The professional darts world has developed a well-earned reputation for combining the best of high-level sportsmanship with the licence not to take itself too seriously. The reasons for this are many and varied, but the grounds for it can be laid at the feet of the fact that darts started out as a pub and parlour game. Emerging from a context of high spirits and frivolity, even as the sport has sought to straighten its laces and comb its hair for its growing profile on the world stage, there endures a singularly anarchic streak that defines it.
This curious melting pot has led to the emergence of some truly eccentric players and firm crowd favourites over the years, each with their own hero creation myths and characteristic personal styles. A strong nickname doesn't hurt either. Something we can see is shared by games that have origins in common with darts. Both professional snooker and poker similarly trace their mainstream popularity to a long-running association with pubs and informal gatherings. As such, it's about as easy to imagine Steve "Muffin Man" Hine and Ted "The Count" Hankey partaking in the jocular atmosphere of these pursuits as it is to envision them stepping up to the toe line. Ronnie "The Essex Exocet" O'Sullivan and Stephen "The Wonder Bairn" Hendry demonstrate that even the most esteemed cue-athletes are not above a memorable moniker, and poker's individualistic flair for pseudonyms such as Dave "Devilfish" Ulliott suggest it's likely the only game out there able to match darts' own.
Still, darts, which until 1989 still permitted drinking on stage, arguably comes out on top as the greatest sporting carnival out there. As such, here we're honouring the game's greatest and most memorable personalities. Each brought something fresh, exciting and entertaining to our well-loved sport and reminded us why there's nothing quite like it out there.
No list would be complete without drawing attention to the legendary Peter "Snakebite" Wright, the 2 time and current reigning world champion Scotsman. His iconic dyed Mohican hairstyle has transcended the bounds of the game, making him the face of modern darts. Over the years, Wright has sported dozens of different hair colours and often appears on stage with intricate designs painted on the shaved sides of his head. We've seen winter scenes, fearsome snakes and abstract designs all vie for real estate on Wright's noggin over the years. Wright says the process of applying this "war paint" and getting into the character of Snakebite facilitates him getting into the zone to win, and if his track record is anything to go by, this tactic has proven fruitful. Rumours that the drink of the same name inspires his pseudonym are unfounded, as Wright has stated the inspiration is a much more direct reflection of his love for the slithering creatures.
Over the years, Steve Hine has developed a reputation for his characteristic walk-ons wherein he throws muffins to his adoring fans to Dizzee Rascal's Bonkers. The sheer absurdity of the sight of a top tier athlete plying the crowd with baked goods crystallises something deep in the core of what professional darts are and why we love it. In truth, Hine, aka The Muffin Man, is a former baker by day — a revelation which causes his absurd theatrics to snap into sharp relief. This is no persona, and Steve genuinely is a muffin man. Hine was actually behind much of the modern fanfare we now associate with darts as he approached PDC chief Barry Hearn with the idea of creating this persona, something that Hearn eagerly looked for ways to raise Dart's profile around the globe, welcomed.
Now retired, Colin "Jaws" Lloyd was cut from a different cloth to Wright and Hine. He's simply here to play darts, and those around him had better be prepared. Over the years, Jaws has demonstrated unbridled displays of emotion in both victory and defeat. His most notorious outburst was his iconic dartboard punch at the 2011 PDC World Darts Championship. The flipside of this uncontained attitude has him ripping his shirt off and parading the stage like a present-day gladiator. The point is that Jaws doesn't care, and fans have always appreciated the way he wears his heart on his sleeve (for better or worse)!