A disease has spread through darts that has seen practitioners of the dark arts triumph and honest players suffer, believes James Wade.
The world number nine is back on the oche this week at the PDC Summer Series, the first ranking events since the coronavirus hiatus, but he is not relishing what he will have to deal with.
A professional for 16 years, Wade feels he has seen the sport change dramatically, especially in the last three years when he believes gamesmanship has become all the more prevalent in the PDC.
The Machine, who has nine major PDC titles to his name, feels the vast riches on offer at the top of darts have poisoned the game to some extent, with players going to greater, and more unsavoury, lengths to win.
The 37-year-old is deflated by what he sees on the oche, as he does not feel he can bring himself to compete with it.
‘I’m not interested in that new part of darts,’ Wade told Metro.co.uk. ‘All that crap that goes along with it, if you want it that bad you can have it.
‘I know it’s for massive amounts of money and I need the money as much as the next man, but if you want it that bad you can have it.
‘It’s a shame that the game really has gone that way. I would say even more so the last three years it’s become rife.
‘There’s a lot of players that like to play up and when Phil [Taylor] got out it really picked up. Phil was great at all those things as well, probably the best gamesman and the best player in the world for a very long time.
‘It seems to have been a disease that’s spread through darts, it’s weird. It’s funny what money will make people do.
‘I think you get the make up of a man with how they behave sometimes. You don’t see it on TV and the crowd don’t see it, but players do. A whole generation of people, even out in the world, with how certain age groups are behaving out in the streets and stuff, it’s disgusting.’
Wade believes the world rankings would look entirely different if stricter rules were brought in on gamesmanship on the oche, which he has no doubt should be classed as cheating.
‘I try not to blow up too often when it is happening, but when I do they think it’s me acting up, but little do they know it’s usually their favourites that are the worst ones at it,’ continued Wade.
‘If all that crap was cut out of it and people could just get on with it, the rankings would be vastly different that’s for sure. They would be vastly different.
‘I can honestly say every tournament I’ve ever won, I’ve never done anything untoward. I might have taken my darts slowly out the board or something, but I can put hand on heart and say any tournament I’ve won I’ve not done any extreme tactics or cheating. Sorry it’s called gamesmanship now.’
The Machine would not be drawn on naming names for those guilty of these extreme tactics, but said there are only a handful you can be sure will be innocent of any perceived crimes.
‘There’s only a couple, two or three,’ said James. ‘One of them that’s good as gold when he plays is Gary Anderson, but he’s one of very, very few, a real minority that’ll never do anything.
‘He’s a needle in a haystack, but 99% of them can’t help it. But that’s because a lot of them can’t win a game of darts ordinarily.
‘Gerwyn Price, a lot of people give him a hard time but he’s one of the better ones, he’s a lovely man.
‘Yeah, he jumps around, but he doesn’t jump around in everyone’s face. He does it to people he thinks he can get a bite out of. But as a rule he’s one of the gentleman in darts, he’s a really nice lad.
‘He gets so misunderstood, of course he can be a bit of a sod sometimes, but there’s people that come across all nice and smiley, they’re the worst ones for it, it’s ironic.
‘I’ve lost TV games because I’ve thought, “sod you, if you want it that bad, you can bloody have it.” Years ago when I was younger I would have dug down and fought back, but I’ve relaxed now, I’m a lot more mellow.’
Wade could not quite say he is looking forward to playing darts again, describing the experience as, ‘like going back to school, which I didn’t like either.’
That is as much because he has been enjoying lockdown, though, and the chance to spend quality time with his wife and young son, which is so hard to come by during the usual rigours of the PDC calendar.
‘It’s been lovely, hasn’t it?’ Wade said. ‘Three months off work, it’s been fantastic. I’ve seen a lot of players playing online, I couldn’t think of anything worse. I didn’t enjoy the Home Tour at all.
‘It’s been priceless. It’ll be really weird for some of the players who are darts, darts, darts, darts, darts. It will have been really hard for them because for some of them it’s all they do and all they want to do. Some of them, darts is their life, their everything, all they want, so it’ll have been hard for them.’
Finding the balance between work and home life is going to be difficult over the rest of the year for most darts players, with so many events to catch up on that have been postponed.
However, Wade is confident that he will be able to find this sweet spot after giving up his work as a mechanic that was taking up a huge amount of his time.
The world number nine has bought a new house during lockdown, and the move will see him also shut down his garage, where he was working up to 50 hours a week.
Even during lockdown Wade was hard at work on the cars, putting in the hours to help key workers get up and running, but it is coming to an end and he feels that will see him rediscover his best form on the oche.
‘I probably spend, normally, 30-50 hours on the cars. I put more time into that than anything else,’ he said.
‘I opened the garage up for key workers – doctors, nurses, and others that have done some magical, wonderful things – and I realised that I was putting in more time into the garage than the darts. I knew that because I’ve always done that, but I was putting the garage before my family.
‘I could go in there for three days and do 35 hours easily. When I was in the Premier League whenever I wasn’t away playing darts I was in the garage, doing seven days a week for months. It’s not healthy.
‘With time to reflect I realised it’s not that important to do people’s cars and it shouldn’t be a priority over my whole life, which I let it become.
‘The problem with the issues that I have [James was diagnosed with bi-polar and ADHD in 2011] is that I obsess with stuff.
‘If I could obsess with darts like I did with the garage, I don’t think anyone would stand much of a chance. I’m going to try and put more time into my darts now and definitely more into my family from now.’
Wade reached the final of the last Pro Tour event before the break for coronavirus and has shown signs of the form that saw him consistently ranked in the top four in the world 10 years ago.
‘I’ve been touching on it for a few years but I haven’t been back to where I can be or where I should be,’ he said.
‘It’s still there, it’s still there more than anyone knows.’
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