Andy ‘The Viking’ Fordham, who has died aged 59, showed the world what he could achieve when facing a dart board.
However, while he was once on the cusp of greatness, the darts icon failed to convert his immense talent into a long list of trophies, as darts turned from the thing of smoke-filled working men’s clubs into a global brand.
The right-hander’s inability to translate his evident skill into success, was hampered by his issues with the bottle and food. These were relics of a bygone era as the PDC (Professional Darts Championship) juggernaut run by Barry Hearn who turned the sport into a slick television production with marketable stars.
His failure to take care of himself, whether at, or away from the oche proved to be his downfall. He ballooned to 31st and was told by a physician that only 25pc of his liver was functioning.
Fordham always maintained he was a sportsman, once quipping: ‘I think of myself as an athlete because I have been on Grandstand and I wear trainers.’
Born in Charlton south-east London in 1962, ‘The Viking’ was a keen runner at his local school where he earned himself the nickname of ‘The Whippet.’ His pace on the track was equally as useful on the football pitch, and it was the round ball which sparked Fordham’s love affair with the arrows.
Andy ‘The Viking’ Fordham was crowned world champion in 2004 after defeating Mervyn King at the BDO World Championship
The Bristol-born darts icon (above) died on Thursday with his wife, Jenny, by his side
Fordham was a handy centre-forward playing for the Angerstein Hotel in Greenwich and stopped in the bar with team-mates after a training session. The group were asked by the hotel’s darts side for a spare player, after one team member failed to show. Fordham duly obliged.
‘The Whippet’ then became ‘The Viking’ and stormed onto TV screens at the Lakeside in 1995’s World Darts Championship, falling in the semi-final to eventual winner Richie Burnett.
Fordham wanted more success and came agonisingly close to a title on a further four occasions, suffering defeats in the semis to Steve Beaton in and a trio of back-to-back losses to Ronnie Baxter.
He was finally crowned champion in 2004 and many critics thought this was to be a springboard. What was to come, is what darts icon Wayne Mardle described as a ‘period in the wilderness.’ In reality, it was the beginning of the end.
Pictured with wife Jenny in October 2020 – the last known photo of him before his death
Where most athletes develop a taste for women or fast cars, ‘The Viking’ was seduced by food and booze. Instead of a shower or motivational music before taking to the oche, Fordham confessed to a much more basic preparation. He told the Telegraph in 2005: ‘Before a match I like to relax with 25 bottles of Holsten Pils and six steak n’ kidney pies.’
But while the diet was part of the problem, it was integral to his success. In the same interview he said: ‘I remember my first ever world champs, I was incredibly nervous.
‘I was really scared. So before my first game I drunk shed loads and the worst thing that could’ve happened, happened: it worked.
‘And from then on, I felt I had to do it again. It helped the concentration, numbed everything, you weren’t aware of what was going on behind you, you could just concentrate on what was in front of you, the board.’
It was part of a downward spiral played out on the biggest stage.
In 2005 when he played Phil Taylor in a PDC v WDC event entitled ‘the Showdown’, The Viking collapsed at the oche.
His legendary feats of drinking were synonymous with his career as a fan-favourite, although he would later be warned of the devastating impact alcohol had on his health
A year later he was due to play at the Lakeside, but pulled out after experiencing breathing difficulties backstage.
This second health scare prompted him to shed weight, losing 14st with the help of partner Jenny and their two children Raymond and Emily, before returning to darts in 2007.
In one interview after his weight loss, Fordham joked: ‘My wife says I’m not half the man I used to be, and she’s not kidding.’
He started back at the very bottom, playing in the Players Championship for paltry sums of £500 – a far cry from winning £300,000 at the Lakeside, but failed to return to those heights as his weight piled back on.
Fordham briefly flirted with a return to the top table, being handed a wildcard at the Lakeside in 2015, but his comeback wasn’t to be.
Another wildcard entry for the 2016 BDO World Trophy ended quickly after he was dumped out in the first round by Glen Durrant, losing the match 6-2.
Two years later, he attempted to qualify for the 2018 World Masters – a tournament he reached the summit of 19 years prior – but could only manage the last 272.
Fordham’s final professional appearance came in 2018 at the World Masters. He was hospitalised in March 2020 with a bowel problem, leading to him having 16 litres of fluid drained from his body
But throughout his illustrious career, Fordham faced numerous health scares. Pictured: His wife, Jenny, shares a picture of ‘The Viking’ as he recovers in hospital in February 2020
It would prove to be his last tournament and would battle with health issues in the years leading up to his death.
He required a life-saving bowel operation in 2020 before contracting coronavirus in January this year, where he revealed to The Sun that doctors warned him that the disease could hit him ‘very quickly’.
‘This is the scariest thing I’ve ever had to face in my life,’ he said.
‘My biggest fear is waking up one morning, not being able to breathe and being placed in the back of the ambulance – then not seeing my wife and children again.’
The Bristol-born darts icon died on Thursday with his wife, Jenny, by his side.