An email conversation with Sid Waddell: 'Phil said he couldn't take the pressure but still won his title back'

Why Barney and Taylor will not face off; Falling foul of Mary Whitehouse effect; Matching commentary to Thatcher exit
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The PDC World Championship starts today. The sponsors, Ladbrokes, have odds of 2-1 on Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld meeting in the final. Should we be snapping their hands off? And who do you think will win? I wouldn't bet on Phil playing Ray in the final. In the last month Phil has shown ferocious form and should go through the field like a hot knife through butter, but Barney seems plagued by self-doubt. I feel Adrian Lewis, James Wade and Andy Hamilton will be in at the kill. One month ago I thought the brilliantly consistent Wade would become world champion, but now, sensing Taylor's mood, I fancy him.

Last year's final was a classic: the only time both players have averaged more than 100 in one. But what is the a) best quality; and b) most dramatic, match you've ever witnessed? The best quality match was last year's final. The most dramatic was Phil coming back from 4-1 down against Kevin Painter in the 2004 final. He was screaming and yelling about not being able to take the pressure during the break at 4-1 but did what only he can do and got his title back.

Taylor has been in the last 14 finals, winning 11. Does he deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as other recent dominators of their sports: Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Michael Schumacher, Michael Phelps? And knowing Taylor as well as you do, what's central to his success? He should be mentioned in a "world" context. In this I would put Woods, Don Bradman, Pele, Jesse Owens and Babe Ruth the highest sporting company. Phil's success is due to a great gift, hunger for glory and an uncanny knack of making a bad visit to the board the cue for a superb next visit. One mistake or negative vibe would panic some but it seems to focus "The Power".

This year's championship will be at Alexandra Palace. Do you think the atmosphere could suffer without the Circus Tavern's intimacy? The Circus was a great venue in the mould of Jollees in Stoke, with the crowd jammed right up on the players. The Ally Pally will be like the Winter Gardens at Blackpool part cathedral, part opera house. But the key is the crowd, who know they are part of the ambience and the players respond to that. The joint will positively rock.

In your 30 years as a sports commentator, what is your proudest achievement? Being voted Sports Commentator of the Year in 2002 by 75 other sports commentators.

You were born the son of a miner in Ashington, a town in Northumberland that despite a population of about 28,000, has produced, Jackie Milburn, Bobby and Jack Charlton and Steve Harmison among others. What's in the water? Ashington was a coal-mining boom town. It was just like Dodge City or Abilene in the cattle-droving days with immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, and miners from Cornwall all hurled together to dig coal a rare mix of strong excitable stock. So sport was a main means of expression away from the dangerous drudge of the pit. My dad and his pals raced whippets and pro runners, and encouraged me to play rugby and sprint. Our role models were Jackie Milburn and the Charltons; they made us proud to be Ashington lads.

You're currently writing a book on Geordie slang. Give us a few of your favourite expressions, and explain how the Pitmatic dialect differs. My book will feature such lines as "If patter was watter yee'd be droonded". Literally "If chat was water you would drown". But my deeper translation is "You have verily got the gift of the gab, but I would not trust you as far as I could spit cannonballs". Pitmatic is the guttural chat of Durham and Northumberland miners.

You once had a book, Bedroll Bella, banned by WH Smith for being too racy. Give us a taste of why it was deemed so naughty. Bedroll Bella was published in 1973 and banned by Smiths and Menzies. It had a 17-year-old lass using foul language to pushy, randy lads but had no obscenity in the prose. Mrs Whitehouse's Campaign of Light was in full flow...and I copped the backlash.

In a previous interview in this slot, you named Jesse Owens as your athlete of the 20th century. If you chose one sporting event from the last 100 years to attend, would it be the 1936 Olympics? And what other contenders would there be? 1936 would have been great to see this brilliant man running so superbly and see Hitler storm out. I wish I'd been at Wembley in the early 1950s to see "Wor Jackie" and the lads winning the FA Cup.

If you'd been present as a commentator when Maggie Thatcher left No 10 for the last time, what line of commentary would you have given? "Sooo the poor little Iron Lady ends her years of vicious tyranny sobbing in a posh car. She took the kids' milk, made the rich richer and she smashed the coal miners... what a magnificent legacy!"

What's the best book you've ever read? And the best sports book? Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Work of a genius to show that we are mere bits of dandruff on the rich flowing mane of the natural world. Yet still we procreate, hope, suffer, and dream. Sports book: The Natural by Bernard Malamud. It shows the agony, destruction and pathos that come often with great sports talent.

You can host a dinner party for six people from any era of history. Who? Where do you dine? What do you eat and drink? I book a table at Sous le Nez in Leeds. My guests have steak, chicken, fish and chips with Pinot Grigio or designer lager. Guests: John Prescott, Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Gloria Grahame, Jack Nicholson and Norman Mailer.

Sid Waddell is a commentator with Sky Sports, which is showing the World Darts Championship exclusively live, beginning this evening at 7pm


* Born Northumberland, 10 August 1940.

* Education King Edwards VI School, Morpeth; St John's College, Cambridge (graduated with a degree in modern history).

* 1972-1976 Producer, Yorkshire Television (created show Indoor League).

* 1976-1994 BBC (darts commentator from 1978.

* 1994-present Sky TV (darts commentator).

* Other credits: TV series, writer: Jossy's Giants (BBC, 1986); Sloggers (BBC, 1994-96). Has published 12 books, including biographies of John Lowe, Jocky Wilson and Phil Taylor.