The Greatest Final Ever?

I am sure that every darts fan in the world has a favourite world final. For some, it may be the memory of Keith Deller defeating Eric Bristow 6-5 in the 1983 BDO final, after the Crafty Cockney had come back from 5-3 down. For others, it might be Bristow’s third final defeat in 1989 to the wonderful Jocky Wilson. If you are of a certain vintage then whichever final you remember most vividly is more than likely to have featured Bristow, who won the event five times and lost in five finals between 1980 and 1991.

All About Taylor
Growing up watching darts in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there is one final that sticks in the memory above all others. As you might have guessed, the final did, inevitably, involve Bristow’s one-time protégé Phil Taylor, but, unlike the majority of finals that ‘the Power’ made, this one didn’t go his way. As ever, Taylor was well backed by the betfair punters but, in 2007, there was a new man on the scene and he was ready to stun the favourite. This is the story of the build up to the 2007 final and a recap of Raymond van Barneveld’s incredible 7-6 victory over ‘the Power’ in the final. It would sit among the sporting highlights of any year or even any decade.

Star of the Oche
Since joining the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) following its split from the BDO in 1993, Taylor had become the undisputed star of the oche. Having already won the BDO title in 1990, defeating Eric Bristow, and in 1992, defeating Mike Gregory, the additional exposure and prize money offered by the PDC had raised Taylor’s profile and turned him into a national sporting star. By 2007 there had been 13 PDC finals and Taylor had appeared in every single one of them, winning 11 and losing just two – 1994 to Dennis Priestley and 2003 to Canada’s John Part. During his incredible run, Taylor had even recorded four ‘whitewashes’ in the final, avenging his defeat to Priestley by beating him 6-0 in 1998 and giving Part similarly short shrift in 2001. Peter ‘One Dart’ Manley was defeated 7-0 twice, the first time in 2002 and then again in 2006. In 2007, Taylor was aged 46 and was right at the top of his game; it would take an outstanding effort to prevent him winning his 14th world title.

The Dutch Master
Van Barneveld made his debut at the World Championship in 1991 and, despite losing in the first round to Australia’s Keith Sullivan, he would go on to become a fixture at the event. When the top players in the world (including Taylor) broke away from the BDO in 1992, Van Barneveld opted to stay with the organisation and he was soon rewarded with improved results and better showings in the big events. By 1995, Dutchman ‘Barney’ had reached the BDO World final for the first time, losing out 6-3 to Richie Burnett of Wales. By 1998, he had made his second final appearance at the Lakeside, this time recording a 6-5 victory over Burnett. In 1999, Barney retained his title with victory over Ronnie Baxter and he would go on to lift the BDO title twice more in 2003 and 2005.
Turning his Back

Shortly after finishing runner up to Jelle Klaasen in the 2006 BDO World Championship, Van Barneveld took the decision to turn his back on the organisation after nearly 20 years and to try his hand with the PDC. The additional prize money offered by the Professional Darts Corporation, the higher standard of play (Klaasen won the 2006 BDO title with an average of 90.30, Taylor won the PDC title that year with 106.74) and the greater exposure and profile available were the driving forces behind his decision. After being top of the tree in the BDO for so long it was a brave decision to make but Barney’s performance in the 2007 World Championship went to show that it was the right one.

2007 PDC World Championship
The 2007 PDC World Championship was not only significant because of Barney’s defection from the BDO; it was also a turning point for the sport because it would be the 14th, and last, time that the event would be held at the Circus Tavern in Purfleet. At the time of the tournament, the players were unaware of plans to move to the Alexandra Palace but it was announced four months after the event that a decision had been taken to stage the showpiece occasion in grander surroundings in the future. Without even knowing it, Van Barneveld would be guaranteed a place in darts history and would forever be remembered as the last man to lift the title at the spiritual home of the PDC.

Barney’s Route to the Final
Having recently joined the PDC, Van Barneveld was seeded 32 for his first World Championship and opened up his tournament with a convincing 3-0 win over Australia’s Mitchell Clegg. The Dutchman averaged an unspectacular 88.99 but he was far too powerful for the youngster from New South Wales, who, at the time of the tournament, was just 16 years old and had become the youngest ever qualifier. The defeat to Van Barneveld has, thus far, been his only appearance at the PDC World Championship.

Ding-Dong Battle
Having played in the second game of the tournament, following first seed Colin Lloyd’s victory over Tomas Seyler, Barney’s win would have filled him with confidence. That confidence was sorely tested when he found himself head to head with Lloyd in the second round. The 2005 World Matchplay winner and Premier League runner up was a consistent performer on the PDC circuit, and was worthy of his high seeding, but he had never really performed to the best of his ability at the Circus Tavern. His best ever run had been to the World Championship semi-finals in 2002, where he lost out to Peter Manley and, when he came up against the newcomer Van Barneveld in 2007, England’s Lloyd would have been confident of progressing to the third round.

As it was, Lloyd and Van Barneveld played out a real ding-dong battle in which the Englishman led 3-0 in sets but missed four darts for the match. Barney’s comeback to win the following four sets and go through 4-3 really showed his mettle, proving that he had the skill and determination to make a mark on the tournament. As for Lloyd, the defeat would signal the start of a dramatic loss of form and confidence and would be the beginning of a dreadful run of performances at the World Championship.

Following the victory over Lloyd, Barney’s run to the final was relatively plain sailing. In the third round the former BDO man defeated his fellow countryman Rico Vonck, notching a 100+ average for the first time in the tournament in the process. Having defeated Vonck, Van Barneveld met another unseeded challenger in the quarter-final, this time defeating England’s Alan Tabern 5-0. The Tabern victory set Barney up for a semi-final meeting with another Englishman – 12th seed Andy Jenkins – but he too was unable to stop the roll that the Dutchman was on and was steamrollered 6-0. Since going 3-0 down to Lloyd, Van Barneveld had won an incredible 19 straight sets and was heading into the final in red hot form. In qualifying for the PDC final, Barney had become the first man in the history of the sport to play in the BDO final and then the PDC final in consecutive years.

Taylor’s Route to the Final
If there was any surprise about Barney’s appearance in the final then this was more than made up for by the predictability of Taylor’s appearance. By 2007 the man from Stoke had become a fixture in the Circus Tavern final and, when he defeated Austria’s Anton Pein 3-0 in the first round, averaging over 96 in the process, a 14th straight appearance in the PDC final seemed inevitable. In the second round, Taylor saw off Ireland’s Mick McGowan 4-1, registering an incredible 109 average – the best average for any player in any match of the whole tournament.

No Match for Taylor
The victory over McGowan set up a third round meeting with Chris Mason, and the ‘Power’ once again made short work of his opponent, this time beating the 15th seed 4-0 and qualifying for a quarter-final meeting with Darren Webster. Webster, the English qualifier, was no match for Taylor, who, again, averaged 100+ as he strolled to a 5-1 victory. If the quarter-final had been a stroll for Taylor, then his semi-final meeting with Andy Hamilton must have been positively relaxing as he stormed to a 6-0 win, this time registering an average of 106.

Hard to Live With
During his run to the final, Taylor was never truly tested, but there are very few players in the history of the game who could ever have lived up to the averages that he was posting. Where Van Barneveld was made to work hard by Lloyd, Taylor coasted his way to the final and, when he came up against the Dutchman, he was lacking in genuinely competitive opposition. This was weakness that Barney sought to exploit.

The Final – Slow Start
With the form of the two men going into the final, it was perhaps inevitable that it would be a classic encounter but the opening exchanges suggested that Barney had given all that he had earlier in the tournament. Taylor took the first two sets comfortably, with the Englishman restricting his opponent to just one shot at a double – a shot at the bullseye for a 167 checkout that he missed. Indeed, the third set continued on the same course, with the reigning champion racing to a two-leg lead. It was not until the ninth leg that Barney finally got on to the board, notching a 14-dart finish, before Taylor won the 10th leg to take a 3-0 lead in the first to seven set contest.

Barney Finding his Feet
In the fourth set Barney finally found his feet, winning 3-0 and recording a maximum 170 checkout in the third leg. Barney then followed that up with a 2-1 win in the fifth set to put himself 3-2 behind and right back in the game. The next three sets went with the darts, Taylor taking the sixth before Barney replied in the seventh and the champion took the eighth. At 5-3 down, Barney began to enjoy his most fruitful spell in the game, winning six of the next seven legs to take the next two sets and draw the final level at 5-5. In the 11th set Barney went 2-0 down but, recalling the heart and spirit that he had shown against Lloyd, he roared back to win 3-2 and take the lead for the first time. Having not been tested at all in the tournament up to this point, Taylor could have been forgiven for folding but he held firm, winning 3-2 to take the game to a final deciding set.

Sudden Death
In the deciding set the first three legs went with the darts but then, in the fourth leg, Barney was presented with a chance to checkout 120. Going for Shanghai he found the mark with his first two darts but then crucially missed with his third, bending the wire on double top. This allowed Taylor to level the match at 6-6 (2-2) and meant that the game would continue until one player was two legs clear. Incredibly, the two gladiators matched each other leg for leg until the set reached 5-5; at this stage the rules stipulated that the game would end with a sudden-death leg.

Enthralling Finish
Whichever player threw closest to the bull would secure the throw for the leg. Taylor threw first, hitting the 25 and, in one of the most sporting gestures seen at the Circus Tavern, left his dart in the board, allowing Barney to deflect his throw off the barrel of Taylor’s dart into the bull. Having won the throw Barney did not let the advantage go to waste, hitting double top with his 13th dart and winning arguably the most enthralling game of darts ever seen at the PDC World Championship.