Phil “The Power” Taylor against “Mighty” Michael van Gerwen. It was the final we all wanted to see, as we were constantly reminded by commentator and presenter alike during the coverage of the 2013 Premier League Darts play-offs. What a final it proved to be.
Despite being “16-time champion of the world”, Taylor’s progress to the ultimate finale of a thrilling PL season was no easy stroll. Twice during the campaign, we all thought that The Power had already lost his grip on the trophy he won in 2012, no more obvious than when he lost to Gary Anderson and Andy Hamilton in consecutive weeks. If the season had been over after nine stages (with the new format of two relegated players not being in effect), Taylor wouldn’t have reached the play-offs at all.
As it was, he only went on to lose one match in the final eight, fittingly against Michael van Gerwen, the hottest property in darts right now. The mighty Dutchman lost one fewer game in the regular campaign and topped the league after 14 games, pipping fellow countryman and 5-time Premier League semi-finalist Raymond van Barneveld into second.
With Taylor making it to third and James Wade rounding off the top four, it felt like a showdown between England and the Netherlands. The partnership of Barney and MVG had a terrible World Cup of Darts earlier in the year, topping their group but losing to the Finnish pair of Jani Haavisto and Jarkko Komula in the first knockout round. Perhaps, by reaching the final together, the Dutch superstars could show the world that a sport dominated by the British is beginning to turn the tide towards the continent.
It wasn’t to be. Van Gerwen kept his side of the bargain by dominating Wade, only looking edgy when he failed to close out the final leg and looked to be heading for a shock exit. He eventually pulled through, as did Taylor, exhibiting an impressive 164 checkout for good measure.
The final was everything that the punters inside the O2, as well as those watching across the nation on TV, were hoping for. There was high scores, nerves, celebrations, even a show of indifference from MVG towards the bull that could have cost him the match. Taylor lost the game whilst waiting to throw for 40 at 8-9, but it didn’t matter. It was thrilling all the way.
Darts is a quintessential British pub game, something you get progressively worse at as you down more beers on a Saturday afternoon. Barry Hearn is doing well to get rid of that image, as is happening in snooker. Last week’s World Snooker Championship welcomed entrants from the usual British nations, as well as Chinese hopefuls, an Australian great… and one exuberant Thai. Waiting just outside these ranks are young Belgians, Indian climbers and the pro rankings even include an Iranian and a Canadian.
The global portfolio of snooker is slowly building up and darts needs to do the same. It is, slowly but surely. The Netherlands have always been a big name, both within the PDC and BDO, but other Europeans need to take a look at Michael van Gerwen’s success and realise that they too can puncture Great Britain’s monopoly over the sport. The Huybrechts brothers from Belgium are a good example, but it’s not enough.
There’s a purely selfish reason, too. I don’t want to have to type up the results from 100 British entrants from a 128-strong field. One or two per tournament (as long as they were doing well) would be quite enough, thank you.