Bobby George still has a story or two to tell, even after decades on the circuit.

At the start of our exclusive interview, we took him all the way back. George’s memory is still as sharp as his darts, and he can remember the unusual setting for his exhibition debut.

“I’ve been doing exhibitions for 44 years. And the first one I ever done was in a place called Aylesbury. And I’ll never forget the pub – it was called the John Kennedy,” said the two-time BDO World Championship finalist.

“I used to get a pint for a 180. In the end, [the landlord] said ‘Don’t bother, I’ll just give you the beer’. He said, ‘Do an exhibition, what do you charge?’ I said, ‘Well, they had Leighton Rees six months before – I’ll charge the same as him!’

“He said: ‘When are you free?’ I had to say six months, pretend like I was busy.”

Just like the John Kennedy (the pub, not the man), George is still going strong. He reflects that the exhibition circuit has changed beyond recognition since his beer-soaked debut in the Buckinghamshire heartland.

“This is a semi-tournament, not an exhibition,” he pointed out during our interview, in the midst of the Modus Darts event in Grantham.

“We used to score on different colours every time. Or only doubles you could score on, or Shanghais only. It was always something different that others couldn’t do. Now it’s 501 only. An exhibition was something where you could show a skill you could do different.”

Pieter Verbeek/PV-Darts

Photo: Pieter Verbeek/PV-Darts

New era

It isn’t just exhibitions that has gone through a metamorphosis, of course. Darts itself has changed since the Londoner was in his pomp. The game could do with a character like him, but don’t get too excited – the pensioner ruled himself out of Q-School contention in an admission unlikely to steal the headlines.

“Not the way I’m playing now – I’m not too good, I’m an old man!” George joked.

“I earned a lot of money, I’m happy with what I done.

“I suppose some of the players haven’t got no character, because pressure’s on them all the time. There’s no freedom. Our thing was to win tournaments, get recognised, and do exhibitions. That’s where the money was. Now it’s to win tournaments [that matters].

“In their mind, they can’t muck about in exhibitions. Because when it’s for real, they could lose it. It’s a shame really…but it’s good for the boys that’s in it.”

One small step for man

John Lowe has often said that today’s big averages, nine-darters and record numbers of 180s are thanks to a more amenable darting environment. George echoes the Derbyshire legend’s sentiments, pointing out that players are now a step closer to the board than the embryonic stage of his career.

“When I started playing darts, we played from eight foot. We played on an elm board, a wooden board. Trebles and doubles were very, very small. It was more difficult to hit the 180s,” he recalled.

“They say the averages today are a lot better than they were then – it’s because the dartboard’s different. It’s a bigger dart, the trebles are nearer, the distance is nearer.”

So, if that’s all true, would the King of Bling have been smashing in the big averages regularly?

“I must say, yes,” was the confident response.

“When I won the News of the World in 1979 without dropping a leg, I had to play a lot of games, over ten months. You couldn’t make a mistake, best of three.

“It’s changed the game now, it’s a longer game. If the PDC did a best-of-three now, 501, you wouldn’t get the same winner every time. I wish I could play the way I did back then on the boards now. I’m Mickey Mouse now!”

Lawrence Lustig/PDC

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/PDC

Legends

George is a legend of the game, for his achievements and the personality that made him a household name. Of course, none can top the dominance of Phil Taylor, who is still showing his magic touch in non-competitive games.

The Bobby Dazzler explained: “He was a great champion, great for Sky and the PDC. But people get closer, get better; they have to, if they want to compete. He hasn’t been missed, because there’s always someone to take his place.”

That ‘someone’ was Michael van Gerwen, whose recent Players Championship Finals win added another trophy to a heaving cabinet. It’s often mooted that the Dutchman is better than Taylor ever was; George knows where he stands on the subject. But a close friend and fellow icon wasn’t as certain from the outset as he was.

“I met him when he was a youngster, used to play youth for the Netherlands. He was born a dart player. When I first met him, I remember saying to Eric Bristow: ‘There’s a young kid playing who’s unbelievable.’

“‘Ah, he ain’t no good, he won’t do nothing,'” George added, mimicking old pal Bristow.

“When he next saw him, Eric said ‘Boy, he can play darts’. And he could. He is the best player, in the world, ever – at the moment. Someone will replace him. He’s better than Phil Taylor, in my opinion.”

Lawrence Lustig/PDC

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/PDC

Bye bye Barney

Van Gerwen is another player off the never-ending conveyer belt of Dutch talent. The catalyst for the orange boom was Raymond van Barneveld, who will bow out of professional darts soon. A move into the exhibition scene is well-timed, reckons George.

“Raymond is a great dart player. He done a lot of players a favour by bringing the game into the Netherlands. Everyone wanted to be Raymond,” he said.

“He’s going to do a lot of exhibitions… tournaments, you’ve got to be committed more. The older you are, the harder it gets.”

To borrow the Cockney slang George loves, van Barneveld is unlikely to be boracic any time soon with the exhibition opportunities he’ll get. In his retirement, Barney will likely often cross paths with George, still large as life on the scene at 73 years old. We’ll be seeing plenty of the imposing London legend yet.

And who knows? Perhaps he’ll return to the John Kennedy one of these days.

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Author: Ed McCosh