First Person - with Paul McCabe

Paul McCabe, Fife Free Press
Paul McCabe, Fife Free Press

THE passing of Jocky Wilson is terribly sad, but it has to be said no real surprise. He’d been very ill for a long time, though as he admitted, he’d brought it all on himself. Still, it doesn’t make his death any less sad, particularly at the relatively young age of 62.

When I was young Jocky was right up there with the sporting heroes I considered to be nothing less than Gods, who by allowing us mere mortals just to watch them in action were performing an act of kindness, which made them even greater than they already were. Dalglish, Jordan, Maradona, Wells, Davis, Borg, Thompson - supreme beings and top athletes one and all.

Then there was the wee fat bloke with no teeth who drank beer like it was water and always had a fag on the go. John Thomas Wilson, a former miner, who, when winning the world darts championship in 1982, immediatley joined my list of sporting deities.

Darts legend

He was of course a very unlikely sports star but that was part of his appeal. It seemed he was just a normal, working-class bloke who happened to be very good at darts.

But there was more too it than that. He’d had a terrible childhood when he was basically brought up in care.

Sid Waddell, the darts commentator who was a good friend of Jocky’s, said that he could sometimes be a bit rude or cruel with people for no apparent reason.

Sid said: “Jocky said things to me that I would have never let anyone else say to me, but because I knew about his background, I let it go.”

Sid’s theory is that Jocky didn’t fully comprehend social norms because he had never been taught them. He had more or less brought himself up. Of course such incidents weren’t commomplace, there are many stories of Jocky’s kindness and generosity too. But in 1982 I knew nothing of this. He was just wee fat Jocky fi Fife. He was Scottish and he was one of the best darts players in the world. The people’s champion.That was good enough for me.

I remember the night he won that first world championship in 1982, leaping about in front of the telly at my aunty’s house.

On the bus home that night with my parents there were three blokes in their 20s who had clearly been watching the match also and had partaken in a sweet sherry or two in celebration. They were rolling about the back seat shouting “Wee Jocky!”, “180!” over and over. That was it, Jocky was now extremely famous and adored, particularly in Scotland. He made a record, he had his own computer game.

Top of the world

He turned up as a guest star for a bit of fooling around on Cannon and Ball’s TV show. When he got false teeth it was a story in the Daily Record.

And Jocky kept on winning. The British title, other tournaments, then in 1989 he was once again set to become world champion when he reached the final. One man stood in his way - the best player in the world, ergo the most hated man in Scotland - Eric Bristow.

I vividly recall another live televised match around that time on a Sunday afternoon from a packed Playhouse Theatre in Edinburgh with a savage crowd baying for Bristow’s blood.

Still in my teens at the time and not quite mature enough to put the important things in life into perspective, just the mention of the Crafty Cockney’s name was enough to send me into a foul-mouthed, apoplectic fury, and during the the 1989 final I was gripped with terror that Jocky may lose. My fears seemed premature as our toothless wonder raced into a five set lead, only for Bristow to pull it back to 5-4. That was it, my bottle crashed and I left. Jocky losing to Bristow would have been a bullseye dart to my heart. Of course, the wee man was made of stronger stuff than I and by the time I got home, the King Of Kirkcaldy was champion of the world once again.

Remember him this way.