Wayne Mardle: New generation threaten established darting elite

As the established elite’s stranglehold on darts’ major prizes loosens, Wayne Mardle believes the new generation of darts players are embracing its more professional era.

New doesn’t always mean young either as players like Peter Wright, Jonny Clayton, Jose De Sousa and Glen Durrant have thrived approaching their 50s – and Mardle thinks those arriving at the top level in later life are just as keen to give newer methods a go.

Whether that’s sports psychologists, personal fitness trainers or coaching methods, there are more marginal gains than ever to be had.

Gerwyn Price has surged to become the new World No 1, and the sport’s latest world champion, while for the second year in succession debutants are thriving in the unforgiving nature of the Premier League.

As the Premier League – which will crown its next champion in front of a crowd in Milton Keynes next week – has moved behind closed doors familiar names have been forced to look on as Dimitri Van den Bergh, De Sousa and Clayton have taken the big prizes and seats in the competition.

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Mardle’s move into coaching is well documented and while some players have been happy to talk about their work with the Sky Sports commentator, others would prefer to keep it under wraps.

“What has become obvious over the last year, and I have been doing this for about five or six years, is that it is a generational thing,” he told The Darts Show podcast.

“I get a lot of teenage players and those in their early 20s, as well as the professional players who are younger, but also the elder players who I have seen are the ones who have not been around for a long time.”

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🎯 Mardle on Slinging Arrows 🎯@Wayne501Mardle tells us a bit about what to expect in his new book 'Slinging Arrows: How (not) to be a professional darts player' 📖

Listen to Wayne on the podcast discussing the book👉

Mind games have become part of the sport, players are responding to criticism as performances, interviews and media scrutiny reaches a level like never before. Mardle believes it’s all part of the bravado associated with the sport.

“It’s almost like an old boys’ club, and we see it a little in the Premier League where players feel as a commentator I am criticising for no apparent reason and that is not the case at all.

“Players want to know why they are playing poorly, not why they are playing well. They also think they know their action better than anyone and that is not always the case, in fact it is hardly ever the case.

“I critique, and I always say why it could be better by offering a fix. I think we will get there eventually, and it may take time, but I think we will get there because we have to.”

It is all very different to the early days of the sport when working-class men became TV stars of the 1980s, followed by the 1990s explosion of the sport and its party-going, fancy-dress clad fans following the breakaway WDC (the pre-cursor to the PDC).

Mardle’s new book ‘Slinging Arrows’ charts his own journey from an accounts office manager to one of the sport’s great entertainers, but it’s also an honest assessment on the challenges that face those who attempt to embark on a career on the oche.

Mardle joined the latest episode of The Darts Show podcast to reminisce and by happy coincidence, his good friend and rival on the oche Colin Lloyd is a regular and the pair looked back over how things started.

Both men were teenager prodigies on the Essex darts circuit, rising their way through the local leagues, playing for their county at every level from youth to the men’s ‘A’ team – and both enjoyed the trappings, the camaraderie and fun along the way.

“I played to entertain, you played to win,” Mardle tells Lloyd.

And ‘Jaws’ does indeed have the majors, a World Matchplay and a World Grand Prix title are testament to that, alongside his status as one of only a handful of men to take the No 1 world ranking spot. But Lloyd is quick to acknowledge the fierce competitor in Mardle.

“Don’t let him make you think he wasn’t a winner,” Lloyd laughs before reference five World Championship semi-finals, two Las Vegas Classic runner-up finishes and defeat in the World Matchplay final for Hawaii 501.

“When you get to the depths of events, especially at that time you knew people were playing well and Wayne was always mixing it at the end.

“We were competing against the big names but there wasn’t the money available that there is now – and the players now focus on that which you cannot blame them for, it means they can be set for life.

“Maybe there was more around the corner if I had a Colin Lloyd mindset and that’s a compliment,” Mardle responds.

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The Challenge Tour and Development Tour underpin a thriving elite level of the game and give players the chance of a career that can be forged. Mardle is of the opinion that it’s those who now see the game as an opportunity to earn a living who are embracing new methods.

It’s been a tough year for everyone, and while the PDC are to take a huge amount of credit for being able to allow its Pro Tour to function with the same huge prize money on offer, the tier below the game is only just preparing to return to action and Mardle knows how tough the guys not at the top of the game have things, especially in the current climate.

“For professionals outside of the very top echelon, they wouldn’t survive without exhibitions, they would need another income.

“The commission money from darts and shirt sales can get them so far but they need corporate sponsorships and exhibitions that go with it because like a lot of sports the big money is shared at the top.

“If you lose early in the World Championships and aren’t in the Premier League you have got to earn your money somewhere. If you are losing, and this is the pressure, it becomes a problem and you start to worry.”

The advent of the WDC (the pre-cursor to the PDC) brought us to where we stand now, where the riches on offer allow the very best players to earn millions in prize money as well as top up their income through sponsorship deals but it’s not always easy.

“I think if players who want to be professional do read it they can learn from my own mistakes.

“The transition from amateur to pro has changed, there is so much to consider when you need sponsors, how the mind games have evolved and how the game now also plays out in the media – the way you have to portray yourself.”

“Jokingly I said to Colin that I played to entertain, but of course I wanted to win but the entertaining for me was so important that I think that it did get in the way of winning events – even though I did win events!”

Wayne Mardle

When Mardle signed up for his new venture, getting injured on the job wasn’t part of the process – but that’s what happened when he strained his vocal cords as part of recording the audio book!

It forced him to take a night off from his biggest passion – talking about the game he loves so much, even if it hasn’t always loved him back.

As he prepares to return to the commentary box for this week’s conclusion to the Premier League, he finishes with a few more words of advice for those looking to make their mark on the oche.

“You need to enjoy the process, you don’t know when the turning point comes when love can turn to disgust. You adore the sport and you go to bed thinking about it, but when you start hitting 45s you start to think why doesn’t it love me back.

“Be yourself, don’t listen to everyone else. I had it all the time, people telling me I lost because I was acting the clown. I wasn’t, it was just me being me on the oche, but what you have to do as a pro is really you have responsibilities.

“Once you start to put on a façade that isn’t you, you can get found out and it is tiring – I have seen it happen. There are a million lessons we can all learn, but you have to evolve. Can you take a hiding and come back – the good ones can and crack on next time.”

‘SLINGING ARROWS’ by Wayne Mardle is out on 20 May (Ebury Spotlight, £20 hardback plus audio and ebook)

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