Eyemouth darts ace Gary Anderson narrowly missed out on becoming the 2011 World Champion on Monday night, going down 7-5 to eventual winner Adrian Lewis in the biggest game of his life.
In a final dubbed “darts lunacy” by fellow Professional Darts Corporation player Wayne Mardle, the 2003 and 2007 Berwickshire Sports Personality of the year put in a fine, battling performance to stay in contention in the dramatic final at the Alexandra Palace, coming back twice, from 3-1 and 6-3 down, to keep the pressure on Lewis.
In the end Gary paid the price for failing to make doubles when it mattered in front of the large and loud partisan London crowd, his average dipping just below a hundred for the first time in the tournament.
But the former East Berwickshire Darts League player has well and truly cemented his reputation among the sport’s elite.
After he was presented with his runners-up trophy, Gary hailed his winning opponent, Stoke’s Adrian Lewis, as “a great talent”.
“It’s been a long old tournament and I’m a long old man,” he said. “Now I know what it feels like to be hit with 180s.
“Adrian’s done well, spot on. He’s a great talent.”
Having gone into the 2011 World Darts Championships ranked eleventh in the World, it is 40 year-old Gary who has been the shock of the tournament for many - averaging over a hundred in every match to claim his place in the final; ultimately bagging the £100k runners-up prize, and securing his place in this year’s lucrative Premier League series.
But his success on the world stage has come as no surprise to those who knew Gary from The Kings Head in Berwick, the pub that was to benefit from Gary’s talents for a decade when he played for them in the East Berwickshire Darts League.
“He played here from 1998 up until two years ago when he moved down to Bristol,” explained Iain Stewart, landlord of the Berwick pub, who has supported and sponsored Gary over the years.
“He stood out for miles in the Berwickshire league,” Iain insisted. “There’s a shield awarded for 180s, five was the maximum anyone got in a full season, but Gary had about 30! It was obvious then.”
Darts legend Bobby George was among those who tipped Gary for the big time.
“Bobby George was at the King’s Head for an exhibition match,” Iain explained. “We kept Gary ‘til last. He needed 30 and hit double five, double five, double five.
“Bobby said then that he was going to be a player and a half, that was eight years ago.”
Iain has often travelled to see Gary play, but he watched the biggest game of Gary’s career, Monday night’s World final, from the comfort of the King’s Head.
“At the venue the atmosphere gets you going - it’s not so tense watching on the telly!” he said.
Joining Iain in The Kings Head to watch the thrilling final was Scottish Darts captain Mike Veitch.
“I know him personally through Gary,” Iain explained. “We had a few down from Edinburgh for the final. it was a really good night. Everyone really enjoyed the game, Mike thought it was great.”
And while Gary was coming to terms with his second-place finish in London, Iain suffered his own personal disappointment in Berwick. He explained: “I’ve got a 25 year old malt whisky that my wife bought me for my anniversary. That was eight years ago.
“I told Gary then ‘I’ll open this when you’re world champion!’ I texted him on Monday saying I’d dusted it off! But it’s back on the shelf now.
“I’ve waited eight years to open it so I can wait nine - hopefully he’ll only need one more year! He’s getting closer.”
Despite eventually losing out to 25 year-old Lewis, Gary was a true star of the show, transcending his number eleven seeding with a series of magnificent performances.
In the early rounds the Berwickshire ace swept past former world champion Dennis Priestley, before whitewashing Andy ‘The Pieman’ Smith 4-0. He then demolished Raymond Van Barneveld in the quarter-finals on the same Saturday night that Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor was eliminated from the proceedings.
Less than 24 hours later, Gary put on a royal show in front of Prince Harry, comfortably disposing of Terry Jenkins to claim his place in the final.
“We knew anything could happen in the final,” Iain commented. “I knew Gary could do it - he hadn’t faltered up to that point, but then neither had Adrian Lewis,
“Gary had the highest averages, but at that point averages don’t actually count for a lot - it comes down to nerve.”
With nerves costing Gary in previous tournaments, Iain was pleased to see his pub team’s former player cruising through the rounds to reach the final.
“He’s totally changed, I don’t know what’s happened to him!” Iain said. “I used to wind him up about how nervous he got, I told him he needed to go to a shrink!
“But he completely kept his focus this time out, it’s like he’s got nothing to lose.
“He even looked quite calm in the final and that game was worth a hundred thousand pounds, that has to be weighing on your mind!”
And although he couldn’t call which way the final would go, Iain stuck loyally by the Eyemouth expert. “I thought he would do it. I backed him, I always do.
“Mind, I’ve lost more than I’ve won!” he admitted.
Despite falling at the final hurdle, Iain insisted that Gary, who now runs The Wellington Arms pub in Rooksbridge, Somerset, will be pleased with the last fortnight. “He’ll be quite happy,” Iain said. “His attitude is ‘If I win I win, if I lose I lose’.
“He keeps saying he’s getting too old, but he’s only 40! I’m sure he will be up for it next year.”
Iain added: “I’ve been sponsoring Gary for years so I’m quite pleased for him, he’s doing well.”
Gary’s former practice partner, Robert Hay, from Duns, hailed his old pal’s success in reaching the final as an amazing achievement for any Scottish darts player.
“Gary is as good as anyone I have ever played with,” he said.
With a cheque for £100,000 and a place in the eight-man Premier League due to start next month, the future is looking bright for Gary Anderson.
And with Iain’s malt whisky shelved for at least another year, it could well be cracked open sooner rather than later.