“We were called down to Sky and told if one more player drops out it was all off”

TOMMY COX

At the end of the recent William Hill World Championship, the PDC bid farewell to one of the most important figures in their short, but successful, history.

Tommy Cox was one of three men, along with Dick Allix and the late John Markovic, to help form the World Darts Council in 1992, an organisation which would later be known as the PDC.

Cox has also managed the likes of Phil Taylor, Jocky Wilson and Alan Warriner-Little and in the first part of our exclusive chat with the PDC’s former tournament director, we look back at how the sport’s flagship organisation began and how it has got to where it is today.

The WDC had formed in the final months of 1992, and ahead of the BDO World Championship getting underway the following year, the 16 players affiliated to the WDC all wore the new organisation’s logo on their sleeves.

“I was down there at the Lakeside on New Year’s Eve,” Cox reflects. “It started on New Year’s Day that year and I remember they actually cut Jocky’s shirt to take the WDC logo off it.

“At that point we were on the verge of walking out, Eric was there as well, but I said ‘no, it’s not the right thing to do. It would be counterproductive.’

“So we held a press conference in a little town near Lakeside, saying we were going on our own and that was the start of it.”

The 16 WDC players signed a statement on January 7, 1993 which said they would only play in the BDO World Championship the next year if it was run by the new organisation, and that the WDC would have authority to allow them to play in events worldwide.

Cox’s first hurdle thrown in his way after the statement came later that month when the BDO suspended all 16 of the WDC players from all of their tournaments held in the UK.

“We were a little bit worried and excited about what the immediate future was going to hold,” Cox said. “To be honest the worry was there anyway because the coverage had dropped off.

“It wasn’t like now where there is a tournament every week, or every other week at the worst. The only showcase for the players was the World Championship, and if you got beat first round that was basically you for the year.

“It was a real struggle to start with. The BBC called us all in and when we went down to the meeting they said we should all come to a compromise, but two weeks later they said our players wouldn’t be in it because the BDO were the organisers of the event.

“We were banned and I was then going round the world talking to loads of people.

“We were ostracised in Scandinavia, and the only place that didn’t ostracise us was America. So when we first had our World Championship it was Brits and Americans, that was it.”

The WDC’s inaugural World Championship began at the end of 1993, and even before Dennis Priestley thrashed Taylor 6-1 in the final a few days into 1994 to lift the trophy, the tournament almost didn’t go ahead.

“When we first started, and just before we started the first tournament we had with Sky, I got a phone call,” Cox recalls.

“I was the manager of Mike Gregory and he said he was frightened and didn’t want to play in the WDC World Championship.

“He thought he was going to lose his house. That was ploughed into him and the very next day Mike was at a press conference at Lakeside saying how great the BDO were, even though it was him who won our first tournament.

“I’ve never spoken to him since and never will, nor has Eric who was his best mate. He didn’t speak to him either because he sold us down the river.

“We had another player, Chris Johns, a Welshman who went as well. So there was 16 originally and two of them went back.

“Me and Dick were called down to Sky and told if one more player left it was all off. The BDO tried to get Alan Warriner and John Lowe to go back, but they stood firm and the rest as they say, is history.”

It wasn’t until the summer of 1997 that the two organisations reached an out-of-court settlement, which saw the BDO agree that all players should be allowed to choose which open events they compete in.

The WDC then renamed itself the Professional Darts Corporation, dropping its claim to be a world governing body of the sport.

“We didn’t win the case, we just got the shackles off a little bit,” Cox admits. “We didn’t think they would win because we had experts guiding us.

“I actually remortgaged my house to fight that. The BDO relied on the possibility and not the probability, that we wouldn’t have the money to carry it forward and that they did.

“After that was done there was still an awful long way to go. It cost us a lot of money, it cost the players a lot of money especially.

“To back it up, Phil Taylor and Dennis Priestley in particular put an awful lot of money into it and it shouldn’t be forgotten.

“They weren’t just instrumental in the early days of playing it, they actually supported it and put their money where their mouth was.”

As the money on offer on the PDC circuit continued to grow, more and more players switched across from the BDO, with 2002 marking the first year that the PDC’s total prize fund for their World Championship had surpassed the BDO equivalent.

“It started to take off,” Cox said. “Sky did a great job in revolutionising the coverage for darts, and that’s what made it attractive to the public.

“We got more and more viewers and eventually players started drifting over to play in the PDC.

“Then the real turning point was when Barney came over. That was the major turning point for the balance of power as it were.

“The next big thing was when Barry Hearn came. He made all the difference.

“We’d taken it as far as we could, having been in that industry he could take it further. Barry had the contacts and the knowledge to push the PDC on, and since he became the chairman we’ve never looked back.

“The one thing I made sure to do while I was tournament director, and it’s still the same to this day, is to make sure that every tournament is different.

“We’ve got a double start for the Grand Prix, there’s sets, mini leagues, round robins and myself with Barry did that because every event needs its own identity.”

 

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