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Power outage: Why Phil Taylor's farewell marks the end of an era for the World Matchplay

Jamie Shaw 21 Jul 2017
Taylor celebrates during the 2016 World Matchplay (credit:Lawrence Lustig/PDC)

Special venues bring out the best in special sportsmen; think Federer at Wimbledon, Nicklaus at Augusta and Hendry at The Crucible. Add to that list Phil Taylor at the Winter Gardens.

The Professional Darts Corporation has revolutionised the landscape of the sport over the past three decades, but one tournament and one man have stood the test of time.

Taylor has 16 world titles to his name in three different venues since 1990, but perhaps more impressively 15 World Matchplay titles under the same roof since 1995 - a year in which Oasis topped the charts with Wonderwall, John Major was Prime Minister and Blackburn Rovers picked up the Premier League trophy.

With the WDC in its infancy, the World Matchplay was introduced as a trial event to deliver on the promise of greater TV exposure for the players who had taken the leap of faith to leave the BDO and form a new darting movement - the one which we know and love today.

Darts had predominantly been regarded as a winter sport, but the brainwave for a new summer event came from Norma Cox - wife of tournament director Tommy Cox - while the couple were on holiday in Blackpool.

The auditorium was to be within the Winter Gardens, a vast entertainment complex built in 1878 which had played host to some of the biggest names in music, sport and politics. 

It was everything the Circus Tavern wasn't: historic, spacious and capable of housing a crowd twice the size and at a further distance from the stage.

In that sense, upscaling to a venue of this size for an untested event was a risk, so much so that free tickets were handed out to holiday makers on the promenade in the hope of luring them in to watch the world's top arrowsmiths.

But with Sky Sports broadcasting the entire competition and the shock success of American outsider Larry Butler in the inaugural title, the gamble had paid off and the World Matchplay became an instant hit among players and fans alike.

After bursting onto the scene as Eric Bristow's protege in the late 1980s and going on to claim his first World Championship title in 1990, Taylor had laid the foundations for an illustrious career at the top level of the sport.

His love affair with the Matchplay got off to a rocky start, and though he won the title in 1995 and 1997, it wasn't until the turn of the millennium in which 'The Power' really began to make the tournament his own.

An 18-12 victory over Alan Warriner in the 2000 final opened the floodgates and a further four consecutive triumphs would follow, inclusive of his infamous nine-dart finish against Chris Mason in 2002 - the first to be shown live on television - and a feat which pocketed him a staggering £100,000.

An eighth title for Taylor was sandwiched between unlikely maiden triumphs for Colin Lloyd and James Wade, before the Stoke great, now at his peak, embarked on a 38-match unbeaten run which saw him lift every Matchplay title between 2008 and 2014 - including a miraculous bullseye checkout to seal the crown in the former year and a second nine-darter during the latter year.

After Wade had brought that run to an end in the 2015 Semi-Finals, Taylor looked to be on back on course for a sweet 16th title in 2016, but his perfect record in finals in the Empress Ballroom was tarnished by darts' would-be king - Michael van Gerwen.

Taylor is the last player still standing from the inaugural Matchplay 23 years ago - during which time he has clocked up 102 matches on his beloved stage and cashed prize money just shy of £1 million from this tournament alone.

Sixteen of the top 20 World Matchplay averages belong to 'The Power', including the highest of 114.99 against Barrie Bates in 2010.

Darts now has a cult following in mainland Europe and the World Series has recently touched down in Dubai, Shanghai and Las Vegas, but it's the bright lights of Blackpool which still capture the imagination and illuminate the sport's summer show-piece and that is thanks in a large part to the achievements of Taylor.

His triumph here in 2014 remains his most recent in a major televised ranking event, but could there possibly be room for one last chapter in Taylor's Matchplay fairy-tale?


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Power outage: Why Phil Taylor's farewell marks the end of an era for the World Matchplay

Special venues bring out the best in special sportsmen; think Federer at Wimbledon, Nicklaus at Augusta National and Hendry at The Crucible and add to that list Phil Taylor at the Winter Gardens.

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