Inside Andy Fordham’s life from downing 24 lagers before darts and losing 10st

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From Jocky Wilson to Bobby George and Phil Taylor to Ted Hankey – darts is a sport that has never been short of its characters.

Even so, few can come close to the extraordinary life of Andy Fordham, who died on Thursday at the age of 59.

Fordham, who passed away with wife Jenny by his side, was one of the sport's best-loved stars.

He was a flawed hero, and much like footballer Paul Gascoigne, that is what made him so popular among fans and fellow professionals alike.

Comparisons with Gascoigne might have been even more apt had Fordham maintained the love of football he first showed in school.

"I was really fit," Fordham told the Independent in 2005. "I carried on playing regular football into my twenties but when I was about 26 I got a bad back. I was laid up for about three months and that's when I started putting the weight on."

Back in his school days, the south-east London born star was known as "The Whippet" – a far cry from the "Viking" moniker that stuck after a piece of commentary from George.

He started playing darts through football. Some of his team-mates at the time were keen arrowsmiths, and after filling in for one of them one evening, he discovered a certain aptitude for the pub game.

What are your favourite memories of Andy Fordham? Let us know in the comments section.

"I went from there to the county side, then from the B team to the A team, and the next thing I knew I was being picked for England", Fordham told The Independent.

His professional darts career began in 1990, but it wasn't until 1995 that he made his first appearance at the BDO world championship, reaching the semi-finals before losing out to eventual winner Richie Burnett.

Even at that stage of his career, Fordham was already drinking heavily. "The first time I played at the Lakeside, I drank a shedload and the worst thing was that I won, so you feel like it works", Fordham told the Daily Mirror in 2016.

"From then on, every time I played I felt like I had to have a shedload – I’m talking about a hip flask of brandy and more than a case (24 bottles) of Holsten Pils. I’m not proud of it, but I was just good at drinking."

He returned to the Lakeside 12 months later, losing in the semi-final again, this time to Steve Beaton. It would take Fordham another eight attempts to reach the final, but when he got there, he didn't waste the opportunity.

To the delight of the Lakeside crowd, Fordham defeated Mervyn King 6-3 in the final, taking home a cheque for £50,000 and earning a place in the hearts of darts fans around the world.

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Ten months later, the Viking was invited to take on PDC champion Phil Taylor in a best-of-13-sets match billed as 'The Showdown' and screened on Sky Sports Box Office.

However, the match was defaulted with Taylor 5-2 up after Fordham became unwell and complained of shortness of breath, forcing the event to be cut short.

After the incident, Fordham visited a doctor, and following a series of medical tests, he was informed that as a result of considerable alcohol damage, his level was operating at just 25% capacity.

Last month, Fordham opened up about the match in an interview with Dartsworld.

He said: "Halfway into the match, it was clear I was physically struggling. The sheer heat from the lights on stage was absolutely draining the life out of me.

"Apparently, my eyes were becoming redder and redder as the game went on – they all said it was like watching a temperature gauge rising up…..My mate was backstage with me so I decided rather than wait for an ambulance, he could drive me to the hospital.."

At this stage, Fordham's weight had ballooned to 31 stone. It led to him seeking help and signing up for ITV show Celebrity Fit Club, where he lost 3 stone.

He told MailOnline of his weight reaching 31st: "I never ate a lot, but I ate badly, grabbing convenience foods – takeaways, pizzas, kebabs – because I was always so busy.

"If I was working behind the bar, I'd snack on peanuts or crisps, and I never exercised. And then there was the drinking. Looking back, I realise I was an alcoholic. I couldn't stop myself. I thought I was in control but I wasn't.

"I would start drinking as soon as I went downstairs to open up the bar, at around 11am. On an average day, I'd have up to 25 bottles of lager and half a bottle of spirits – vodka, brandy or whisky."

Fordham reaffirmed that in an interview with the Telegraph in 2005: "Before a match I like to relax with 25 bottles of Holsten Pils and six steak n' kidney pies", he said.

In 2007, he was rushed to hospital again after suffering chest pains and breathing problems before a first round match with Simon Whitlock at the BDO world championships.

He was diagnosed with cirrhosis after years of heavy drinking had destroyed more than 70 per cent of his liverl.

That prompted the star to undergo another dramatic weight-loss programme, this time shedding a 10st, leaving him looking almost unrecognisable to the man that had won the 2004 title.

Fordham piled on the weight again three years later, returning to around 24 stone after a difficult year for him and his family.

His darts career never returned to the same heights as his dizzying Lakeside win, although he did manage to qualify for the 2015 Grand Slam, defeating Wayne Jones in the first round.

The star suffered more health problems in his latter years. In 2020, Fordham was hospitalised with a bowel blockage and underwent major surgery and earlier this year he contracted coronavirus.

Despite his death at the age of 59, he will always be remembered as one of the sport's all-time great characters and a true fan-favourite. He is survived by wife Jenny, and children Raymond and Emily.

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