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Andy Fordham, world champion darts player who drank bottles of lager before competing and claimed not to practise – obituary

Andy Fordham in action against Phil Taylor at the Circus Tavern, Purfleet, 2004 - Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Andy Fordham in action against Phil Taylor at the Circus Tavern, Purfleet, 2004 – Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Andy Fordham, who has died aged 59, was the British Darts Organisation Embassy world darts champion in 2004; a familiar figure on the international darts circuit from the mid-1990s, he enjoyed a devoted following wherever he played.

He was as well-known for his physical appearance as his achievements at the oche, which were arguably modest by professional standards. But in a game inhabited by extroverts, his shyness and relaxed approach to life ensured that he was one of the most popular winners of the BDO’s trophy.

Resembling the much-parodied archetypal pub darts player, Fordham was bearded, tattooed and weighed around 25 stone (sometimes as much as 31 stone). With forearms the size of legs of lamb he was a formidable presence on stage.

His trademark mullet hair was, he admitted, a source of vanity. He maintained it fastidiously, cleaning it each day with washing-up liquid before trimming the front and sides. As his most prized asset it also earned him his nickname, “The Viking”, a moniker which belied a self-effacing and gentle nature.

Fordham’s legion of fans were distinguishable by the Viking helmets they wore when cheering him on. His playing kit – an XXXXXXL size shirt, a pair of baggy tracksuit bottoms, and training shoes – did not inspire similar enthusiasm. But with a nod to the ever-gregarious crowd at darts matches, he usually entered the playing arena to the strains of the song I’m Too Sexy For My Shirt by Right Said Fred, guaranteeing him noisy cheers.

Andy Fordham and his wife Jenny in 2005 - Yui Mok/PAAndy Fordham and his wife Jenny in 2005 - Yui Mok/PA

Andy Fordham and his wife Jenny in 2005 – Yui Mok/PA

Having won only a single major title (the 1999 Winmau Masters) prior to his BDO victory, Fordham was written off by pundits as a competitor who lacked stamina. His success in the world championship – his 11th crack at the title – therefore came as a surprise. He eased his way through the early rounds before coming up against the world No 1 and three-time champion, Raymond Van Barneveld, in the semi-final.

Fordham got off to a terrible start. After the first session in a best-of-nine sets game he trailed by three sets to nil. With “nothing to lose” he held his nerve, and in front of an adoring crowd at the Lakeside Club in Surrey he took proceedings down to the wire. After a lengthy contest, Fordham emerged the winner 5-4. The game is widely regarded as one of the tensest in the competition’s history.

With momentum gained, Fordham saw off Mervyn King 6-3 the following evening, albeit in a less intriguing match, to become world champion. As he lifted the trophy and a cheque for £50,000 Fordham shed a tear and declared: “I am in darts heaven.” He said he would spend some of the money having his pub painted.

Andrew Fordham was born on February 2 1962 in London, where his father was an electrician and his mother worked for a wholesaler. The eldest of four children, he grew up in Charlton, attending the Eaglesfield primary school there.

Slim and athletic, he was an enthusiastic footballer in his youth. But an injury sustained while playing for a local team in his early twenties resulted in damaged vertebrae and he was forced to give up active sport altogether.

A self-confessed devotee of pub life, Fordham was working as a builder in south London when he was asked to make up the numbers for a darts match in a local watering hole. Despite an initial lack of skill he soon became “obsessed” with his new hobby, waking up at 5.30 every morning to practise before work.

Drawn to the pub after finishing a day’s labours, he took advantage of the opportunity to hone his throwing talents at night as well, and soon established himself as a highly competent player. Within two years he was a local league champion.

Several seasons spent trailing around bigger tournaments, paying his own expenses, followed. They were not without reward. He was picked to represent England in 1995 and turned professional the same year, despite harbouring doubts that he would ever earn a living from the game.

A consequence of Fordham’s passion for professional darts and the life it granted him was the decline in his physique. Having stopped work as a builder, he became a publican with his wife, first in south London and later in Dartford, Kent.

Fordham made the most of his environment, providing front-of-house entertainment for regulars who were happy to buy him his favourite lager, Holsten Pils, in return for his dependable company. As a result Fordham drank an estimated 140 bottles of it each week.

Andy 'The Viking' Fordham, 2009 - Paul GroverAndy 'The Viking' Fordham, 2009 - Paul Grover

Andy ‘The Viking’ Fordham, 2009 – Paul Grover

He freely admitted to never playing competitive darts without having consumed at least 15 bottles of the beverage, maintaining that it aided his concentration while combating shyness. Similarly free flowing, end-of-game imbibing was commonplace.

“Maybe it was one of the worst things that could have happened to me, becoming world champion,” he said. “I wasn’t used to the limelight. I was so shocked, I’d drink to cover it. You’d get invited here there and everywhere and everything’s free. Drink is everywhere. I just enjoyed drinking. In the end I pissed away everything I earned.”

Fordham also had a weakness for late-night Chinese takeaways, the leftovers of which he routinely polished off for breakfast the following morning. His weight ballooned, though he and his wife said they were not concerned by it.

Equally impressive was Fordham’s disinclination to practise darts. He did not believe that darts players had any natural aptitude, least of all himself. As a result, in the later part of his career his only darting excursions outside playing arenas were exhibition matches. A tireless fundraiser, he also used his skills to take part in many charity games. Steadfastly modest, he never discussed this side of his life.

Having begun 2004 as BDO world champion, the rest of the year was not kind to him. In November a much-hyped match billed as “The Showdown” and worth £60,000 against Phil Taylor, the rival PDF champion, was abandoned after Fordham, an asthmatic, retired early suffering from heat exhaustion.

Fordham with the world championship trophy in 2004 - Action Images/Lee Mills/LivepicFordham with the world championship trophy in 2004 - Action Images/Lee Mills/Livepic

Fordham with the world championship trophy in 2004 – Action Images/Lee Mills/Livepic

Leading 5-2, he was advised by medical staff to abandon the game. A friend was supposed to take him straight from the venue to hospital, but as Fordham was getting into the car his trousers split, so he persuaded his friend to take him home instead. Earlier in the year he had also spent some months recovering from a broken wrist, the result of an accident during a tournament in the Netherlands.

After his collapse against Taylor he was advised to stop drinking and lose weight, and he ended up on the television weight-loss programme Celebrity Fit Club. “That made me realise how bad I was,” he told the Telegraph in 2009. “ I found I couldn’t walk round a football pitch.”

As a result of the programme he eventually lost 17 stone, and in 2005 he defended his world title but was bundled out in the first round by the Dutchman Vincent van der Voort. He suffered the same fate the following year, eliminated by the Australian Simon Whitlock.

In the 2007 world championship he was due to face Whitlock again in the first round, but just before the start of the tournament he was taken to hospital with chest pains and breathing difficulties. The following year he was put on the waiting list for a liver transplant, though he later recovered enough to come off the list.

He made a competition comeback nine months later, but suffered a string of poor results. He switched from the BDO to the rival PDC, but with little success. He went back to the BDO in 2013, but his performance was again patchy.

Andy Fordham married his long-term girlfriend, Jenny, in 2000. She survives him; they had a son and a daughter.

Andy Fordham, born February 2 1962, died July 15 2021