Now the supreme master of the spotlight, Bobby secured his place as the People’s Champion in the 1980 Embassy World Championship. Seen by millions on BBC Television, his good looks, cheeky grin and wonderful ability as a darts player immediately established him as an outstanding character. He beat Dave Whitcombe, Leighton Rees and Cliff Lazarenko to produce an epic 1980 final against Eric Bristow.
In what is still regarded as one of the greatest darts matches of all time, Bobby made his first ever entrance with sequinned shirt and candelabra. He became the Liberace of televised darts and was in a winning position until an uncharacteristic loose dart handed the title to Bristow.
Bobby had won the hearts and minds of the darting public, and went on to reach the Quarter-Final and Semi-Final in the following two Embassy’s. This included an unbelievable second-round win in 1982, when in the deciding leg against Doug McCarthy, Bobby needed 161 as McCarthy sat on 40. He produced one of the most incredible match winning game shots ever seen in the Embassy t20, t17, Bull and went on to meet John Lowe in another classic Semi-Final.
1981 saw Bobby collapse during the British Professionals in Middlesborough. His spleen burst and he nearly bled to death!! – He spent five weeks at Middlesborough Hospital – but he still managed to get to the 1982 Embassy!
Many believe that Bobby would have become one of the greatest tournament players of all time had he carried on, and ironically the decline in televised darts coincided with his absence from the major events. Undoubtedly, the loss of a huge character like him was a significant blow to the popularity of darts.
Typically, when he decided to return to competitive darts in the early 1990’s, he did so with considerable style, panache and success! He entered the qualifiers for the 1993 Embassy World Professional and came through the tough International Play-Offs to make it to the famous Lakeside stage with some incredible darts.
He beat No.7 Seed Keith Sullivan 3-1 in the First Round, and then Welshman Martin Phillips 3-0 in the Second Round, before meeting No.2 Seed Mike Gregory in the Quarter-Final.
He beat him 4-2 before going on to play yet another classic against eventual champion John Lowe in the Semi-Final. The score was 5-3 to Lowe, but Bobby missed a couple of crucial doubles that would probably have taken him to the title instead of Old Stoneface.
When the infamous ‘split’ came in 1994, Bobby carried the extra burden of being the only ‘darts legend’ to contest that year’s Embassy. The others had unceremoniously turned their backs on the Championship that had made their names but Bobby remained fiercely loyal and played brilliant darts despite a serious back injury caused in his match against Kevin Kenny.
His Semi-Final against Sweden’s Magnus Caris could only go ahead following urgent manipulation of his damaged spine, and Bobby looked out of it at 4-2 down. But, he had other ideas and won a remarkable 9 legs without reply from the hapless Swede!
Bobby faced his second Embassy World Final wearing a steel corset to hold him upright. In truth, he went against doctor’s orders to play Canadian John Part and, on ability, should have won easily.
Bobby outscored Part in practically every game they played, but because of the his considerable pain and lack of mobility, he simply could not hit the doubles. Bobby was miles ahead in most of the legs but could not hold still enough to hit his doubles! Incredibly Bobby went to check-out 49 timesand succeeded in only 5!! Inconsistency had nothing to do with it! as some top pro. said at the time.
Typically, he took defeat with dignity and presented Part with a cake afterwards. He even made a little bit of history! It transpired that 14 years after playing his very first Embassy, Bobby had become the oldest player to reach the final at 48!
A few weeks after that final, it was found that he had literally broken his back and had to have 8 titanium screws inserted into the base of his spine just so that he could stand upright!
Not that it deterred him from returning to the Championship he loves most of all. Indeed, from 1995 onwards, Bobby established himself as the undisputed ‘King Of The Qualifiers’ by returning to Lakeside in 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2002 through the tough International Play-Offs.