Jocky Wilson, dartist: born 22 March 1950; died 24 March 2012
When the sad news came in yesterday, I vowed that Shiraz would pay tribute to Jocky Wilson, working class hero, drinker and sportsman sui generis. I had begun work on a piece when I happened upon a copy of today’s Times in the pub (where else?) and quickly realised that their man Giles Smith’s appreciation couldn’t be bettered. And as it’s shielded by Murdoch’s paywall, I reproduce it here in memory of a true class act:
Fans of the sport will raise a glass in tribute to one of its first superstars, writes Giles Smith:
It’s a little known fact about Jocky Wilson, the former world champion darts player, who has died, aged 62, that he was an accomplished pole-vaulter while at school. In time, a less athletic image of him would come to prevail: dart in the right hand, cigarette in the left, pint of lager on the table, brandy chaser next to it.
During his first years on the professional circuit, Wilson’s weight rose from 12 stone to 16 stone. It could be argued that although he was patently a good thing for darts, darts was not straightforwardly a good thing for him, a notion supported by the deflatingly circular nature of his career — from a council estate in Kirkcaldy, Fife, to two televised World Championships and household name status, and back to the council estate in Kirkcaldy.
Yet, in his pomp in the 1980’s, millions tuned in to catch the sight unimprovably described by Sid Waddell, the darts commentator, as “Jocky on the oche looking cocky”.
He was gruff, short and mop-headed — or in his own description, “fat, boozy and toothless”. Known as “Gumsy” by Bobby George (his more affable and better organised peer, who took him under his wing and led him onto the professional circuit), he was apt to remove his false teeth for comic purposes. Playing snooker, he would occasionaly use his dentures to mark the place of his cue ball while he polished it.
But the skills for which people knew him better included his astonishing consistency of throw, and also his equally rare gifts for intimidation and swearing. He was not above the use of physical threat (today we would call it “mind games”) and several times had occasion to launch himself into an audience to deal with hecklers on a one-to-one basis.
In an era when darts and the consumption of alcohol in heroic quantities were wedded to one another, Wilson celebrated the marriage more earnestly than most.
It is said that he seldom drank at home, but he made up for it professionally. He was once so drunk at the end of a match that he went to shake his opponent’s hand, missed and fell off the stage into a drum kit.
Among his favourite fuels was “Magic Coke” — a litre bottle of Coke with half of the Coke poured away and replaced with vodka. This could be consumed with the appearance of innocence even after alcohol was banished from the oche.
Such purification didn’t much suit Wilson, who seemed to find it harder to be the championship-clinching force he was without drink and nicotine readily to hand. His consequent withdrawal into reclusion in the mid-1990’s only had the effect of burnishing his legend. Darts seemed to have its first tortured genius figure.
There were some prosaic contributing factors, though. Wilson had owed £70,000 following a management dispute and then was hit with a £27,000 tax bill. To pay it off, he undertook a punishing schedule of exhibition matches and tournament appearances around the country — only to be diagnosed in 1992 with diabetes. He appears to have come off the road in order to save himself.
The sport understandably wanted to celebrate him and made efforts on several occasions to lure him out of hiding. All of them, along with most visitors to his one-bedroom council flat, were flatly rebuffed.
When the inaugural Jocky Wilson Cup in his honour was staged in Glasgow, he consented to lend his voice to a brief message of thanks over the phone, but no more. He preferred to live privately with his Argentian-born wife Malvina (who had a tough time of it during the Falklands War), and to leave his legacy intact. And maybe there was some high-mindedness and some courage in that.
Either way, his legacy includes some unrepeatable nights of televised entertainment in the 1980s, a plethora of salty stories, and a handy tip as to the best way to beat Eric “The Crafty Cockney” Bristow: “Hide the bastard’s fags.”
Sid Waddell in the Graun, here.