Big Interview: John Lowe
John Lowe cursed the heavy snowflakes which rained down on him from the skies above.
On his way to a race meeting at Oulton Park, the budding motorbike racer was forced to abandon his journey.
With no track to spin his wheels around, Lowe sought solace in the local pub to escape the treacherous conditions and relieve his boredom.
Little was he to know at the time, but stepping foot into the Butchers Arms – in the small parish of Brimington near Chesterfield – was to change the course of his life forever.
It was while nursing his pint that Lowe was encouraged to step up to the oche by a group of punters who were enjoying a game of the popular pub sport darts.
The chance encounter would prove to be the defining moment in his life as exactly 50 years on, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest players the game has ever seen.
A former three-time world champion and 100-cap England international, Lowe boasted one of the most recognisable faces of British sport in the 1980s as he battled for darts’ biggest prizes alongside other household names like Eric Bristow, Keith Deller and Jocky Wilson during arguably the golden era of darts.
However, his story could have been so very different if it had not been snowing on that fateful night.
“It was just pure fate that got me playing darts,” said Lowe, who is now aged 71.
“I never held a dart until the age of 21.
“Back then I fancied myself as a bit of a motorcycle racer, although I was not a very good one, mind.
“Anyway one day it was snowing heavily, which meant I could not go to a race after work. I ended up going to the pub and that’s when I threw my first dart.
“There was a group of men having a game and one of them asked me if I fancied taking the shot of somebody who had gone to the toilet.
“That was it – that’s how it all started for me.
“I just carried on playing after that.
“I was playing seven days a week and four or five times a day. I just enjoyed it and found that I was pretty good at it.
“I was still working as a carpenter at the time, but then I turned professional.
“I am still playing now – doing exhibitions all around the country.”
Lowe – who was in action at the Guild Hall last night alongside many of his old foes such as Bristow, Deller and Bobby George as part of an exhibition event – clinched his first world title in 1979 when he soundly defeated Leighton Rees 5-0 in the final.
The next seven years would be a tale of so near, yet so far, as Lowe finished runner-up at the worlds on three occasions and often found his path blocked to a second title by Bristow.
He would finally get his revenge in 1987 when he defeated the Crafty Cockney 6-4 in the world final.
Lowe – who retired from the game in 2007 – admits he gets on better with his old rivals now than he ever did during their days competing on the sport’s biggest stages.
“I think because we were all fighting for the top prizes, we kept our distance,” said Lowe, who was nicknamed ‘Old Stoneface’ in his prime due to his cool, calm and collected approach at the oche.
“For finishing runner-up, the prize money was not that great and it certainly wasn’t for finishing third or fourth.
“So we were all fighting for the big prize.
“Myself and Eric had a fierce rivalry when we played – we were enemies. We did not go out but now we go on holiday together to Tenerife twice a year.
“He will play in my charity golf day and I will play in his.
“But when we played, we were big rivals and that’s the way it should be.”
Lowe’s final World Championship success came in 1993 when he defeated Alan Warriner 6-3 in the final.
He is, arguably, best known for being the first man ever to throw a televised nine-dart finish.
Considered the Holy Grail of the sport – similar to a 147 in snooker – the nine-darter is the perfect leg from 501.
It came in 1984 during the World Matchplay tournament at the Fulcrum Centre, in Slough, when he came up against Deller at the quarter-final stage.
Leading 2-1, Lowe got the audience twitching when he threw six successive treble 20s, before making history by throwing treble 17, treble 18 followed by the crucial double 18. The feat took all of two minutes to complete and netted Lowe a cool £102,000 – a considerable sum now but a small fortune back in the 80s.
“Winning that sum of money did change my life,” Lowe said. “It made me financially secure.
“I probably did not really need it because I was earning good money at the time, but after all the taxes had been paid, I actually put my winnings into a pension fund.”
With such an amazing amount of money on offer to the first nine-dart finish to be screened live on television, how did Lowe manage to keep his nerve when he sized up that double 18?
“I don’t think I thought about the money,” Lowe said.
“As soon as I threw the dart, I knew it was in the double because you can see my arm go up before it had hit the board.
“But I thrived on the pressure of playing darts in front of a big audience. I loved it.
“Being able to cope with the pressure is what separates a very good player from a great player.”