On Saturday night at the Grand Slam of Darts, Gerwyn Price will take to the stage to begin the defence of his first major title. It’s been quite a 12 months and indeed quite a journey for the former rugby player, who tells The Darts Show podcast he is not about to let up now.
“I always thought I’d be playing rugby for a living forever.”
It’s a quote that says much about Price, and perhaps puts into context what makes him one of darts most controversial characters.
Not that you would think it to talk to him. The softly spoken Welshman is polite, articulate and always happy to chat, which is just as well because at the moment there is quite a lot to chat about.
From titles and trophies to the boo-boys, Price is dealing with it all. A man at the top of his game, the rise has been quick and has brought with it something he didn’t expect – title contender and also pantomime villain…on a weekly basis.
But first the winning. He has already defended one title this year – the International Darts Open – and he will hope to do so again in the Midlands this week. But defending titles aren’t the priority, winning them and continuing his climb up the rankings are.
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“Defending [the title] doesn’t really bother me, it doesn’t really affect me. I was defending one of the Europeans this year and I coped pretty well and defended it.
“I just want to go there and have a fair crack, just be able to play darts, if I’m allowed to do that. If anything goes wrong then it’s down to me but I just want a fair crack of the whip.”
It is here we revisit the rugby background, a player of both codes from his early years and it is no surprise that the adrenaline is pumping on stage as he competes at the top of the sport.
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For most the skill is forged on practice boards, playing socially with friends and perhaps a gentler approach to winning.
For Price, wining at sport has meant much more and from a young age too. So it’s no surprise on the oche to see the Iceman is as animated as they come. His punch of the air, his bellow cry of ‘Come On’ have become synonymous with winning darts and it’s here we take stock.
“It comes off the back of playing well in tournaments. I’ve reached quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals of most events over the last six months,” Price added.
“I’ve earned the right to be up there with the top boys and be thought of as one of the contenders, so I think on merit I deserve to be there, it’s just staying there over the next two months at least. I’m looking to do that.
“But I want to be able to enjoy my darts at the same time.”
Another appropriate time to take stock. Price’s win over Gary Anderson last year was about as controversial as darts gets, and it was the Welshman rather than the Scot who bore the brunt of it from the crowd.
The Iceman’s intensity always brought with it the occasional murmur but from the Aldersley Leisure Village in November last year to Amsterdam last weekend, Price is now the subject of relentless stick from the crowd.
1:42 Price and Anderson clashed at the Grand Slam on the way to the Iceman’s maiden major title
He doesn’t mind the role of pantomime villain, he has in fact embraced it, but for anyone being booed from venue to venue, tournament to tournament, week after week it will start to grate.
“I didn’t think it would last for a full 12 months [hostility from the crowd] and I didn’t think people would be on my back week in, week out.
“I just thought it was a bit like the pantomime villain, a bit of fun. I don’t mind the boos when I’m walking on. I don’t mind boos during a game when you’re scoring because you’re in a rhythm, but for key stages when you’re on a double to win matches or legs, then you just need a little bit of respect I think.”
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It’s magnified, of course, because Price is playing so well. He has continued his year-on-year rise up the rankings and competed for the sport’s top honours. He will do so again this week as the third favourite with the tournament sponsors.
However, it has taken its toll too, social media posts have alluded to the fact that Price is feeling the weight of things and he hints at it again in our interview.
“I just want to go there and enjoy myself basically. I want to go, play well and if I get chances then take those. If someone plays better than me then fair play to them, but I’m in a good place, probably not mentally, but I’m doing alright.”
Last year at the Aldersley Leisure Village Price won the Grand Slam of Darts title, his first major crown, just five years after becoming a darts player. The final against Gary Anderson was a cracker, Price winning 16-13 in a contest that drew plenty of debate, including from Stephen Fry, for the antics on the stage.
The pair got under each other’s skin, came close to full-on push and shove, and the results were fines and a suspended suspension for Price – something he has learned to live with.
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Neither player are in much mood to discuss events of November 2018 anymore, the relevant discipline has been handed out and debated over and the pair have already played each other on stage.
It doesn’t mean they won’t have to talk about it again. They could meet again in Wolverhampton this week, and it could be as early as the second round.
For now, we focus on Price’s 12 months, a year that has seen him go from major outsider to major contender.
Now ranked fifth in the world, the Iceman is a realistic title candidate for every tournament he enters, playing arguably as good darts as anyone bar Michael van Gerwen, the world No 1 who has become a rival.
The Iceman isn’t quite over the line against the great Dutchman, he is yet to beat him, but each of the last five matches have gone to a last leg and Van Gerwen has prevailed in four of them with one draw.
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“At times it is hard not to let it go. I was playing the number one in the world and the crowd as well – it was pretty tough but Michael was doing things that I thought he would never do as No 1. I think he’s a little bit edgy playing me as well now.
“I think I drew one time in the Premier League where I had a 5-1 lead – it’s just getting over the winning line once.
“People say it’s in the mind. It’s not. He does actually play well in key stages of a game. I give myself leads and he plays well to come back but sooner rather than later I’ll get a win and he knows that as well.”
Twelve months ago, Price’s star was on the rise as he gatecrashed the world’s top 10 and began to graduate from Pro Tour floor titles to major titles. This year, he has made rivals of some of the best in the game – and he isn’t finished yet.
2:00 Price embraced the pantomime villain role but it has followed him across the circuit this year
“I believe now. I think maybe two years ago I thought no I could never be No 1, but I now believe in my mind that I can reach No 1 as well.