This is a sport that can serve up superlatives as quickly as a barman here can pull pints of beer, but last night's final of the world championship at the Essex nightspot will surely go down as the greatest match in history.
In a contest that tested even the legendary lexicon of Sid Waddell, the voice of darts, Raymond van Barneveld came back from 3-0 down to win 7-6 and deny Phil "The Power" Taylor his 14th world title.
With the match tied at 6-6 and 5-5 in the deciding set, the match went down to a sudden-death final leg. Van Barneveld finally held his nerve to hit double 20 and win the crown, having failed with five previous darts to land the £100,000 first prize.
The 39-year-old Dutchman, playing in his first Professional Darts Corporation world championship following his defection from the rival British Darts Organisation, made a slow start but overhauled the greatest player in the history of the sport with some magnificent throwing. Van Barneveld, who won the BDO world title four times, threw 21 maximum 180s, a record for the final, and finished with a three-dart average of 101.06, fractionally ahead of Taylor's 100.99.
"To beat Phil Taylor after such a final is unbelievable," Van Barneveld said. "He's a fantastic player and after what he's done for darts they should put up a statue of him when he retires. I had to be at my very best to beat him because he just seemed to hit every double he went for."
The Dutchman added: "I'm very proud. A lot of Dutch people were watching on television tonight and I'm just so pleased to have won it for them."
Taylor said he had no complaints about his own performance and paid tribute to the quality of Van Barneveld's play. "I don't feel as though I've lost," he said. "Of all the finals I've played in this was the best of them."
This was the final the sport had been hoping for ever since the first arrows were thrown at the Circus Tavern a week before Christmas. It was the most eagerly anticipated final since John Lowe and Eric Bristow met in 1987 and it did not disappoint. The Circus Tavern crackled with anticipation and Taylor was determined to exploit the tension at the start. He stole Van Barneveld's thunder by entering the arena wearing a shirt of gleaming Dutch orange and ruffled his opponent further by choosing not to throw first. Van Barneveld's first visit to the board yielded just 43 points, while Taylor's produced 137.
Taylor's first attempt at a double took the first leg, a 164 check-out secured the second and two successive 180s set up the third. He took the first set with a three-dart average of 112.
His throwing in the second set was almost as impressive. Taylor took the first leg with a 111 check-out, the second with 12 darts and the third despite missing his first two attempts at a double. Van Barneveld was not playing badly, but his 98.8 average was 11 points behind Taylor's and by this stage he had had only one attempt at a double.
Van Barneveld finally broke his duck at the ninth attempt, courtesy of a 14-dart leg, but Taylor closed out the third set to take a 3-0 lead. "At that stage I was just praying that I wouldn't lose 7-0," Van Barneveld said later.
A similarly poor start had been a major factor in his shock defeat by Jelle Klaasen in his last BDO world final 12 months ago, but as Taylor's level dipped slightly the Dutchman fought his way back into contention. He took the fourth set 3-0 with a maximum check-out of 170, which had even Taylor applauding, and won the fifth 3-2, coming back from 2-1 down with a spectacular 129 check-out (treble 19, treble 12, double 18).
Taylor went back into a 5-3 lead, but Van Barneveld responded by taking three sets in a row. He had his first dart to win the title when he led 3-1 in the final set, but it proved to be the first of five missed opportunities. When Taylor threw a 180 at the start of the deciding leg it seemed that Van Barneveld might live to regret those misses, but Taylor faltered and the Dutchman finally landed double top to take the crown.Reuse content