Why Sport Needs Bad Guys Like Gerwyn Price

November 20, 2018

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You don’t really see that many mainstream movies where the bad guy wins anymore. There are some about – No Country For Old Men for example, The Neon Demon, Gone Girl, Creep, Alien: Covenant – but down the years it’s almost like they’ve been fazed out. Like the production companies want their entertainment to be feel-good, to make their audience feel warm. To prioritise enjoyment over a thrill.

Never was this more so obviously displayed than in 1993 when the classic Dutch film The Vanishing was remade by an American film studio. The original Vanishing was a grizzly, riveting thriller where not only did the bad guy win, but he buried his victim alive six feet deep. The remake, by contrast, ended with the good guy climbing out of his grave and selling his story as a novel. One prominent critic, Matt Zoller Seitz, called it ‘the worst remake of all time.’

But you can understand the production company’s thought process, why they might want to add a happy twist to a dark story. Cinemas are selling entertainment at the end of the day, and a movie is a place where people can switch off and have a stress-free couple of hours.

In sport, though, there is no control over who the victor is. Sport is like watching an episode of Wacky Races in which Dick Dastardly and Muttley actually have the ability to turn their dominance into a podium finish. That is what makes sport so brilliant, and that’s why a sporting story like Leicester winning the Premier League is more far-fetched than any fictional movie script could get away with.

But as good as the Leicester stories make us feel, we need bastards in our game. And we need them to win.

In psychology, there’s a famous way of thinking which backs up our need for bad guys in sport named Affection Disposition Theory, which is a relatively simplistic and shallow study relating to media and entertainment, but can equally be applied to sport and is based on the idea that our engagement in competition becomes much stronger when we take a side.

In football, these sides are almost practically innate. Most of us grew up supporting a football team before we were old enough to choose, while in cricket and rugby, the same rule applies. In individual sports though, like tennis, boxing, golf, and darts, it’s a little bit different. Sure we usually back our compatriots, but it isn’t always the case that our compatriots are competing, and in darts, they’re usually facing off against each other.

So, instead, consciously or unconsciously, we usually make a decision to back one of the two players by making a moral judgement about their character. Of course, not all the time will we make this decision, sometimes we just want to enjoy the match for what it is, while some people will circumnavigate the affective disposition theory by betting on the outcome. That is one of the reasons why betting is so big in a sport like horse racing and less-so in Formula 1, and why boxing and MMA have such elaborate press conferences, to showcase the fighters’ personalities to the world.

Darts doesn’t have elaborate press conferences. Almost everything you glean from a player’s personality comes from his time on the oche, the time when they’re at their most stressed and most hyped. That’s one of things that makes darts so compelling; that emotion you see in their face when their dart hits the wire, that emotion you see when the darts nestles in the double 16. Darts is massively captivating in its own right, it doesn’t actually need hype.

What the spectator does need though, is someone to root for. Or root against. And that’s where Gerwyn Price comes in.

Darts, for a long time, hasn’t had a true villain. Kevin Painter was the last, he and Phil Taylor had some great run-ins down the years, but Painter never truly hung around right at the top of the game for long. His run to the 2004 World Championship was magnificent, but it was an outlier more than anything. Gerwyn Price, though, has the ability to stay at the top, and his performance at the Grand Slam last week showed just why.

Averaging 95, 97 and 96 in his last three matches of the tournament, Price isn’t going to smash any records playing like that, but his ability to rub his opponents up the wrong way caused all sorts of havoc on stage, first with Simon Whitlock in the quarter-final, then with two-time World Champion Gary Anderson in the final (the video is below in full). Some may call it gamesmanship and an awful lot of people won’t like it and may even get a little bit angry about it, but stepping back from the emotion, it’s hard to argue that it’s not entertaining. It’s far from the first time it’s happened either, but it’d never happened quite like this before, to this effect, on this kind of stage, a major final.

It’ll be really interesting to see whether the PDC try and reign him in a little. The big players in the game are likely to make complaints, and they may have some say in the matter, but his actions, though they are close to the line, aren’t illegal. Immoral maybe, but not illegal.

It’ll also be interesting to see whether Gerwyn Price reigns it in too. You can’t imagine he’d want to, sometimes taking the emotion and the aggression out of a player can affect their game. Taking the bastardry out of Diego Costa’s game would be like castrating a dog. The same is surely true of Gerwyn Price, and when it’s so effective, why change? If you can play with such anger and such emotion inside of you while staying calm in the moment, then why not use it to your advantage?

Fans may not like it, but sport isn’t always about enjoyment. Like film, some of the most thrilling stories are the ones you don’t enjoy, and the fans will surely not enjoy Gerwyn Price taking home the Sid Waddell Trophy come January should it happen. But, like it or not, after last week, that is now a distinct possibility.

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Author: Tom Mortimer

Tom is the editor at Betting Circle and has been creating online content for over 10 years. Tom mainly writes about sport and gambling, but every now and then also delves into fleshier subjects like politics and psychology. When he was 18 he created HungarianFootball.com and over the last few years he's written on a freelance basis for ESPN, WorldSoccer, Goal.com, among many others.

Twitter @TMortimerFtbl

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