Price destined for greatness, says Bates: 'You could see it from day one'

Gerwyn Price owes some of his remarkable success in darts to his good friend Barrie Bates, but the man known as Champagne says the Iceman was destined for the top from the first day he picked up a set of arrows.

Price lifted the PDC World Darts Championship for the first time this month, beating Gary Anderson in the final and usurping Michael van Gerwen as world number one in the process.

It completed an astonishing rise through the sport, having only turned professional in 2014 after playing darts seriously for just a couple of years before that.

The 35-year-old had been pursuing a career in rugby, playing to a very good standard with Cross Keys and Neath, before he chose a sporting path that could scarcely be more different.

Bates, a former UK Open finalist and World Championship quarter-finalist, is partially responsible for leading him down this path, having discovered his incredible talents in the local leagues of south Wales.

Having been blown away by the rugby player’s natural ability, Champagne encouraged Price to go to Q School, where he won a PDC tour card at the first crack and the rest is history.

‘I don’t know exactly when I first met him, but the time I really started to notice him was the year before Q School,’ Bates told Metro.co.uk. ‘We’d both be at tournaments and he’d keep winning them! Fair play to him.

‘We started going to tournaments together and me and him would get to the final.

‘You could see how good he was and I got on at him about going to Q School. He was still doing well in rugby then and that’s what he wanted to do, but I nagged him and nagged him. I said:

‘Then when he got his card I told him it was £105 to enter each tournament. He wouldn’t have gone if I told him that!’

Undoubtedly the natural talent was incredible with Price, but Bates is clear to point out that his mindset and dedication have taken him to such immense success on the oche.

‘You could see it from day one, it was mainly because how dedicated he was,’ said Barrie. ‘It didn’t matter who he played, you couldn’t put him off. Maybe it was the rugby background in him. But it’s the dedication, even when he’s practicing, you should see him when he practices, he plays like the wind.

‘He shouts a lot, but he’s like that with everyone, he does it to get himself going, it’s not to put anyone off. If he played me, one of his best friends, he’d be exactly the same against me as he would against his enemy.

‘That’s what I liked about him, he was dedicated and we’re not friends on the board, he was there to win. You could just see it in him and fair play to the boy. He knuckled down, finished rugby and look where he is now.

‘I played him in the final one day in Aberdare somewhere, he wanted 160, he hit the first one in treble 20, turned around and laughed, hit the second, turned around and laughed and then hit double top. I thought, you…no I won’t swear.

‘You just knew, he could do exhibitions, anything, before he was even really playing darts. He was beating players that had played darts for years.

‘I don’t think he ever really played before that because it was all rugby. I think he just picked it up one day out of the blue, it was all natural.

‘Wayne Warren [2019 BDO world champion] is another one, all natural! I don’t think that boy ever practices and he can beat anyone!’

Price had only seen darts as a hobby on the side of his rugby career, but when that was hampered by injuries, it allowed him to turn to the oche more regularly.

Bates knew that he would be able to handle himself in the professional ranks quite quickly, but admits that he didn’t see this level of success coming.

‘He had a spell when he was playing in tournaments just when there was no rugby on or it was cancelled,’ Bates said.

‘I don’t think he realised how good he was. He was very good at rugby, it was at a good level with Cross Keys and Neath and that’s when I really got to know him.

‘He was good enough that people were still after him to play rugby for them. Everyone I talked to was saying how good he was and that he could have gone on further.

‘But you could see how good he was playing darts. Then he got a bump in training, and that let him focus on darts.

‘I knew he’d do well. Don’t get me wrong I didn’t think he’d be back-to-back Grand Slam champion and world champion, World Cup champion, but you knew there was something in him in the way he played. What I liked about his attitude is he didn’t care who he played. No names seemed to worry him.’

Price powered to victory on the Alexandra Palace stage to claim his first world title, beating two-time former champion Anderson 7-3 in the final, averaging over 100.

A quite incredible photo was taken afterwards, with a light shining on the Welshman as he lifted the trophy, which he later dedicated to his mother, who passed away as he climbed the darts mountain, but before he reached the summit.

Price wrote on Instagram: ‘There’s a shining light that looked down on everyone and there was one looking down on me all tournament, this one is for you MAM miss you more than words can say, wish you could be loving this dream with us all, love you and miss you so much…’

Bates felt the poignant moment more than most as he also lost his mother, just last year, but he was quick to be joking with his good pal after the epic win.

‘That photo at the end, Gezzy’s mother passed away a couple of years ago. I know what he’s been going through, fair play for him to keep him going, when that happened to me, the first year I was all over the shop,’ said Barrie.

‘I rung him the morning after and said to him, “Alright world number one and world champion,” he said, “Doesn’t it sound good?”

‘I was winding him up saying, “My job’s done now so I’m going to put some effort in and I’m coming for you!”

‘But fair play to him straight away he was saying that we should go for a practice in a couple of weeks or whenever lockdown is over. The effort he’s put in, he deserves everything he gets.’

Bates is serious when he says he is coming for his mate, as he is practicing hard ahead of Q School in February, in a bid to win back the tour card he has just lost.

Health issues, which began as gout and turned into arthritis, have blighted his career in recent years, but he is feeling as good as he has done for a long time and is ready for one last crack at the big time at 51-years-old.

‘I’ve got to be honest, touch wood, I feel the best I’ve felt for a long time. I’m going to knuckle down and do what my mother would have wanted, because she was darts mad, my mother,’ he said.

‘Gezzy winning, and winning the World Cup with Jonny [Clayton], Wayne Warren in the BDO, all the Welsh boys have spurred me on. I’ve got to give it one more go.

‘I know I’m never going to be world champion because of my age, although you never know… But I just want to have a good go. My aim is to be on TV for one more time.

‘I had my tour card and I was awful, I went through my mother passing away and all that, then lockdown, but at the moment I’ve been given a bit of something.

‘Now I’ve lost my card I want it again! It’s crazy isn’t it? When I had it, it was awful, but now I want it!’

With motivation, some form returning and, most importantly, his health in better order, Bates could yet be a force again on the oche.

The Merthyr man went through a horrible spell with gout and arthritis, which left him unable to walk at times.

‘It’s crazy because I’d played football and rugby all my life and I’ve had more injuries in darts than either of them and it’s just walking back and forth,’ Barrie said.

‘I had gout and I went to see a doctor, but the gout turned into arthritis. I couldn’t put my feet on the floor. Worst pain I’ve had in my life.

‘Then I got it in my fingers, but the pain at the start, , I thought my foot was broken. I had it in both ankles, I couldn’t move.

‘I played in a local pub, it’s only round the corner and at one point it took me two hours to get home.

‘It’s just the stiffness now, not so much pain.’

Bates is raring to get back on the professional circuit again and embark on a more professional lifestyle, in a bid to keep up his return to health.

He has been sticking to a routine of morning practice followed by walking in the Welsh mountains, part-inspired by Scotsman John Henderson, who has shown off impressive weight loss recently on the oche.

‘It’s a bit more professional now,’ said Barrie of the darts world. ‘Even John Henderson has been doing his walking, I saw that photo of him, he looked like he was off Baywatch.’

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