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Last Updated: Monday, 29 December, 2003, 11:51 GMT
The original and the best
Five-time world champion Eric Bristow takes aim
Bristow was the best in the business

The players will be stepping up to the oche for the 27th world championship when the action starts at the Lakeside in the New Year.

It all began in 1978, when Welshman Leighton Rees beat England's John Lowe 11-7 in the first ever Embassy World Darts Championship final.

Rees picked up a cheque for 3,000, a sum dwarfed by today's total prize fund of 263,000.

The pair met again at the same stage a year later, Lowe gaining revenge with a crushing 5-0 victory.

Although there have been more colourful figures in the history of the sport, Lowe remains one of the most enduring characters in the game, winning a hat-trick of titles spanning three decades.

His record of wins and finals - eight in total - is only bettered by Eric Bristow, who ruled darts during the 80s.

The 'Crafty Cockney' claimed the first of his five world titles in 1980, by beating Bobby George, and successfully defended it the following year.

WORLD DARTS VENUES
1978: Heart of the Midlands Nightclub, Nottingham
1979-1985:
Jollees Nightclub, Stoke
1986-present day:
Lakeside Country Club,
Frimley Green, Surrey
Bristow's domination was occasionally challenged by the likes of Lowe, Jocky Wilson and Bob Anderson.

Yet one of the most famous finals of the 80s took place between Bristow and the relatively unknown Keith Deller, who had already knocked out Wilson and Lowe.

Deller, given little hope, triumphed in perhaps the most exciting final in Embassy Darts history when he beat Bristow 6-5 in 1983.

By the turn of the decade, Bristow was finding it increasingly difficult to win the tournament he had made his own.

He lost three consecutive finals, one to his great friend and protege Phil Taylor in 1990.

Taylor won two world titles during the 90s before going on to dominate the PDC version of the world title.

His second victory at the Embassy was one to rival the ding-dong battle between Deller and Bristow, with Taylor coming through 6-5 in a sudden-death leg of the final set against Mike Gregory.

Dutchman Raymond van Barneveld was to match Taylor's record of two Embassy championship wins and last year took his tally to three, level with Lowe.

But 'Barney' faces a firm challenge if he is to win for a fourth time in 2004.

MULTIPLE WINNERS
Five wins: Eric Bristow
Three: John Lowe &
Raymond van Barneveld
Two: Jocky Wilson & Phil Taylor
Darts has become a much more competitive sport, with plenty of potential winners among the starters and Van Barneveld will line up with three former winners, Ted Hankey, John 'Boy' Walton and Tony David.

Hankey became the new millennium's first champion with a 6-0 thrashing of two-time loser Ronnie Baxter in a hugely one-sided affair.

Hankey looked odds-on favourite to lift the title again in 2001, but suffered a surprising 6-2 defeat to rank outsider Walton.

And unseeded Tony David of Australia won in 2002, proving that the title is pretty much in anyone's hands if they can perform at the Lakeside.

The 2004 winner will become the first Lakeside World Professional Darts champion following the end of Embassy's sponsorship of the event.

The host venue has taken over the title sponsorship and whoever emerges from the pack to claim victory will take home 50,000.

But just as it was for Leighton Rees all those years ago, the trophy and the honour will prove the greatest prize of all.




LAKESIDE WORLD DARTS 2004


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