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Past Times

Forgotten memoir reveals Jocky Wilson’s iconic career started with ‘humiliation’ on Kirkcaldy pub oche

Glen Barclay
Jocky Wilson with the World Championship trophy in 1982. Image: DC Thomson.
Jocky Wilson with the World Championship trophy in 1982. Image: DC Thomson.

Four decades have passed since two-time world darts champion Jocky Wilson lifted the lid on his Fife upbringing and his meteoric rise to oche stardom in his self-titled autobiography.

The book provided great insight in to the life of the sport’s greatest and much-missed characters.

It is hugely sought-after and can fetch a top price online but back in 1983 the 160-page story of this larger-than-life character was serialised in The Courier over a series of weeks.

Early life

Jocky explained how it all began for him in the opening chapter of the book.

“Up the Fife coast from Kirkcaldy, past Largo where they say Robinson Crusoe lived, is the quiet village of Elie,” he said.

“At one end of the village is a detached stone house with big windows and a sun terrace.

“It is the St Margaret’s House children’s home and I and my brother Tommy were there for several years around 1960 to 1965.”

Jocky Wilson signing some autographs at the Marryat Hall in Dundee in 1982. Image: DC Thomson.

His entry to the world of darts came after a stint of unemployment.

“Before I got to be a darts professional I had a lot of experience of life on the dole.

“When you are skint you appreciate good friends, a game of darts for a half-pint, and above all a good pub. Which brings me to the Lister Bar.”

But it wasn’t a case of natural talent for Jocky, he faced his fair share of humiliation before the darts began to behave themselves.

Jocky Wilson was the original Fife Flyer and lit up the oche. Image: DC Thomson.

“One night I was sitting with my pint in the games room as a team match was going on. Suddenly they announced that the Lister needed another player to face-up to Colin Snowdon of the Auld House, another Kirkcaldy pub.

“I volunteered, or rather was roped in, even though I knew Colin was a good thrower. The rules were 301, double to start as well as finish – not so usual these days. I did my best, but he finished before I even got the double to start. Some people call it the white-wash, some the brush – in Scotland, it is the granny.

“I was humiliated, but it started me on the road to the world title.”

Jocky makes the breakthrough

In 1982 Jocky won the British Open on January 1 which was a one-day event “where players get no second chances and the winner takes all”.

Determined to make his brothers’ sacrifice of a Hogmanay away from Scotland worthwhile Jocky blew away everyone in his path before coming up against The Crafty Cockney in the final.

Jocky with a group of fans from Fife at the Caird Hall in Dundee in 1982. Image: DC Thomson.

Jocky wrote: “My opponent Eric Bristow had won the title in 1978 and 1981.

“I was playing well. I did a 12 dart leg of 501, 123, 180, 140, 58 game shot – and I took the first set.

“Eric levelled it at one set all. Then in the final set, at 1-1, I wanted 46, with Eric breathing down my neck on 48.

“My first dart hit Single 10, the next just missed Double 18, the third went in.

“I kissed the board with joy – and relief. I collected the £3000 first prize and allowed myself one vodka and coke with Ron Clover, my manager.

“I was now set for what the darts players call ‘The Big One’ – the Embassy World Professional Championship.”

Jocky Wilson – World Champion

Jocky defeated fellow Scot, Rab Smith, bitter rival Alan Evans and youngster David Millar along the way before facing Stefan Lord in the semi-final.

He recalled: “I was just itching to get out on that stage.

“I think Stefan realised that I was on song.

“It was not long before I rattled in a 10 darter to equal the TV world record of Evans and Leighton Rees.

“That night was the highest point of my throwing career. I pulled out all the stops.

“I won four sets to one.”

Millions watched at home as Jocky stepped out in front of the divided crowd of spectators to face John Lowe for the largest prize pot he had ever played for

Jocky said: “John started the better. He went one set up. Then I got going and after a 144 check-out, I shot in to a three sets to one lead.

“By then I felt the juices running. I banged in a 116 finished and a 141. Then I sank Double 16 to win the vital eighth set, and I was champ.”

After settling down to enjoy his win Jocky was then hit with the bombshell that his family had been forced to evacuate their home some four days prior.

Jocky with John Lowe and Cliff Lazarenko. Image: DC Thomson.

“Ron had thought it best to keep this from me and Malvina had been going back each night to answer my telephone calls. That’s support for you.

“The flat upstairs had flooded and the water ran down to ours.

“I was going to have a go at the council but used my prize money to start buying a house instead.”

‘I am a simple sort of bloke’

What jumps from those serialised pages is that out of the limelight it was apparent that Jocky was a family man who was very proud of his Fife heritage.

He broke it down further.

“Deep down I am a simple sort of bloke.

“Take me to the mountains of New Zealand and I will be looking for a can of export; drop me in the United States and in between sessions on the dartboard I will be happy as Larry going around Disneyland.”

Darts champion Jocky Wilson, with his trophy at the ABC Cinema in Kirkcaldy. Image: DC Thomson.

Jocky continually referenced the area in which he honed his craft and of course he remained in Kirkcaldy for the majority of his life.

“Kirkcaldy in early autumn is not what you would call mellow. The wind whips in along the front and the water of the Firth of Forth does not look very inviting.

“It is the time of year when a man feels happy to have a good home to go to. It is then that I get a chance to get smug in the bungalow that I got through dart’s.

“I like to think our house is comfortable and one day I reckon I will put a plaque on the door.

“They tell me the footballing Charlton brother bought their parents a house after the 1966 World Cup win by England, and called it ‘Jules Rimet’.

“Well I reckon I will call my house ‘Embassy 1982’ because that’s what paid for it.”

The man behind the oche

The fame came fast and quick with Jocky perhaps turning to alcohol a little more than he would have liked in order to cope.

“I am still at the fitting stage with bits of my image. I’m quite aware that I am working too hard, and that sometime I am ill, tired and out of sorts.

“I was so uptight and keen to do well that I often had a drop too much to drink.”

The cameras and publicity Jocky received following his 1982 championship success clearly rocked him and his attempts to control his temperament with more patient pursuits such as fishing, made quiet moments at home all the sweeter.

“A cheery cry to other Kirkcaldy lads fishing for supper – or a wee bit of peace.

“Now I rarely catch enough to feed the family, never mind the five thousand but now and then I surprise myself.

“It is lovely sitting out there halfway to Norway. Nobody to annoy you.

“No autographs. Comfortable. Back home.”

One of the floral tributes at Jocky’s funeral. Image: DC Thomson.

The pot-bellied king of the oche was 62 when he passed away in 2002, leaving his native Kirkcaldy and the wider darts community in mourning.

He was laid to rest after a service in Kirkcaldy.

Forever back home.