It was 1982, and Edinburgh was furious.

Scottish fans were out in force to support their nation in the British International Championship. Harry Patterson was the object of their affection; his tall, cocky English opponent the subject of their abuse. The Englishman ambled up to the oche to a cacophony of boos. Little finger jutting out, a mild smirk on his face, he struck the treble 20. Then he stopped, and turned to his baying public. The noise grew, and so did the smirk. In went the second treble; cue another turn to the crowd. The third followed for a maximum. It was never in doubt. That was Eric Bristow at his incomparable best.

“I have two bowls of confidence for breakfast every morning”

The Hackney-born ace didn’t burst onto the scene. He swaggered there. Bristow was known immediately, a smart-mouthed kid wiping the floor with men decades his senior. It was only a matter of time before he was playing among the best in the business. In 1976 he picked up his nickname, the Crafty Cockney, in a California bar. Two years after that, he played the opener at the first World Championship. He was the World Masters champion, the top seed and the heavy favourite. American Conrad Daniels sent him packing in the first round. But Bristow was irrepressible. His stoic assurance that he would be the greatest never left him. In 1980, following a classic final against Bobby George, he had reached the summit.

He proved hard to dislodge throughout the 1980s. Bristow dispatched John Lowe to retain his title in 1981. He was back in the final in 1983, and could have taken the crown again, but for unfancied youngster Keith Deller’s immortal brilliance. The crushing blow might have destroyed some players. The Crafty Cockney’s ego could take the hit. He came back with a vengeance, winning the next three world titles on the spin. Dave Whitcombe (twice) and Lowe were brushed aside, winning just three sets between them. The 1986 title would be his last, though he would reach four more finals at the Lakeside.

Dartitis robbed him of the chance to extend his darting dynasty. But his job was done. With 22 major titles, from 31 finals reached, his place in history was sealed. His legacy at the pinnacle of darts was carried on by his protege, a supremely talented Stoke thrower called Phil Taylor.

“I ain’t a good boy”

Bristow never faded from public view. He became a regular on the exhibition circuit and the Legends tour. His appearance on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here brought his sardonic wit into the limelight. Sky Sports put his keen eye and keener mouth to good use, both in front of the camera and behind it. Bristow plied his trade as a spotter and a pundit. When Twitter came along, the Londoner was never going to turn down another platform on which to share his opinion. It would land him in hot water. His comments brought about an unceremonious early retirement.

“Live by the sword and die by the sword. I regret losing my job, but I only worked for Sky because I love darts and that’s not going to change,” he told the Telegraph. Bristow never stopped saying it how he saw it. His brash, unapologetic style both ruffled feathers and won hearts.

It was an incredible shock when he died on Thursday evening at the age of 60. It was no surprise how he spent his final hours. Enjoying the sport which owes so much of its success to him, and spending time with friends and admirers. His passing was felt not just in darts, but far beyond. Bristow was a British sporting icon. Even in Scotland, where he received so much stick over the years, he will be remembered fondly.

He leaves behind his wife, Jane, his two children, and legions of darts fans whose lives he impacted in ways he may never have realised.

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Author: Edward McCosh