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Andy Fordham - The greatest comeback since Lazarus?

Jamie Shaw in Editor's Column 14 Oct 2015
A new-look Fordham pictured following his switch to the PDC in 2009 (credit:Lawrence Lustig/PDC)

While Jelle Klaasen and Dave Chisnall were embroiled in a last-set decider for a place in the Quarter-Finals of the World Grand Prix, darts fans across the globe were fixated on developments in a dusty corner of Hull City Hall.

Hull may not be a million miles from Dublin, but in darting terms, the respective scenarios were worlds apart.

Over on the Emerald Isle, two of the sport's box office entertainers were battling it out for a place in the business end of one of the PDC's major show-pieces in front of a 1,500-strong crowd, while on Humberside, two veteran hopefuls stepped up to a wooden oche in front of a handful of onlookers.

My only encounter with Andy Fordham had been at a County presentation evening in 2012. He was the guest of honour and took to the oche to play a series of exhibition matches and hand out silverware.

It was a sorry sight. Once one of the most lively and formidable marksmen in world darts, Fordham now could barely hit a treble twenty. He lost all three matches against players aged 16 and under and spent most of the evening slumped in the corner of the room with a wet towel across his forehead, braving a smile as he posed for photos with fans.

Fordham's fall from grace has been a well-documented one. In 2004, he stood on top of the darting galaxy by beating Mervyn King to claim a maiden Lakeside world title, before later admitting he could not recall the events of that evening.

This was because the man affectionately known as 'The Viking' had consumed the equivalent of an average man's monthly alcohol intake the space of one evening.

More than 20 bottles of lager and a bottle of brandy later and 'The Viking' was oiled, nerveless and ready for battle.

If an official had struck a match on the stage next to Fordham that evening, the whole Lakeside complex would have gone up in flames, yet he still managed to hold himself together and win a nine-set epic to etch his name into the history books.

That type of preparation for matches on a regular basis in effect planted a ticking time bomb inside Fordham's system, and it inevitably caught up with him.

Just months later, in a £100,000 challenge match against PDC World Champion Phil Taylor, aired live on pay-per-view television, Fordham left the Circus Tavern stage at five sets to two down and did not return.

At that time, he weighed close to 31 stones. His liver had been obliterated by the gallons of alcohol it had withstood during his rise to prominence; doctors urged him to stop drinking and insisted he embarked on a rigorous fitness regime.

Fordham was now out of his comfort zone, and those lifestyle changes seriously impacted on the Kent thrower's form. He suffered back-to-back first round defeats at Lakeside and subsequently tumbled down the world rankings, before the tipping point arrived in 2007 when chest pains and breathing difficulties forced him to withdraw from the World Championship.

That effectively marked the beginning of the end in terms of his time in the top echelons of the BDO, with his health taking a front seat, and an incredible effort led to him shedding 17st (108 kg, 238 lbs) in order to avert the need for an immediate liver transplant.

Fordham's return to professional competition was a brief and unsuccessful stint in the PDC - a final throw of the dice which saw him muster just £600 in prize money over a two-year period.

Since then, the 53-year-old has largely plied his trade on the exhibition circuit, notably appearing on the BBC's Let's Play darts for Comic Relief, and has gone back to his roots in the Essex Superleague.

Little was expected of the now BDO number 64 as he entered the draw for the Grand Slam qualifiers in a 200-strong field which included the likes of Scott Waites, Tony O'Shea, Daryl Fitton and Glen Durrant.

But unlike January 11, 2004, the evening of October 6, 2015 is likely to live long in the memory of one of darts' most popular figures.

His fairytale run began with a modest 5-0 whitewash of Canada's Ivy Weishlow, but it was only after a deciding leg triumph over Scotland's Craig Robertson and a 5-2 defeat of Neil McDougall that heads began to turn.

By this stage, Fordham had matched his best run (three consecutive wins) in any competition for a decade, he was effectively on a hiding to nothing.

It appeared as though the odds were firmly stacked against him when he met Jeff Smith - a semi-finalist at Lakeside in January, but missed doubles from the Canadian were duly punished by Fordham, who now found himself just three wins away from darting destiny.

Welshman Tim Jones and Northern Ireland's Darren Clifford were next to be slayed by 'The Viking' as he set up a nerve-jangling play-off against another player (albeit without his opponent's CV) enjoying a fine resurgence - Northern Irishman Neil Duff.

As leg-by-leg updates filtered through on social media, the darts community held its breath, fully aware of how cruel it would be for Fordham to have come so far but to fall at the final hurdle.

A 3-1 lead, including a 130 checkout, quickly evaporated as Duff hit back to turn the match on its head at 4-3, but 'The Viking' dug deep to force a last-leg decider, before taking out 74 to confirm his spot in Wolverhampton. Mission impossible had been completed.

Fordham's return from the tungsten wilderness, coupled with Martin Adams' debut signals a return of the old guard and injects a fascinating new dimension on an already unique competition.

So as we await the group stage draw with bated breath, could it be written in the stars Fordham finally gets a second crack at Phil Taylor and a chance to close the book on what was left unfinished at the Circus Tavern eleven years ago? Don't rule it out.

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Andy Fordham - The greatest comeback since Lazarus?

While Jelle Klaasen and Dave Chisnall were embroiled in a last-set decider for a place in the Quarter-Finals of the World Grand Prix, darts fans across the globe were fixated on developments in a dusty corner of Hull City Hall.

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