Darts: Power to rule Barney army

Sid Waddell assesses the two darters aiming for a bigger world
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The Independent Online
TWO WEEKS ago I sat in a Chinese restaurant in Rochester with Phil "The Power" Taylor and his bosom honcho, "Staffordshire Mick". Minutes earlier, Phil had destroyed Peter Evison 9 legs to 0 in 21 minutes at an average of 101.7. As the seven-times world darts champion sucked on duck and seaweed, Mick whispered: "That was just for Barney!"

Meanwhile Barney, alias 32- year-old Ray Barneveld, twice Embassy world champion and now a bigger Dutch sporting icon than Johan Cruyff or Ruud Gullit, was in South Africa beating top amateurs to take the World Cup singles title.

But, believe you me, at four o'clock today at Wembley Conference Centre, when the pair clash for one hour and a pounds 60,000 first prize, titles will not count a toss. Taylor, for me and many pundits the best darter of all time, wants to prove the Dutchman is not even in his league. Phil has had to play the top professionals to gain his unique status - guys like Dennis Priestley and Rod Harrington - since 17 players broke away from the British Darts Organisation in 1993 and formed the Professional Darts Corporation. Barney, it can be argued, has never been tested by those who remained.

But, stout Potteries lad that he is, it is brass that bugs Taylor. In a good year he makes around pounds 100,000. Barney, by contrast, in winning the Embassy world title in 1998 and 1999 and wowing Dutch TV, is raking in pounds 300,000 a year from tournaments, sponsorships and exhibitions. In just under a year, sales of his personalised darts have reached 40,000 sets at pounds 20 a throw!

Money matters aside, since he lost to Richie Burnett in the 1995 Embassy final, Ray, then still a postman, has developed into a good but not a great player. He is a fine 180 scorer and rarely misses doubles, but he's never looked the absolute hammer of all opponents. His two Embassy wins were won by 6 sets to 5. He can't yet be spoken of in the same breath as Lowe, Bristow and Taylor.

The Power, on the other hand, is the player of the decade, if not all time. The great Eric Bristow financially assisted, coaxed and cajoled him into the Top 10 from 1988. He taught him to "bully" opponents, never relent. It is that spirit which makes the former pottery turner a killer when ahead - Taylor can lift his average to 110 and upward.

I reckon Taylor, 38, is at the peak of his career. A year ago he was jaded through too much travelling to exhibitions, but now his pub in Stoke is going well and he's more relaxed than ever. I expect him to win, but a couple of factors will make it tight. Years ago, pro darters would have wanted a two-hour match so pure class would come out. Also, Taylor can be a slow starter. Barney never is. Finally, hundreds of Dutch fans could make Wembley sound like Amsterdam.

It makes for a fascinating encounter - but not a reconciliation bout between the PDC and the BDO. As in boxing, the champs make their own terms - and individual entrepreneurs, in this case Barry Hearn, make the match. I see player power and business acumen as the twin towers of the future of darts.

Sid Waddell is commentating on the match for Talk Radio