Paul Nicholson's darting heroes: Gordon Dobey, Trina Gulliver, Mervyn King, Dennis Priestley and Bob Anderson

Paul Nicholson's five darting heroes

In his latest Sporting Life column, major winner and leading pundit Paul Nicholson reveals his five darting heroes.


With the darting calendar currently on hold along with every other sport due to the global coronavirus epidemic, our star columnist Paul Nicholson will instead take a trip down memory lane this week to reminisce about five players who have influenced or left a lasting mark on his career.

Some his selections will surprise you and there's one 'legend' in particular who you'll probably not even have heard of - but that certainly doesn't make his story any less fascinating!

Since Tuesday, we've been revealing his choices one-by-one each day in no particular order, and now all five names in the Asset's Hall of Fame have been revealed...


GORDON DOBEY

Chris Dobey comes from an extremely talented darting family, which also includes his uncle Arthur, and I believe his father Gordon is the best player never to have turned professional.

I first met Gordon in the late 1990s when I started playing Tuesday night league darts in Bedlington and I said to my captain Terry "who’s he?"

Terry replied: "That’s Gordon Dobey. If you don’t know who he is now, you certainly will by the end of the night."

I thought that was a bit of an ominous statement but by the end of the evening I realised I wasn’t the best player on the team anymore.

He is pretty much a Northumberland legend, who chose to look after his family and everyone in his area and pursue a career as a building foreman instead of turning professional.

Nevertheless, he played Super League darts at a monumental level for a period of nearly 30 years and is one of the most destructive county players that I’ve ever seen.

I have a million stories about Gordon Dobey but the two that stick out are these.

Gordon and Chris Dobey (Picture: Davie Anderson)

The first came at the end of a very tumultuous county season in which Northumberland were scrapping for survival in their division and their last game was against Staffordshire, who were one of the best teams in the country.

Gordon was called in as a ringer for this match because Staffordshire were pretty much promoted anyway and he got drawn against a player who hadn’t lost in eight matches and blitzed everyone.

I had to call the game on the microphone and after going 2-0 down, Gordon went into overdrive and won 3-2. It was the first time I’d ever seen him celebrate and he really gave it large to the big crowd that afternoon.

The other story centres around one of the rare times he caved into the pressure and requests to travel to one of the bigger events, which he’d often avoid due to his work commitments.

This was the Bobby Bourne event at the Winter Gardens and, quite simply, he went and annihilated everyone!

After that we were convinced he’d turn professional and hit the big time in the PDC but instead he went straight back to the building site and returned to Super League darts and local competitions that he’d almost always win every time.

I think at one point in his life he’ll regret that decision but it did cement his status as a Northumberland legend.

Talent runs in the family

Just ask Chris Dobey who his toughest opponent is and I’m sure he’ll say his dad.

There aren’t many headlines written about Gordon but I think he wanted it that way and he’ll probably be uncomfortable reading this!

The Dobey family are almost the darting equivalent of the Charltons in terms of talent running in the family. Chris has turned into a world class operator while his father and uncle won the gold Cup Pairs event together, which is a really big deal.

If you were to see the same action and technique of Gordon and compare it to Chris, there is an alarming similarity between the two. They are technically perfect and although Chris is a bit quicker than Gordon – and says he only started playing quite late on in his youth when accompanying his mum to Bingo one night - you can see they must have played together so much as father and son.

TRINA GULLIVER

Trina is the greatest lady player of all time with 10 world titles so she has to be included for that reason alone!

But my first meeting with her came in January of 2000, when I’d been playing darts in local pubs and clubs for about three years.

At that point I’d never come across playing any ladies because the competitions I’d been involved in around the scene were men only while the ladies’ leagues being completely separate and few and far between in the north east of England.

So when I started playing darts for Northumberland as a reserve at the end of 1999 I started to see more women playing when we came up against the county teams of Dorset and Merseyside.

But in my third county game we travelled all the way to Warwickshire to play the best team in division one, who featured the likes of Andy Smith, Kevin Dowling and then, of course, Trina Gulliver.

I knew very little about her at the time apart from a couple of articles in magazines and thought she’d probably be pretty good. But I was then told: “Oh she’s not good. She’s the best in the world.”

I was still very naïve about how good a lady dart player could be – after all it was a much different era back then to the one we live in now where we’ve all seen how female players can compete.

But when I was watching her practicing on the warm-up boards I was transfixed. She didn’t miss a thing! I watched her all weekend and I was then convinced about what I was told - she really was the best in the world, even though at that time there had yet to be a women’s world championship.

When you have your first encounter with greatness like that, you never forget it.

Later in 2000 she won her first World Masters and in 2001 she lifted the inaugural women’s Lakeside crown to truly begin her era of dominance.

Gulliver vs Hoenselaar Darts Ladies World Championship 2002 Final

Trina has played through multiple generations of the game and won 10 world titles across 16 years, but what she was like in the early 2000s was as good as many men.

I’m pretty sure from the depths of my memory that there was one month when Trina had a higher average in the entire county system than not only every woman, but also the men! I’d have to do some serious digging to find out the exact details of that, however.

In this day and age, such a feat would be littered everywhere but back then it was sadly lost given the lack of exposure of the women’s game.

She was one of the best in the world regardless of gender back then so if Trina was competing in her prime today with the amount of attention, long matches and television time that Fallon Sherrock, Lisa Ashton, Mikuru Suzuki and Anastasia Dobromyslova have enjoyed over the course of the past few seasons, then unquestionably she would have beaten many men on stage.

A nickname of Golden Girl was very fitting for the amount of ‘goldenware’ she actually won throughout her career but the most import accolade she has is the MBE and I can’t think of another lady player who deserves it more.

Trina Gulliver MBE winning her 10th BDO World Women's Championship!

Trina was the foundation of what ladies’ darts has become and as the strength and depth of the game continues to grow, her impact must always be remembered.

If it wasn’t for her – and the likes of Tricia Wright, Mandy Solomans, Maureen Flowers and Linda Duffy – then the women’s game could have become a non-entity in comparison to what it is today.

In years to come history will show how the likes of Fallon, Lisa and Mikuru took the women’s game to new levels but they were all inspired by Trina and the other great ladies, who paved the way.

It’s the same in the men’s game. Phil Taylor, Raymond van Barneveld and then Michael van Gerwen will be remembered for reinventing the sport but you can’t forget about Eric Bristow and his generation.

FALLON SHERROCK DEFEATS MENSUR SULJOVIC

Trina Gulliver career stats

  • 10x Women's World Champion - 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2016
  • 6x Women's Masters champion - 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2016
  • 37 career titles overall

MERVYN KING

It didn’t take Mervyn King and I very long to become pals because we have so much in common – from our love of interests outside the game such as golf to our shared work ethic and approach within it.

I first met Mervyn at the Winmau World Masters play-offs in 2001 at Trentham Gardens in Stoke on Trent and he was playing pairs with Shaun Greatbatch.

I was introduced to him and many other players by Gary Robson, whom I was travelling with, and I was just this 21-year-old kid who’d won his local qualifier to compete at the national play-offs for the prestigious World Masters.

Out of everyone I met, the only person I was nervous about was Mervyn because he had an aura about him of “I’m better than everyone in this room and you’re the only people who can try and do something about that.”

I admired him before that day because of the way he played the game, the number of 180s he hit, his flawless technique and his steely focus. When I started entering PDC events he was always the first person in the building and that continues to this day.

An Inspiration

The most important thing Mervyn has ever done for me – or will ever do – is saving my career in the summer of 2009 after months of personal turmoil and difficulties as a professional.

I was banging my head against the wall and I didn’t know what I was doing, floating around like a paper bag in the wind.

He sat me down on a Saturday morning after I’d lost in the first round of a tournament yet again to Mark Dudbridge, who I just couldn’t get rid of at the time.

Mervyn said: “What’s wrong with you and tell me how I can help.”

For the next 90 minutes he levelled me out, listened intently to everything I had to say and instilled confidence in my game that I hadn’t felt for a good six months since the previous World Championship.

He told me to forget all the other problems I was experiencing and use darts as an escape.

The next day I reached the semi-finals and that was no accident. That pep talk stood me in good stead for the next six to seven months and helped me reach the World Championships, the World Grand Prix and latter stages of countless other tournaments.

It got my career back on track and then when I won my major title at the 2010 Players Championship Finals, it had to be Mervyn that I beat in the final didn’t it?!

Paul Nicholson vs Mervyn King - 2010 Players Championship Finals

There was a little balcony at the practice facility of the Circus Tavern, where that event was held, and after the final we headed out there together to share the moment that I’ll never forget.

Mervyn King pays tribute to Paul Nicholson

It can be very difficult to try and beat such a close friend, especially in such high pressurised situations like a major final.

For this reason I hated playing Mark Webster in some very important games and it did make things awkward for the 24 hours after each one.

But with Mervyn and I, we never had that problem. We had this silent agreement which was almost telepathic that we’d give everything on the oche, bash each other up, then be completely fine when it’s over – well, after five minutes anyway (!) – then support them for the rest of the tournament.

I know there are some players who have exchanged crossed words with Mervyn in the past but I’m certainly not one of them.

Longevity

When you talk about longevity you’ve got to talk about Steve Beaton and Mervyn King, although they’re still both at the top of the game for two different reasons.

Mervyn King's FIRST EVER Televised Darts Match - 1994 BDO Gold Cup

With Steve it’s because he genuinely enjoys playing darts, makes it feel easy and doesn’t complicate things.

But with Mervyn, who will be aiming to qualify for his 25 successive World Championship this year, I think it’s flat out stubbornness to win another big tournament because he’s come so close on many occasions before during his PDC career.

He lifted three majors in the BDO, including the World Masters, and finished runner-up in five televised PDC events such as the Premier League and World Grand Prix as well as the aforementioned Players Championship Finals.

If he didn’t believe to the level that he does now about his chances of winning an elusive title, he could easily skulk off into the distance, play the odd exhibition, ride his motorbike, spend more time with his wife Tracy and his dogs and have a lovely retirement.

But right now he still believes there is at least one more story to tell and looking at the past 12 months and some of the players he’s beaten such as Michael van Gerwen and Gary Anderson, nobody can say it’s not possible.

Mervyn King Stuns Anderson at the 2019 World Matchplay

I can see him going until the age of 60 but while he’s still doing what he’s doing, Mervyn will be a big threat to anyone in the game because he won’t stop that work ethic.

Mervyn King career stats

  • Appeared in 24 World Championships (1997-2007 in BDO, 2008-2020 in PDC)
  • Premier League runner-up - 2009
  • Players Championship Finals runner-up - 2010
  • World Grand Prix runner-up - 2012
  • Masters runner-up - 2004
  • 27 career titles overall

DENNIS PRIESTLEY

I idolised the way Dennis Priestley played the game in his own way – nobody was ever going to rush him and nobody was ever going to put him off.

Dennis was unflappable at a time when there was a big bulldozer in the game by the name of Phil Taylor and he just kept going undeterred for so many years.

Apart from Eric Bristow, he was also one of the first players to have a definitive shirt with the red and black hoops matching his ‘Dennis the Menace’ nickname.

In fact, I’d say he was the first darts ‘brand’ after Bristow and the first in the PDC era, which started with him becoming a two-time world champion in 1994.

1994 World Championships - Dennis Priestley defeats Phil Taylor 6-1

That added to the BDO crown he won in 1991 when he wore the colours of Yorkshire, and I think that image change also highlighted the direction he felt darts should take from 1994 onwards – full of characters, talent and those willing to push the game forward for future generations.

Dennis Priestley V Eric Bristow: 1991 World Championship Final

I, like many others watching darts at the time, looked at him with complete awe and he made us realise that darts didn’t have to be played in a library atmosphere anymore.

It could be rambunctious and completely bonkers but can also help you play to the best of your abilities.

Every time he played Phil Taylor I wanted him to win and although it didn’t happen very often, he remained a top class player throughout his near 20-year career in the PDC.

Dennis has always been able to fight through adversity on and off the oche, including his battle with cancer, and I don’t think there’s a professional sportsperson alive who couldn’t learn something from his passion and hard work.

The key for the PDC’s success was the fact that Dennis – just like Bob Anderson and the other founding members – bought into what darts could be rather than what it was before. That was the whole crux of the split.

They wanted to progress and, for me, Dennis was at the forefront of the evolution of darts.

Pretty much the first time I played him was on the biggest stage of all at the 2009 World Championship and that probably remains one of my proudest moments in the sport…especially because I won it en route to the quarter-finals.

Personality-wise, he’s like a quieter version of that Harry Enfield character George Integrity Whitebread! He’s full of Yorkshireness – which is a good thing – and I once had the pleasure of having a cup of tea with him and his wife Jenny during a tour of their old family house which was spinetingling to say the least!

Dennis was never going to change who he was for anyone. He may have changed his look on stage for the brand, but as a person he was so proud to be from Yorkshire and that’s another reason to love the guy.

He’s probably not the sort of person who would write a book about his life but I really wish he would because I’d love the wider public to know more about what those inside the game know about him.

Even if he was world number one today, he wouldn’t change despite all the pressures to keep everyone happy in this world of social media.

I think it gets forgotten how long Dennis went as a great player – even though remarkably he never won the World Matchplay in Blackpool, which just doesn’t make much sense.

Everyone harps on about his dominating year of 1991 and his 1994 title and despite only beating Phil Taylor once in 33 attempts after that final, he was one of the few players to truly trouble the Power for at least a decade.

He had mental scarring against Taylor and narrowly lost three World Matchplay classics in 1995, 2005 and 2006 but that didn’t stop him from trying his best.

Phil Taylor v Dennis Priestley: 2005 PDC World Matchplay

Dennis Priestley career stats

  • Appeared in 22 World Championships (1989-1993 in BDO, 1994-2013 in PDC)
  • PDC World Champion - 1994
  • Four-time PDC World Championship runner-up
  • Three-time World Matchplay runner-up
  • BDO World Champion - 1991
  • BDO World Masters champion - 1992
  • 33 career titles overall

BOB ANDERSON

My earliest memories in darts were from the mid-1980s when John Lowe and Eric Bristow dominated the game but as much as I also loved and rooted for Jockey Wilson, it was actually Bob Anderson who was the first person to make me sit up and think "this is what darts is all about".

He won the World Masters three times in a row in the 1980s and the world title in 1988, when he beat John Lowe, but it was the way in which he did so that captured my imagination and many others in my generation.

Bob Anderson V John Lowe: 1988 World Championship Final

The characteristic finger pointing at the board when he hit a 180 showed a level of aggression in darts that I’d not seen before from anyone else and I immediately knew he was the type of player I wanted to be.

When I was a kid growing up in a small town called Cramlington in Northumberland, there wasn’t much in the way of money and my dad was employed at the shipyards, where the work was sporadic at best.

So for me it was trying to find a sport I could excel at. I was good at football, cricket and athletics but as I grew up it was darts that I was better than anyone else my age at.

However, it’s not just talent you need – it’s also about being inspired by a hero or role model that you want to follow, especially when you’re growing up.

Many youngsters at the time wanted to be Mirandinha after he brought his Brazilian flamboyance to Newcastle United…but I wanted to be like Bob Anderson!

I didn’t want to mimic the whole finger pointing thing because that’s his and you shouldn’t copy anyone else – but I did want to show the same kind of passion and determination at the oche.

If I did that 10% as much as Bob then I’d say that’s pretty much a job well done.

Crowd-pleasing Cowboy

I must say, although he had some good walk-ons, he did have some bad ones too!

The one with the horse will always go down as one of the worst publicity stunts that have ever graced the game. Bob didn’t need these crazy walk-ons – he was able to command a crowd with zero work.

He had an intimidating stage presence at different parts of his career and I would have hated to come up against him during his real shining light phase of his career in the 1980s.

Bob was a crucial part of the PDC’s breakaway in the early 1990s because he was one of the guys who put his careers on the line in order to make it all work and help future generations of the sport enjoy the benefits they now have today.

If it wasn’t for the sacrifices made by the likes of Bob Anderson then the PDC wouldn’t be what it is now, and I’ll always be grateful for what they all did and also what they do now.

There was perhaps less pressure on Bob at that time because the figureheads like Phil Taylor, Dennis Priestly and Eric Bristow took most of the media weight while the financial weight was taken by the likes of Tommy Cox and Dick Allix.

But other players like Bob can’t be forgotten.

You have to wonder whether the choice he made effectively cost him winning more world titles and the question probably has crossed his mind to.

If he’d stayed in the BDO I think he would have won another couple of world titles and some other majors because he was still a strong player in that era, but on the flip side it wouldn’t have been easy with the likes of Steve Beaton, Richie Burnett and Raymond van Barneveld in that era.

It wouldn’t have been a guarantee, but he definitely had the talent.

Bob Anderson v Peter Manley 2004 PDC World Championship

They say you shouldn’t ever meet your heroes by Bob disproved that myth for me when I first got the opportunity to have dinner with him at a Chinese restaurant in Nottingham early on in my career.

He actually asked to meet me which was very surreal and the whole experience was one that I’ll never forget. He proved you can be a great person away from the dart board but a demon when you’re on it!

I still idolise him and although I’ve played golf with him, I’ve never played darts against him, which is probably a good thing as he’d probably kick my arse!

Bob Anderson career stats

  • Appeared in 25 successive World Championships (1988-1993 in BDO, 1994-2008 in PDC)
  • BDO World Champion - 1988
  • World Masters champion - 1986, 1987, 1988
  • Two-time PDC world championship semi-finalist - 2004, 2005
  • 27 career titles overall

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