At 46 years-old and a two-time world champion, Gary Anderson is content with life as his year reaches its pinnacle, with the PDC World Championship descending on London’s Alexandra Palace next week – two months after the birth of his daughter.
The Flying Scotsman, as he is known, has appeared in the last three finals – beating Phil Taylor and Adrian Lewis to become only the third player to win the title in consecutive years, before being outgunned by the extraordinary Michael van Gerwen in last year’s finale.
Still ranked third in the PDC Order of Merit despite a first year without a major title since 2013, Anderson admits that it is the next month that he will be judged on when he looks back at this year.
“Every year, I play great at the start of the year and then, in the middle, I just die away. But then it comes to October and November and I start to come good again.
“Really, you need to play well for three weeks – and it’s the big three weeks coming up. So, if everything falls into place for that, then I’ll be okay!”
Starting on December 14th and culminating in a huge final on New Year’s Day, the competition has become a staple in the Christmas feast of British sport. More than 2.6 million people took in last year’s tournament on Sky Sports Darts – the dedicated channel highlighting the sheer popularity and growth of the sport and its world championship.
“If you lose early you’re home for Christmas,” Anderson jokes as he looks to claim the title for a third time.
“If you’re still in it then you’re not home for Christmas. If you get beaten, then at least you get Christmas at home. But you don’t want to lose.”
Yet, however well Anderson plays, he is under no illusions as to the challenge awaiting him at the sport’s showcase fortnight.
“It’s getting harder to win with every year,” he says, reeling off the many names now dining at the sport’s top table. Since January, Mensur Suljovic, Daryl Gurney and Peter Wright have all won their first major tournaments, while Rob Cross has rocketed into the world’s top twenty in his first year on the professional circuit.
“Next year will be even harder. Then next year, you’ll ask the same question and it will be even harder than that. The standard of players is getting better and better so it’s becoming harder and harder for the rest of us. A lot of the youngsters are coming through and they’re getting right into it.
“But a lot of the older boys can still hold their own – if not are still better. A lot of the youngsters haven’t quite taken off yet. Van Gerwen is obviously exceptional but the rest of the boys are coming up but they aren’t quite there yet.”
Anderson’s respect for Van Gerwen is obvious. The Dutchman holds six of the tour’s ten major trophies and the juggernaut has shown little sign of relenting in the run-up to the flagship tournament. In his last action before his first-round match, he beat Jonny Clayton 11-2 to win the Players Championships at Minehead.
“He’ll be the one to beat. I think Van Gerwen is definitely going to be the favourite,” Anderson says of the man who stood between him and a hat-trick of world titles back in January.
The current world champion’s nomination alongside Roger Federer for BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year is testament to the talent of one of sport’s most dominant forces. For Anderson though, facing the world number one is no different to coming up against anyone else on the increasingly competitive circuit.
“Just beat him,” he says frankly. “It’s as simple as that. Hit the doubles, hit the checkouts and that’s it. There’s no point in trying to focus on what he’s trying to do.
“I’m reaching that fifty mark now so I’m getting on. But when I play him I still want to show him who’s boss. I still want to show him that he can be beaten and that when it does happen, it’s me that beats him.
“For me, it’s a case of getting my stamina built back up and playing these long games which I’m struggling with at the moment. But we’ll get there. It’s coming back slowly. I’ve had a good bit of time off this year, so I need to start working at it now.”
At Anderson’s age, darts – he openly confesses – is no longer the priority. A few years ago, he went through a period that, by his own admission, made him question his love for the sport. He lost his father and brother in consecutive years, before the birth of his son Tai reinvigorated the Scot.
“Darts is like any job. There are days where you wake up in the morning and you can’t be bothered to go into work. It’s exactly the same as any other job – the building trade or whatever.
“Anyone that says they’ve never woken up and not wanted to do their job, I think they’re liars. There are days that you wake up, there are weeks that you go through where you’re just fed up by it and that’s exactly what I was like back then. But then, little Tai came along and it gave me a kick up the backside and got me back into it.”
The effect was stark, with Anderson becoming more relaxed at the oche. Having previously passed the quarter-final only once, he won the next two World Championships after the new arrival.
“I just try and play the game,” he explains. “I’m not one for caring if I win or lose – I just play the game. If I get beat, the other guy’s been better than me – it’s as simple as that. It does kind of take all the pressure off.
“You get some boys who get beat and then throw their toys out of the pram. At the end of the day, it’s a game. I know it’s a job but really, it’s still a game. To act like a kid when you lose – for me – is a no-go zone. If you lose, the other boy’s been better than you. Shake his hand and wish him all the best.”
Yet, the relaxed demeanour that has accompanied Anderson since starting a young family has made life on tour more of a strain. The two-time world champion admits that darts’ ever-growing demographic is taking its toll.
“It means I’m away all the time. Beforehand, I used to love going away but now, as soon as I go away I want to get home. With having a young family, darts is completely different for me now.
“When I’m away, I want to go home so it makes it a little bit harder to concentrate on the actual game. I guess it is a bit harder nowadays.
“Come the start of the year, in three and a half years, I’ll have had about 97 days at home. It is really hard with all the traveling. But I’m cutting down on all the European events. I’m not doing them.”
Having started out at the BDO – the rival darts association – in 2000 before joining the PDC in 2009, Anderson is approaching twenty years in the sport. With two young children – his second, Cheylea, was born in October – the Scot’s time is more precious than ever, and his priorities have shifted accordingly.
“I don’t practice at all,” he confesses.
“When there are two weeks between tournaments I will not throw a dart in those two weeks. I get to the venue a few hours before I’m due to play and that’s my practice time. I’ve got my family to look after, I’ve got my kids to spend time with. So unfortunately, darts isn’t at the top of my list.
“I’ve played for over twenty years so if I can’t do my practice in a couple of hours now then I’ve gone wrong. I’m not going to spend eight or nine hours a day at the practice board. To the rest of them that do spend that time, carry on! But not me!”
Spending more time at home and away from the oche has given Anderson the added bonus of watching Tai – not yet four-years-old – but already darts-obsessed. He hit his first 180 last week, an astonishing feat that took social media by storm.
“Tai’s been playing darts with real darts since he was 12-months-old, as soon as he could stand. Nobody showed him – he’s learnt everything himself. He’s a left-hander, he stands right and he’s got a perfect throw.
“As a baby, he’d just watch everything. Nobody ever actually showed him anything – not to hold a dart, not to throw a dart, not how to stand. He did it all by himself at twelve months!”
As Anderson Jnr starts out, however, the sport’s flagbearer is preparing for one final flourish. 85 major tournament titles later, Phil Taylor will retire from the sport at the end of the year.
As far as Anderson is concerned, he wouldn’t put it past the 57-year-old adding a seventeenth world title to his list. “I think he’ll have a good tournament, with it being his last one,” he says.
“If it wasn’t for Phil Taylor and with Sky and Barry Hearn coming in, we wouldn’t have what we’ve got right now. We definitely wouldn’t be playing for the kind of prize money we’re looking at now.
“Phil Taylor’s a sixteen-time world champion. I don’t think there are many sportsmen on the planet who have been sixteen-time world champion at anything – even tiddlywinks, let alone on the dartboard. Over a career of about 25 world championships, that is some achievement in itself.”
Does he think anyone will ever match the feats of the man who put the sport on the map?
“No, no chance. I think Michael van Gerwen could get close to it but he’d have to play until he’s 40 or 50. With the way he’s playing now, he’s winning everything. But having said that, in ten years’ time, there’s going to be someone else coming around the corner that’s better.
“Can he still win it when that happens? The way the boy’s (Van Gerwen) playing now, he could do. But I think time will tell. We’re talking about another fifteen or twenty years in the future. Will he still be playing? I don’t think Phil Taylor’s titles will be beaten.”
On the retirement of the sport’s most recognisable name, Anderson speaks with the same attitude that has treated his own game so well in recent years. Ultimately, he says, Taylor has earnt the right to bow out on his terms and to a relaxing retirement.
“Oh, it will be great, it will be nice and quiet! It might make me a bit richer as well,” he laughs of life without his rival.
“He’ll be missed, of course. He’s been around for a long time so he needs to put his feet up and go and enjoy whatever he wants to do.”
His respect for ‘The Power’ is palpable as he contemplates the darts world post-Taylor. Merely sharing a stage with him separates his maiden world title from his second, over Adrian Lewis.
“Probably the first one – playing Phil Taylor in the final and beating him,” he cites as the standout of his two world crowns.
“But then you could also say the second one because it meant that I’d won them back-to-back. If I’d won a third one, it would probably be that one! But no, I think the first one – playing Phil on that stage.”
Certainly, winning a third title this year would sit at the upper end of Anderson’s achievements, such is the sheer depth of competition among the premier twenty players in world darts.
Given his own experience, Anderson is well-versed in what it takes to leave Ally Pally as the best on the planet. On his chances of winning it, his philosophy is as straightforward and forthright as he is talented.
“If I throw well then nobody will beat me. If my darts go wrong then there will be quite a few people who can beat me! It’s all on me.
“I’m the one who has to throw the darts. It’s how I play that’s going to decide whether I win or not.”
Yet, whether he leaves Alexandra Palace victorious or otherwise, you sense that it will have little effect on Anderson – a family man first and foremost, a darts player second.
Featured photograph: Lawrence Lustig/PDC