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King Of The Oche Loves Snooker

Gary AndersonWhen a young Gary Anderson announced to his mates that his favourite snooker player was Jimmy White, he got a few funny looks.

Through the late 1980s and 1990s, most Scots were right behind Stephen Hendry as he dominated the sport, winning seven world titles. Anderson himself was born in the Lothian region of East Scotland, just as Hendry was. Yet in those epic World Championship finals of 1990, 92, 93 and 94, Anderson always wanted the Whirlwind to deny the Golden Bairn the trophy.

“Jimmy was always my favourite, even when he was having his battles with Stephen,” Anderson recalls. “It was just the way Jimmy played that I loved and the fact that he was obviously just one of the lads away from the table.”

White, of course, never lifted the trophy he wanted most, losing in six Crucible finals; four against Hendry and one apiece against Steve Davis and John Parrott. So Anderson achieved something his idol could never accomplish when he won his sport’s biggest title….not once, but twice.

At the PDC World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace a year ago, he forged his way through the field before beating 14-time champion Phil Taylor 7-6 I the final. Victory brought Anderson to the pinnacle of his sport, the culmination of 20 years of hard work and dedication at the oche.

And remarkably, he kept hold of the trophy by winning the title again earlier this month. He beat Adrian Lewis 7-5 in the final to bank the £300,000 top prize and become the only man other than Taylor and Lewis to win back-to-back world crowns.

His journey is all the more remarkable given that he didn’t start playing darts regularly until his mid-20s. In his teenage years he was far more passionate about snooker.

“I played at a club in Leith with the likes of (former pro) Craig MacGillivray,” he recalls. “My top break is 114 and I used to make 60s and 70s quite regularly. I was probably in the snooker hall more than I was in school. I can clearly remember watching Junior Pot Black on TV in the early 1980s.”

Eventually Anderson, who worked in the building trade for several years, discovered that his true talent was darts. He turned pro in 2000 and enjoyed moderate success in his early days on the tour, then progressed rapidly after joining the PDC in 2009. Two years later he won the prestigious Premier League title, and in 2014 he took the first prize at the Players Championship. And he is now enjoying life at the very top, with the World Championship trophy sitting in his living room for another year.

As down-to-earth as they come, Anderson’s recent success has had no impact on his humility. “I’m still the same bloke,” smiles the player nicknamed the Flying Scotsman. “I get embarrassed sometimes when I get recognised. But that’s not to say that winning the world title is not a wonderful memory to have.”

Gary Anderson

All pics by Lawrence Lustig

And being World Champion brings certain perks, like the chance to go to the Crucible to watch the final of snooker’s biggest tournament. He visited the famous Sheffield venue for the first time in May to witness the contest won by another very down to earth bloke, Stuart Bingham.

“It was absolutely fantastic, the atmosphere was brilliant,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how quiet it was compared to the big darts events – I was scared to sneeze or cough. Bingham played so well and he deserved to win. I met him afterwards and he’s a lovely lad. I met Shaun Murphy as well – they are two gentlemen.”

And Anderson’s biggest thrill of all came when he met the man – the legend – he had cheered on from his sofa all those year ago.

“I just went outside to get some fresh air and I was gobsmacked to meet Jimmy,” he recalls fondly. “It’s not often you meet your heroes, and he was definitely one of mine. We had a quick chat and he was very friendly.”

Anderson hopes to repeat his visit to the Crucible this year, although with the darts calendar packed tighter than three arrows in a bullseye, he barely has time away from the circuit.

“I would love to come to snooker events more often and my partner Rachel enjoys it as well,” said the father-of-three. “But I’m just so busy with darts tournaments and exhibitions – as it stands my next weekend off is in 2017!

“Barry Hearn and the PDC have created one hell of a sport for us. Within the last few months we’ve been to Japan, New Zealand, Dubai and many other locations around the world. It is tiring – I think I’ve had four days at home in the past 14 weeks. But it’s a great opportunity for the players to travel the world, and I can take the family with me sometimes. I know it’s the same for snooker players, their schedule has grown and grown within the past few years.”