It will be one of the lasting images from this World Championship. Gerwyn Price, the current world number one, wearing noise-cancelling ear defenders to block out the noise from the crowd.
Trailing 3-1 to Germany’s number one Gabriel Clemens in their quarter-final last night, Price left the stage during the short advertisement break and returned to the Alexandra Palace donning headwear that sent social media into meltdown.
The 2021 world champion had started the contest in style, with finishes of 140, 110 and 74 to sweep the first set in just 42 darts.
Price was a perfect 3/3 on the doubles in the opening set, and appeared to have brought an improved game to the ones which had taken him to the last eight of the sport’s biggest tournament for the fourth consecutive year.
But the top seed then went 3/16 during the next three sets, losing all of them 3-1 to Clemens, appearing in his first World Championship quarter-final, and not showing any signs of nerves.
A pair of 12 darters, one of which culminated in a 136 checkout, helped Clemens move to within two sets of the semi-finals and left Price scrambling to find an answer before time ran out.
Few would have predicted Price’s solution would be to walk back on to the stage with ear defenders – his “plan B” to block out the noise from the crowd, and for a brief moment it looked to have been a masterstroke.
The Welshman kicked off with a maximum in his first visit after the restart, before holding throw in 12 darts, and he celebrated by gesturing to the fans that he could no longer hear their boos.
It would be a false dawn though for Price, who would not win another leg in the match, losing the next six in a row as Clemens stormed into the semi-finals with a 5-1 victory.
In fact, Price was only afforded two more shots at a double during those final half dozen legs. Both darts at his favourite tops and both going off target.
Clemens wrapped up the fifth set 3-1 with a brilliant 11-darter on throw, with another 11-dart leg following in the next set, which he won 3-0 to extend the best-ever run by a German in this tournament’s history.
But for Price, who ditched the ear defenders after one set in favour of ear plugs for the final set, it felt like he was sending out a message to the PDC that he has finally had enough.
Barring the obvious behind-closed-doors era during the pandemic, the crowds have for the most part been on Price’s back for the last four years ever since his controversial Grand Slam of Darts title win in late 2018.
He has carried the flack from the crowd on his back for years now and at times it has bothered him and at other times he has found a way to play through it and win even more major silverware.
In the immediate aftermath of last night’s defeat, Price posted on social media he might never play in a World Championship again.
A knee-jerk reaction? Most likely. But in the morning after with more time to reflect – could Price walk away from darts if nothing changes?
He has threatened to pack the darts up before, but at this point he has nothing left to prove. He has scaled to the very top of the game, winning a World Championship and becoming world number one.
We know Price has other interests outside of darts and this is his second career as a sportsperson, having previously played rugby. While it has been in darts that he has found his most success, during this World Championship he has hinted at putting his boots back on if he has a spare weekend with no darts.
It would be a massive shame for the PDC, for darts and for those who follow the game if last night was Price’s last match in a World Championship. He is a character that fans love to watch, but some of those fans also love to hate.
What ever Price decides to do in the rest of 2023, donning the ear defenders last night could be seen as a plea to the higher-ups to step in.
Moving the World Championship from the Circus Tavern to the larger Alexandra Palace has dramatically changed the atmosphere for the sport’s showpiece event.
The move has played a part in a huge increase in prize money. In 2007, the last World Championship to be held at the Circus Tavern, Raymond van Barneveld took home £100,000 for winning the title, from a prize pot of £500,000.
The winner of this year’s event will scoop five times that amount, £500,000 – the largest prize in the history of darts – from a prize fund of £2.5 million.
But it has come at a price. Players who feel the brunt of the crowd will no longer be afforded the “best of order” on stage.
Price is not the first and he definitely will not be the last to be the Ally Pally villain – is it up to him to find a way to win over the crowd? It appears the PDC are already past the point of no return in getting the boos to stop.
Pictures: Taylor Lanning/PDC