Dennis Priestley : biography
Priestley’s last win against Taylor came in a non-televised ranking event in 2006. Although his last major victory over Taylor came in 1994, Darts commentators such as John Gwynne have noted that a vast number of their subsequent encounters have been close and exciting affairs – something not always reflected by the scorelines.
Perhaps for this reason, Priestley is highly regarded by Sid Waddell who, in the documentary "the Power and the Glory" commented that "Priestley was the only one (in Darts) who could do anything with [Taylor]" between 1994 and 1998, while Bristow endorsed the 1996 |PDC World Final because "Priestley didn’t drop from the 100 average he played against other players" when faced with Taylor.
In the same documentary, Waddell stated that – at the start of the WDC/PDC in 1993 – he thought that "Priestley would have a few years all to himself" on the circuit. Although Taylor’s relentless domination of the circuit from 1995-onwards did not allow this to be, Priestley’s superiority over Taylor between 1991 and 1994 gives requisite justification for such a view.
The continuing closeness between the two legends was evident when Taylor was close to tears after comfortably beating Priestley 8-0 in the 2009 Las Vegas Desert Classic.
Rising to the top
Shortly after becoming a newsagent, Priestley won the 1991 Embassy World Championship, after beating Eric Bristow 6-0 in the final. He had defeated defending champion Taylor in his quarter-finals and 1988 champion Bob Anderson in his semi-final. He won the 1992 Winmau World Masters and also picked up many BDO Open events between 1991 and 1993.
Priestley was a founder member of the World Darts Council (WDC) which split from the British Darts Organisation in 1993, see main article: Split in darts. As a consequence, Priestley was precluded from assuming the role of England captain which he had been awarded shortly beforehand.
Priestley won the inaugural WDC World Darts Championship in 1994. This high point was surrounded by several wins on the WDC’s new professional circuit (including the Skol Matchplay, UK Matchplay, Antwerp Open, and Samson Darts Classic) in 1993 and 1994. Since then, he has been a PDC World Championship runner-up four times, in 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2000, losing to Taylor on all four occasions. Priestley has also been a three-times World Matchplay runner-up, losing to American Larry Butler in 1994, Taylor in 1995 and Peter Evison in 1996.
Between 1991 and 1994 Priestley was the only player to win more than one grand slam/major title (he won 3), while he also claimed more top professional events on either circuit than any other player and attained the number-one ranking.
Priestley’s ascendancy was forcefully ended by Taylor’s World Championship and World Matchplay triumphs in 1995. He did, however, notch up a further major televised title later that year – the inaugural PDC World Team Championship partnering Bristow.
His 1996 World Championship Final with Taylor is often seen as one of the best matches in the history of the PDC. Although Priestley hit 15 180s and averaged 102 in the match, he was edged out 4-6 by the ruthless brilliance of Taylor. Priestley struck 14 180s and a 10-dart leg in the following year’s final. Again, however, it was to no avail as Taylor won 6-3. Perhaps for matches such as these, Taylor stated in his autobiography that Priestley is the "best player [he has] ever faced". Taylor makes a similar reference to Priestley on the biography section of his website.
Born in Mexborough, South Yorkshire, Priestley was originally a coal merchant by trade, and did not enter professional darts until he was almost 40 years old. He first caught the eye in 1989 when he reached the final of the News of the World Darts Championship where he was beaten by the experienced Dave Whitcombe. He then reached the semi-finals of the 1990 Winmau World Masters, losing to eventual champion Phil Taylor.