Jocky Wilson: Darts champion celebrated in new play

By Steven Brocklehurst
BBC Scotland news website

Image source, Bob Martin/Allsport
Image caption,
Jocky Wilson prepares to throw a dart during the British Open in 1984

In the days when darts players chain-smoked and drank pints of lager between trips to the oche, Jocky Wilson was one of Scotland's most unlikely sporting heroes.

Wilson, from Kirkcaldy in Fife, only turned professional at the age of 29, after winning £500 in a tournament at Butlins holiday camp in Ayr.

The tiny, overweight Scot with the distinctive throwing action and toothless grin quickly became a household name as darts gained massive popularity on terrestrial TV in the UK.

He was world champion twice, in 1982 and 1989, but walked away from darts in the mid-90s when he was diagnosed with diabetes and his drinking began to catch up with him.

He lived his final years as a virtual recluse on disability benefits in a council flat in Kirkcaldy.

Image source, Chris Raphael/Getty Images
Image caption,
Jocky wins the 1989 Embassy World Darts Championship at Lakeside Country Club

Wilson died five years ago, at the age of 62, and there were tributes from many who had played against him, including his great rival Eric Bristow, "the Crafty Cockney", whom he beat in the 1989 final.

Wilson's story is now the subject of a new play by sister and brother team Jane Livingstone and Jonathan Cairney.

Livingstone said his rise and fall meant that some people saw him as a great Scottish hero but others were a little embarrassed by him.

"He's a great Scottish character and he's also from Fife, as are we, and we saw this as a great opportunity to get a Fife character on the stage," she said.

"He's someone we were always aware of and impressed by his achievements."

Image source, Jeff J Mitchell
Image caption,
Floral tributes outside Kirkcaldy crematorium following Jocky's funeral in April 2012

Cairney says the play, which will be performed at Oran Mor in Glasgow, is "imagined" but it is based on a real-life incident early in his career.

"One story we really picked up on was when he was over in America for an exhibition match," said Cairney. "[He] missed his lift to get to the next destination and he ended up trying to hitchhike 400 miles across the Nevada desert.

"We thought that would be an ideal setting to place him in that difficult situation and see how he reacts to it.

"He's such a warm character, people root for him. He's the classic underdog."

It's true that Wilson defied the odds to become world champion.

Image source, Adrian Murrell/Getty Images
Image caption,
Jocky Wilson was world champion twice but gave up darts in 1995

John Thomas Wilson spent years in an orphanage after being rejected by his parents and joined the Army at a young age.

Despite working as a coal delivery man, a fish processor and a miner, he struggled for money and was unemployed when he decided to try his hand at darts professionally.

Within three years he was world champion and a folk hero.

His gestures to the crowd, face-pulling and pint-swilling made him one of the most recognised personalities in sport.

His picture even ended up on Top of the Pops behind Dexys Midnight Runners when they sang Jackie Wilson Said, a song about the famous soul singer.

Kevin Rowland from the band later claimed that he had put the picture up as a joke because their names sounded so similar, but there was no doubt that most of the audience in 1982 would have known who the darts player was.

Actor Grant O'Rourke, who plays Wilson in the production, says the man had "an unbelievable will to win".

"He had an amazing amount of determination to succeed and become world champion."

The actor confesses to not being good at darts but gets away with it in the play because not a single arrow is thrown.

However, O'Rourke says he watched lots of videos of Wilson to give him an idea of the way he held himself and moved.

He says: "It has given me a new respect for darts. To be able to throw a dart from 8ft away into a target that is about a centimetre wide, often with thousands of pounds hanging on one throw, the pressure is incredible."

Another Scottish darts world champion, Gary Anderson, told BBC Scotland he was "disappointed" that he never met Jocky.

Image caption,
Scottish darts champion Gary Anderson is a great admirer of Jocky Wilson

"I think he finished just as I started in the BDO but I've heard plenty of stories about him," he said.

Despite being 20 years younger than Wilson, Anderson, from Eyemouth in the Borders, says they share a similar "working class" approach to the sport.

"I'm probably still like what Jocky was. I still like a good laugh and a bit of carry-on but some of the youngsters now are darts and darts-only."

Anderson, who won the PDC world championship in 2015 and 2016, says that despite the huge crowds that watch darts now the characters of the past are hard to shift from the public's mind.

"You meet anyone now and talk about Scottish darts players and Jocky Wilson is always the first name they come out with."

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