Column #HR68 Jocky Wilson – small in stature but a GIANT of a man!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Column HR68
Jocky Wilson – small in stature but a GIANT of a man!

The photo that finds itself in this special issue of Toeing the Oche was taken in either 1992 or 1993 at the Federation Brewery in England. The occasion was the annual Christmas Charity Show which raised hundreds of thousands of pounds each year for charity. The event was a combination darts exhibition, variety show, and Christmas party.

FederatedshowThose pictured are from the darts portion of the event. From left to right are Keith Deller, David Brook (CEO, Federation Brewery), Jocky Wilson, Bob Anderson, John Lowe, Jim Ramshaw (Chairman, Federation Brewery), The Old Dart Coach (Master of Ceremonies), and Bruce Spendly (Referee).

On Saturday night, March 24, 2012, at 9:00 PM local time Jocky Wilson died just a few days after his 62nd birthday. It would not be stretching the truth to call the life and times of John Thomas Wilson a Greek Tragedy played out on the darting stages of the world. Aristotle attempted to define a “Greek Tragedy” in his work Poetics, VI 1449b 203. “Tragedy is, then, an enactment of a deed that is important and complete, of (a certain) magnitude, by means of language enriched (with ornaments), each used separately in different parts (of the play): it is enacted, not (merely) recited and through pity and fear it effects relief to such (and similar) emotions.”

But it would be too easy to call the life and times of Jocky Wilson a “Greek Tragedy.” Although in a quasi-classical sense those around Jocky could see that with his great success came a failure of irrational behavior fueled by too much alcohol. The politically correct would look back on his life, with that irritating knowingly smile they all too often display, and predict the tragic result. Yet they would be missing the essence of Jocky Wilson. His life wasn’t a Greek Tragedy. Jocky was a “one-off,” an original, and a darts treasure whose memory should be savored forever. Jocky reading this somewhere in the great pub in the sky would say with a pint and a “fag” fired up “What the f–k is he on about?”

The darting world and its many fans knew him as Jocky or “The Wee Yin.” He was a character in a day when darts was made up of real characters. The game is different today – with manufactured “characters,” phony nicknames, and politically correct post-match statements. Back then players would light up a “coffin nail” while enjoying a few pints during the match. Following the match they would retire to a pub to enjoy a few more pints. Today those players are mostly gone from the game. Some would say that’s all for the better. So be it.

On Thursday, March 22 the TV announcers for the Premier League’s visit to the O2 in Dublin took a moment out from dispensing useless information to wish Jocky Wilson a Happy Birthday. “We know he’s watching. Happy Birthday Jocky.” Well maybe he wasn’t. Since he laid down the tungsten Jocky had become a virtual recluse living in a one-bedroom flat in the estates in Kirkcaldy, Scotland where he grew up. Just two days after his Happy Birthday wishes were passed by SKY TV Jocky would pass on going to the next place while leaving behind memories of a very special person.

Jocky officially retired from darts on December 23, 1995. That was the same time that he retired from public view. He never granted an interview once his darts were retired. His wife of many years, Malvina, explained, “He never has (given an interview) since stopping and never will. He thinks it’s all in the past, it’s over with.” Now it is.

Jocky was known for the prodigious amount of adult beverages he could consume usually while enjoying a cigarette. He also loved sweets while refusing to brush his teeth. When his teeth had all deserted him he was asked why he never brushed. “My Gran told me that English poison the water.” Got to watch those bloody English.

Was Wilson a great darts player? Absolutely. Did he drink too much? Absolutely. Did he get in trouble with other players and officials? Absolutely. Did anyone hate Wilson? NO (except maybe for some stuffy darting officials who actually think the sports about them). Prior to a match with Eric Bristow, Jocky delivered a good kick to the chins of the Crafty Cockney. It drew blood (and they were good friends). His language was usually “R” rated for mature audiences only.

In 1994, Larry Butler became the first and only American to win a major professional title. On Butler’s way to the World Matchplay title he defeated Jocky Wilson. Butler remembers Wilson. “I was sorry to hear the news of Jocky. In the pre-Phil days, he was certainly one of the four main legends who started the WDC-PDC. Of the main four, he was the most approachable, and such a nice guy. After returning home in 1994 and having a chance to watch the finals tape, I was extremely honored to watch Jocky’s interview and hear this legend call me the player of the week. He stated that he could have used the crowd, but had too much respect for me to do that. At the time I really wasn’t sure exactly what he meant by that, it wasn’t until the top 8 in the 95 Matchplay, when I was leading Dennis Priestley 7-3, and lost 9-11, that I really found out what using the crowd meant. I considered Jocky a famous friend who was never rewarded for all he did for our game. Of course that statement forms a list, but Jocky was probably at the top of that list.”

The Old Dart Coach has included in his probably never to be published book, “One night I was Out Drinking with the Fat Swede,” two Jocky Wilson stories.

ON THE MEDITERRANEAN

The chapter begins, “One of the great characters in darts or any sport was Jocky Wilson. He stood about 4 feet nothing, could play darts like a Tasmanian devil and would never shy away from an adult beverage. The “Wee One’ was a one-off. On my first trip to the Mediterranean Open Jocky was the reigning world professional champion. As such he would play the winner of the Med Open with the Med Open winner doubling his purse if he beat the champ. Wasn’t going to happen. The match was best of 7–1001. Jocky won 4-nil never letting the Med Champ get within 300 points of a double. Wilson said later at the bar “I f—ing could have let him win a leg but I no like him.”

The Med Open had one event per day with a cabaret and disco at night. This was the era of Donna Summer singing “Last Dance” which in retrospect was darn good stuff. I didn’t know Jocky personally at that time but knew him as a great darts player. At the cabaret one night the featured entertainment was the world champion table tennis or ping-pong player. He did a number of tricks and stunts that wowed the well lubricated crowd. As a final he brought Jocky to the floor for a game. To even things out the world champion would play with a 12-inch iron frying pan while Jocky used the standard table tennis paddle.

The world champion served the ball with the 12-inch skillet. Jocky returned it with ease. On the next return the world champion dropped the 12-inch skillet replacing it with a 10-inch one. With the ball in play that skillet was replaced with an 8-inch, then a 6-inch and then a 4-inch and, finally, the world champion held a 1-inch skillet. He hit the ball to Jocky who dropped his paddle, removed his false upper plate and, with them, returned the ball to an astonished world champion who missed the ball. The crowd went wild, Jocky did a little dance, and the world champion slunk off.

This was not the first or last time the “Wee One” would use his false teeth for things other than eating. Phil Taylor recalls, “I remember playing snooker with him and he asked someone to clean the white ball and took his teeth out to mark the ball! He’d always be doing things like that, and he’d have a great little grin on his face. His smile will stay with me forever.”

CANADIAN OPEN

In another chapter the ODC writes, “It would be some years later when I would become acquainted with Jocky Wilson. I was doing a week of darts shows in Toronto for my pal Ed Oliver. Following the last event I flew to Winnipeg for the Canadian Open. There to meet me were Ed Oliver and Jocky Wilson. When my bag came around on the carrousel I said to Wilson, to whom I hadn’t yet spoken,

“Get that bag boy.” He did. Walking out, Wilson turned to Oliver…

“Is he a star?” asked Wilson.

“Only in his own mind,” shot back Oliver.

Jocky carried the bag.

The next day the ODC found himself at the end of a day’s darting standing with the late Leighton Rees and Jocky. Together, the Welshman and the Scotsman and the ODC headed for a few drinks. Those few turned into a long night. The next day the ODC was asked…

“What did you do last night?”

“I went dinking with Leighton and Jocky.”

“What’d they have to say?”

“No idea.”

JOHN LOWE ON JOCKY

Like all players from the Golden Era of Darts Mr. John Lowe has many memories of Jocky. One sticks out. Jocky could get his feelings hurt, especially when he though he’d been slighted. He believed in loyalty. Mr. Lowe writes, “In the mid-80s, I was at the Canadian Open in Montreal. I was sponsored by Bacardi who supplied me with a huge hotel suite with a bar packed with Bacardi products. I won the Open so I invited about 10 people to join me in celebrating with drinks in my suite. The party was in full swing when there came a loud knock at the door. Lazarenko opened the door and there stood Jocky looking ‘worse for wear’ to the point of being steaming drunk. He walked n the room, looked around then shouted…

“Why did ye not invite me?”

I explained that I couldn’t find him but he was more than welcome to stay.

“No way, you call all F–K yourselves!”

With that Wilson opened the door walked out slamming the door on his way out. The room went deadly quite. Jocky had opened not the door out of the suite to the hallway but the door to the broom cupboard. It seemed like ages before he came out of the broom cupboard and opened the door to the landing. He walked out quietly shut it behind him saying nary a word. The room waited a moment before bursting into laughter.”

CHRISTMAS CHARITY

It would be at Mr. Lowe’s insistence that Wilson was included in the Federation Brewery Christmas Charity Show. Mr. David Brook, CEO of the brewery, had reservations about including Wilson. With the Brewery Executive Board in attendance it would not be good form for Wilson to misbehave as he often did.

“Don’t worry he’ll behave,” assured Lowe. Prior to the event Lowe made it very plain to Wilson that he had to behave himself as it this was an important event. During the playing of the event Wilson was the picture of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Polite, acting like a professional darts player, and relatively sober. The same could not be said for one other player who acted like the spoiled brat he is. With Lowe and Anderson playing the final Wilson retired to the board room/private brewery pub. He retuned for the final stage introduction and then returned to the board/pub room.

When the darting portion of the show arrived in the board/pub room there was Wilson sitting at a large round table joined by the “very proper” brewery board members. They were listening in rapt attention to one Wilson story after another, the only interruptions being the sound of laughter accented usually by a wave of a Wilson hand which was holding his false plate. Mr. Lowe, Mr. Brook and the ODC stood at the bar watching in fascination as Wilson held the executive board in the palm of his hand. Seeing Mr. Lowe and Mr. Brook watching him, Wilson got up, replaced his false teeth and asked…

“Am I doing OK?”

“You’re doing just fine,” came back the answer.

At The Speedy Service UK Open qualifier the players stood to applaud for a minute in tribute to Wilson at the Barnsley Metrodome when the news of Wilson’s passing was announced. The event was dominated by Phil Taylor who dedicated his Sunday win to the memory of Jocky Wilson. Maybe it was a silent tribute from above when three of Wilson contemporaries (Taylor, Dennis Smith and Dennis Priestley) reached Sunday’s final four. Taylor would best Smith 6-3.

Priestley mused, “He was such a character, a lovely man. You never knew what to expect from him and we had many good times. I played in some pair’s competitions in America with Jocky, and remember winning one with him in Las Vegas, which was brilliant. If you didn’t catch him in the right frame of mind he could be a little bit fiery and temperamental, but he was a very shy and private man away from darts too. He was only a few months older than me and it’s a sad loss. He’s another great player who we’ve lost young, along with Leighton Rees and Alan Evans.”

Jocky Wilson would know the highs and lows of life. He was the world champion in 1982 and 1989, the British Professional Champ three times, and added the British and Finland Opens to his resume.

He once lost a lawsuit with a former manager by claiming that “he was drunk when he signed the contract.” At the time most agreed that he was probably drunk and would have no trouble proving it. He lost the lawsuit along with a lot of money. The Tax Man would hit him next. Then came failing health with diabetes and, in 2009, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

For a man who meant so much to so many Wilson died alone with just his memories. Like the fabled actress Greta Garbo he “just wanted to be alone.” Alone with maybe his memories of how it use to be.

Yet even by himself Jocky Wilson wasn’t alone. His many fans were with him in spirit. He was with them everyday when some memory of a Jocky Wilson episode would bring a smile to a face that had been frowning. He was the little guy in everyone that triumphed against all odds to become one of the best.

Wilson once said, “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.”

Short in statue, John Thomas Wilson was a GIANT of a man.

God Bless.

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Howie Reed
The one and only Howie Reed (the Old Dart Coach) goes back decades with the legends of our sport - he knows where the skeletons are buried. Just ask any of the ADO and WDF old-timers! His widely popular column, Toeing the Oche, is a must-read.

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