JOCKY WILSON – SCOTLAND’S FIRST WORLD CHAMPION

JOCKY WILSON (22nd March 1950 – 24th March 2012)

On the evening of 24th March 2012, just a few days after his 62nd birthday Jocky died at his home in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. He had been suffering for sometime from the lung disorder chronic pulmonary obstructive disease.

Jocky was one of the greatest darts players of all time.

Embassy World Professional Darts Champion on two occasions, in 1982, when he beat John Lowe 5-3, and 1989 with victory over his old adversary Eric Bristow 6-4, Jocky was one of the genuine characters of the sport and also one of the most unpredictable. He was also a three-time Scottish Masters Champion, represented his country on numerous occasions and lifted hundreds of trophies during his 20-year career.

Jocky was also one of the sixteen ‘rebels’ who transferred their allegiance to the World Darts Council (later the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC)) in 1993 although shortly after that he faded from the darts scene as illness began to take its toll. Thereafter he lived as a virtual recluse being nursed by his wife Malvina until the moment of his death.  

When Jocky’s passing was announced, top professional players queued up to pay tribute to Jocky. Phil Taylor described Jocky as ‘a true legend’, Bob Anderson said that Jocky was ‘a wonderful character’ whilst Eric Bristow said, “He was a brilliant player to play against, unpredictable…” Former manager Tommy Cox told reporters, “It’s a very sad day because Jocky was so loved by so many people for the great character that he was.”

Wayne Mardle Tweeted “What a character, I loved watching him play”. It seemed that everyone did. In fact it was Jocky and Eric that fired up many thousands of fans’ enthusiasm for darts. They were great adversaries and there was always a unique humour on stage when they played against each other, especially in the Home Internationals. 

It was the unpredictability that fans loved; that and Jocky’s unusual style of throw, once described by sports journalist Deryk Brown as ‘a pronounced flick of the fingers (and sometimes [accompanied by] a small grunt)’; a throw if utilised by anyone else would have surely seen their darts miss the board completely.  

Jocky had not thrown a dart in a major tournament since the early 1990s. Suffering from depression, diabetes, arthritis and a serious lung disorder he rarely, if ever, left his home. He told a reporter in 1996, “I’ve been let down once or twice in my life, but I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me. There’s only one person to blame for the situation I’m in, and that’s me.” The following year bankruptcy was added to the burdens he had to bear.

In 2009 the PDC tried to coax Jocky out of retirement to make a personal appearance in the England v Scotland match named ‘The Jocky Wilson Cup’. Although Jocky agreed that the tournament could bear his name he declined the invitation to attend. However, he did agree to record a special audio message for the crowd gathered at the Braehead Arena, Glasgow. He said, “Hi, this is Jocky. Sorry I can’t be with you tonight. Hope you are all having a great evening. Please give all the players the respect they deserve” finally adding “COME ON SCOTLAND!”  This would be the last time Jocky’s voice would be heard in public.

Despite being out of the darts scene for more than fifteen years Jocky’s achievements, personality and behaviour on and off the oche has kept him in the public’s consciousness. Even today go out and ask people on the streets to name three professional darts players, a high percentage of them would include Jocky Wilson; once seen, never forgotten. This man’s contribution to darts in the modern era cannot be underestimated.

It is unlikely that many of the top darts players of today will ever be remembered as fondly as John Thomas ‘Jocky’ Wilson.

© 2012-2019 Patrick Chaplin

NOTE: In late 2012 I was invited by the prestigious Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) to write an entry about Jocky Wilson. It was a privilege to do so. What follows is that entry.

OXFORD DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY

WILSON, JOHN THOMAS (1950-2012), darts player

Wilson, John Thomas (popularly known as ‘Jocky’), professional darts player, was born on 22 March 1950 at the Craigtown Maternity Hospital, St. Andrews, Scotland son of William Wilson, brickworker, and his wife Margaret Stewart. Although he travelled extensively as a professional darts player, for most of his life he lived in Kirkcaldy, Fife. He was educated at the primary school in Elie and then at the Waid Academy, Anstruther. In his autobiography Jocky (1983) he professed to have been ‘Quite good at school, except for arithmetic’; the very skill that would eventually help make him a household name. Between 1960 and 1965 Wilson and his brother Tommy spent time at the St. Margaret House children’s home, Elie, where they were ‘looked after very well.’

Wilson left school in 1965 and worked for approximately four months at the Smugglers Inn, Anstruther as a trainee commis chef his tasks being menial including peeling potatoes. He then worked in a fish factory in Pottery Street, Kirkcaldy on the fin-cutting machine. Shortly afterwards he joined the army and spent three years (1966-1968) with the First Battalion the Royal Scots (the Royal Regiment), training at Pennycuik and including one spell of service at Osnabruck, Germany.

It was during one of his periods of leave that he met his wife-to-be, Argentinian-born Malvina Eva Narmantowicz with whom he would have three children, John, William and Anne-Marie. Once married they settled in Kirkcaldy living at 17 Collyer Street until Wilson’s darts career took off. Wilson admitted that before he became a professional darts player he had a lot of experience of life on the dole. Much of his spare time was spent in the Lister Bar, Lang Toun and it was there that Wilson, humiliated by a crushing defeat in a league darts match, decided to learn more about how to improve his game. He soon discovered that he had a natural talent for darts.

As he began winning titles locally Wilson looked for better challenges and moved his darts team allegiance to the Links Bar acknowledged locally as a prime route to the Fife County team, one of the best County sides in Scotland at that time. Wilson played in his first matches for Fife in the 1976-77 season winning five out of his six matches. (He may well have won the other match but on that occasion the records show that he overslept.)

Jocky and the Fife Cup

Winning a number of national tournaments during those years and the televising of the inaugural Embassy World Professional Darts Championship finals in 1978 made Wilson determined to qualify for the following year’s event. This he succeeded to do but although he was beaten in the quarter-finals by the eventual winner (England’s John Lowe) Wilson’s career as a darts professional was on its way. He qualified for all Embassy World Championship finals from 1979 to 1993, reaching the semi-finals on five occasions (1982, 1983, 1984, 1987 and 1989). He reached the finals twice and one both occasions won the title, in 1982 against John Lowe (5 sets to 3) and in 1989 against Eric Bristow (6 sets to 4). His first Embassy win in 1982 made him the first Scotsman to win the World title) and transformed his life. His annual earnings rose to an estimated £60,000 and he moved his family out of Collyer Road and into a spacious bungalow a short distance away.

Wilson enjoyed a drink and this could often mean trouble for the talented Scotsman. On one occasion he was banned for a year by the governing body of the sport (the British Darts Organisation (BDO)) for verbally abusing an official. A dispute with his then manager in the mid-1980s proved very costly but with his new manager, Tommy Cox, Wilson was guided to his second World Championship win in 1989 against Eric Bristow, a victory widely believed to be Wilson’s greatest-ever darting moment. Wilson, perhaps recalling how close he had come to defeat in earlier rounds told Darts World magazine, “Someone up there was looking after me.” (Darts World, February 1989, page 8).

Up until the end of 1992 the BDO controlled the sport of darts in Britain but at the turn of 1993 that control was challenged when the World Darts Council (WDC, later the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC)) was formed by sixteen professional darts players (Wilson included) their managers and some representatives of the darts industry who had become unhappy with the lack of televised events, accusing the BDO of complacency.  As a result the BDO banned all 16 players from entering BDO events. However, under the control of the WDC/PDC the sport of darts experienced a renaissance but Wilson was never able to enjoy the fruits of that organisation’s success.

Dave Whitcombe and Jocky in the semi-final of the 1984 Embassy at Jollees

In addition to his heavy drinking and smoking, the onset of diabetes and arthritis and bouts of depression plus a large unpaid tax bill, led Wilson to retire from darts in 1996 becoming more or less a recluse. In a rare interview at that time he told a reporter that same year that although he had been let down once or twice, he did not want anyone feeling sorry for him, blaming only himself for the situation he was in.

Wilson, who had become one of the best-known darts players of his time and arguably the most famous character in the modern era of darts, died on 24 March 2012, two days after his 62nd birthday, at his home in Melrose Crescent, Kirkcaldy of respiratory failure/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was cremated at Kirkcaldy Crematorium. He was survived by his wife, his daughter and two sons.

© 2012 Patrick Chaplin/Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Sources:

Darts World (February 1989), Jocky – Jocky Wilson’s Own Story, intro. Sid Waddell (1983), Patrick Chaplin, 180! Fascinating Darts Facts (2012), Independent (26 March 2012), The Times (26 March 2012), The Herald (Glasgow) (26 March 2012), The Scotsman (26 March 2012), The Daily Telegraph (26 March 2012), Colin Saunders, Embassy and Lakeside World Professional Darts Championships 1978-2012 – Volume One – Yearly and Accumulative Statistics (2012)

Likenesses:

All the above images source credit – Darts World magazine/Patrick Chaplin Darts Archive

JOCKY WILSON SAID

During the last week in January 2019 I was visited by Producer/Director Liam McArdle and award-winning cameraman Rick Walker from BBC Scotland who are making a documentary film about the late, great, unforgettable, Jocky Wilson, who passed away in March 2012.

According to Liam, it appears that my archive of cuttings, photographs and memorabilia relating to Jocky is the largest his production team could locate so he was keen to have access to it and to interview me. Liam and Rick can be seen here examining my photographs of Jocky and back issues of Darts World

(I was very grateful to my friend Patrick Dee, known as ‘The Curator of Darts’, for the loan of a set of Jocky’s Datadart darts, flights and ring stems for the BBC visit; things that my archive are lacking.)

Liam told me that, provided he can accumulate enough quotes from Jocky from my archive and other sources the, as yet untitled, documentary will be chronologically shaped around Jocky’s own words.

The BBC Scotland TX card promoting Jocky Wilson Said – May 2019

As far as I can recall, that was an original take on the life of a legendary darts player. Whatever the case, Liam’s enthusiasm for his subject was amazing.  (He and Rick were with me for six hours!)

The film, cunningly titled Jocky Wilson Said was first shown on BBC Scotland on Wednesday 15th May 2019 at 9 p.m. It received excellent reviews. For many the programme brought back memories of seeing and even playing against Jocky: a formidable darts player.

For those who missed it, you can see it at any time on YouTube.

(c) 2019 Patrick Chaplin

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