there will be a few changes. I think a lot of the players found it difficult to understand, for instance if they didn’t get through to the tour, there was still tournaments they could still play in because at the end of the day they are still an associate member, we get so many enquiries. Next year I’m sure it will be bigger.. you have to remember last year the top 96 got tour cards, only the top 64 get cards this year because obviously the players who got cards from Q school got them for 2 years . The 65th player could be a really good player on the tour, him and the players below will all have to go through Q School, all the players coming through in the next couple of years are good players. As such you have to earn the right to play the tour.
DM: I remember reading somewhere that your wife is having success with darts, do you . have children that are following in your darts footsteps, as per Monk, co Stompe and Harrington Jr’s? and if so, have you taught them to play?
AWL: Yes she has won the Maryport ladies singles for the past two years, we also used to play a lot of mixed doubles competitions in the pubs in north west Cumbria and had success with that. Now she plays every week in a league, like tonight which is her sanctuary and she is playing well.
My 11 year old son likes to play, him and his mates play at our house in the garage. He loves it and actually has a decent action. If he wants to play seriously when he’s older I would obviously support him, but he has to want to do it I won’t force him.
DM: Do you think there is a gap in the market for darts coaching? It’s very lucrative in other sports such as tennis/golf etc. It a service Bob Anderson has just started offering…..
AWL: Yes it’s something that myself (PDPA) are looking at, we want to do it how snooker have done it, we are working with Linda Duffy another former Bullseye contestant and a top lady player in her time. She went on to do research at University and is now a professor in sports science. We are working with Linda and another guy who is a registered teacher, investigating different teaching methods. Basically we want coaches to be accredited, so it is done right and help ensure the future of the game. Not that what Bob is doing is anything wrong, he is a good friend and will I’m sure do a good job, he has a lot of experience and may also get involved with coaching for the PDPA in the future.
DM: Would you consider offering your services if the demand was there?
AWL: Yes, I‘d love to do it. A lot of the kids round here are mad on darts and I’ve done little bits of darts with them. I’d like to setup an academy when time permits. But again I want to do it right, once the PDPA accreditation is sorted. I know Paul who runs the Stockport College academy and that is very successful and the PDC are supportive of it. I’m sure more of these things will spring up over the next few years.
DM: A few high profile players and others have indicated that there should be a ban on alcohol in darts, do you have any thoughts on this?
AWL: I do think there should be a ban. They need to consider it, as it will progress the game and make it better. I remember playing the British Professional in Redcar in 1988 and that was my first televised tournament but also the first one where alcohol, and smoking was banned on stage, so it’s been an issue for a long time. People know that dart players drink, the problem with drinking now is mostly in the post match interview, you can tell some players have had a good drink and it doesn’t look good, although some players manage this better than others Taylor, Barneveld, Wade etc. We have to look at other sports and their standards and get to them.
DM: What about the idea of darts becoming an Olympic sport?
AWL: Darts won’t become an Olympic sport as long as alcohol is in the game; it will always have the image of the sketch from, ‘Not the 9 O’clock news’ which has done a lot of damage to the sport. Even though shortly after drinking and smoking was banned, that image still sticks in peoples minds. But pubs and drinking is the roots of the game. However with the young players on the youth tour there is an opportunity to influence their habits, give them media training etc and in 5 to 10 years the image could start to change, and could draw bigger sponsors in. But there is a long way to go.
DM: Now, would you like to take part in the Dartsmad double 5 …..10 quick fire questions, 5 darts questions followed by 5 non darts?
Darts used? – 23g Red Dragon
Favourite Double or Out shot? – D16
Favourite venue – Blackpool World Matchplay
Favourite player past or present? – Eric Bristow
Who would your ideal partner be in a pro/celebrity tournament? – Jordan, so I could leave her double tops
Favourite band/singer – Greenday
Favourite food – Indian, curries after Eric got me into them
Favourite drink – Remy Martin Brandy
Jeremy Clarkson, perceptive or prat? Prat, you only have to look at his hair
Favourite comedian – Peter Kay
DM: Thanks Alan, good luck with eveything and speak to you again in Jan 2012!