I could always count on pal Eric Bristow, says Bushmills darts veteran Freddie
Bushmills darts player Freddie McMullan has paid an emotional tribute following the death of legend of the oche Eric Bristow.
And he revealed that the Crafty Cockney used to help him keep score during their battles.
Freddie also said his "friend and rival", who died of a heart attack last Thursday at the age of 60, had a fondness for the famous whiskey from his home village.
The 67-year-old played the five-times world champion regularly in individual and international competitions.
He described the Englishman, who helped transform darts from a pub game to a high-profile sport, as a legend.
"He was one of a kind," said Freddie, who was watching TV coverage of the latest round of the Professional Darts Corporation's (PDC) Premier League in Liverpool when it was announced that Bristow had collapsed and died at the event.
"I was shattered. My mind raced back to all the times I played him, for Northern Ireland against England, and in the individual championships.
"He really was a gentleman, and although he was fiercely competitive, he knew I wasn't the quickest at the counting and he would always whisper in my ear the best score I should be aiming for with my next three darts. And he never guided me wrong."
Bristow also gave him crucial career advice.
He recalled: "I was an amateur darts player with a job back home in Northern Ireland but Eric told me not to turn professional.
"He said the only players making money out of darts were the ones ranked in the top four. I was ranked number eight and I knew I couldn't get any higher. So I stayed as an amateur. I never regretted the decision and I thanked Eric for his advice."
He said he and Bristow became friends the first time they met at an international tournament in Cork 40 years ago.
He added: "Eric and I would have had a drink after matches. I brought him over the odd bottle of Bushmills and I still have the mug he bought me, an Irish mug with the handle on the inside!" He lost to Bristow in the semi-final of the World Masters in 1984, but there were no hard feelings.
He said: "I was glad that he went on to win the final. He was a fantastic player."
The last time they met was two years ago at a tournament in Blackpool. He recalled: "The craic was just the same as it always was. I'll miss him as a friend and he'll be a huge loss to the game of darts. He made it what it is today."