In an era where the sport is at its pinnacle, there isn’t a character in the game quite like Peter Wright, writes Paul Joannou.
Wright, born in Livingston, Scotland, was first seen on the darting stage at 1995 BDO World Championships where he exited at the first round to then world No.1 Ritchie Burnett.
Back then he was dressed very ordinarily and wore a plain black shirt, unrecognisable to the attire he now dons. Wright gave up the game not long after that tournament as he wasn’t making enough money. He returned just over a decade later after persuasion from his wife.
‘Snakebite’, as he is nicknamed, has become one of the most popular players in the game. His colourful Mohican, patterned scalp, flamboyant trousers and fun walk-on has won the hearts of darts fans across the globe.
“I’d say I’m definitely the most fun player on the circuit,” he declared.
It’s not just Wright’s character that’s allowed him to make a name for himself. The 47-year-old is second in the world and has warned world No.1 Michael van Gerwen to watch his back.
And although Wright’s preparations for the World Championships have been disrupted by a dash to hospital with suspected gallstones at the start of the month, his darts are in a great place.
“I’ve had a great year,” he said Wright. “I’m playing well, I’m world No.2 at the moment and I’m ready to pounce and take Michael, he’s not had his best year so with the right sort of practice I don’t see why I can’t be world No.1.”
Wright has won 11 titles overall in 2017, while he also reached the World Matchplay and Premier League finals in what’s been a stellar year. The crucial one for Snakebite was back in March when he won the UK Open, his first ever major PDC title which he believes to be a catalyst after such a long wait and is now looking to win his first World Championship.
“It’s a monkey off your back and it gave me confidence and it’s why I won five European tournaments as well,” he added.
“It’s definitely been the best year of my career but there’s more to come from me, I want to win more and I know I can win more.
“I definitely fancy my chances at the World Championships. I’ve got to the final before; I got to the semi-finals last year and the quarters the two years before that so I’ve worked my way up.”
Wright will certainly be bringing different colours and patterns to the World Championships at Alexandra Palace, which kicked off on Thursday.
A lot of Wright’s time is taken out preparing his hair before a big night of darts. His wife Joanne, a professional hair stylist, is the lady behind the styles and the UK Open holder has hailed her efforts and believes the routine has had a positive impact on his darts.
“We do it on the morning of a tournament or match. So I usually get up, have breakfast, have a shower and then we do my hair. I usually leave it all down to Jo to decide the design and that’s usually done on the day.
“It usually takes about three hours but it’s a relaxing time for me, and I’ll often have the telly on while she does it which is good for me.”
While Jo is the one who ensures Snakebite looks dashing, she wasn’t the inspiration behind the idea.
“It came from my daughter when she started dying her hair different colours and I said to my wife Joanne, that maybe we should do it and we’ve stuck with it ever since.”
Wright certainly caused a stir among a few players when he implemented his new style and stage antics during his walk-ons. Two-time world champ Adrian Lewis ignored Wright as he danced on stage during the 2016 Grand Slam of Darts, Gary Anderson and Michael van Gerwen have also questioned the Scotsman in the past while van Gerwen called Wright ‘unprofessional’ back in 2015.
Snakebite though isn’t fussed about those criticisms and feels there’s a hint of envy among some players.
“I was watching a programme called the Mavericks of Darts which showed the likes of Eric Bristow, John Lowe and Bobby George and they didn’t like Bobby for example because he wore too many sequins. When I did my hair some players didn’t like it, not everybody likes the crazy hair dos, but I think it’s because they never came up with the idea but we’ve received a great fan base from it, we’ve got a lot more kids involved watching darts, people doing my dance move so I think people should be sending me money for it!”
Wright the entertainer and showman of darts have matched the way the sport has grown over the past decade. Crowds are getting bigger each year, more fans are wearing fancy dress and there are more players capable of winning the big tournaments and Wright believes the game is at the best it’s ever been.
“There are 100s of fantastic players out there now. Darts has definitely hit a golden era at the moment. The prize moneys gone up, we’re on TV a lot more. We’re getting coverage from Sky, ITV, BT and BBC and live betting streams as well so it’s massive now and people are watching from all over the world.”
Wright hasn’t been the only player to win his first major title in 2017. Mensur Suljovic won his first major in the Champions League of Darts, beating two-time world champion Gary Anderson in the final. Daryl Gurney also won his first major, capturing the World Grand Prix title back in October with victory over Simon Whitlock.
The World Championships are getting harder to predict each year with so many potential contenders. Wright has suffered plenty of setbacks during his career and had to deal with years of pundits highlighting the fact he was missing a major title, but Snakebite believes that determination and good mental strength is the key to success.
“If you put the hours in and have belief and commitment it can be so rewarding.
“Daryl and Mensur have shown that this year. They’ve worked really hard and they’ve been beaten in the past, but they came back strong. I’ve been beaten as well in finals and hit lows throughout my career, but I came back stronger and got my rewards and now I’m second in the world but darts is wide open now.”
After the World Championships, darts will be losing the greatest player to ever grace the oche. Phil Taylor will be retiring from the game after the Championships. ‘The Power’ has won every single title including 16 World Championships and 16 World Matchplays and Wright feels the current crop of players should take responsibility and ensure darts picks up from where Taylor left off and continues in an upward trajectory.
“I’m really going to miss Taylor. He’s a real joker, he’s always winding people up and cracking jokes, he’s great and I will miss him.
“He’s the reason why we’re all playing darts because he’s taken it to a new level. Michael’s kind of taken over now but it’s our turn to take darts up even more.”