A right royal success
From democratic crowds to dedicated players, Sid Waddell explains why darts is healthier than ever.
Last Updated: 10/01/11 4:21pm
Back in February 1978, I commentated on the first ever World Darts Championship in Nottingham.
The favourite was a 20-year-old called Eric Bristow, who was surprisingly knocked out in the first round by an American player called Conrad Daniels. This guy took about two minutes to throw three darts and after sealing the victory he informed the young Brissy that he had to buy the first round of drinks.
Leighton Rees eventually beat John Lowe in the final to win £3,000 and the BBC were so pleased with the reaction that they swiftly increased their coverage of darts. Within two years I was covering the British Championships, international matches and an invitation tournament called Bullseye.
The World Championship was always the biggest of all and by the time Bristow eventually became world champion in 1980 we had unleashed a monster on an unsuspecting nation.
Back then, I knew we had found a sport that had that had limitless potential - and this year at Alexandra Palace, darts achieved everything I ever thought it could.
For me, it was the best World Championship ever. We had 72 players from all over the world entertaining the crowd with some unbelievable talent and drama. It was simply amazing.
This has become a massive, international sporting event, comparable to visiting the Maracana for a football fan, the MCG for a cricket fan or Fenway Park for a baseball fan. And without wanting to bang the drum too much, the Sky Sports coverage, complete with dancers and light shows, brings a real rock 'n' roll feel to the proceedings.
This year we were given the Royal seal of approval as well. Prince Harry's visit probably did as much for the working classes as getting the vote in 1832! Who would have imagined we'd see a member of the royal family giving Adrian Lewis, a former shelf-stacker from Stoke-On-Trent, a hug after a darts match?
This is how far we've come. Aidy kissed the prince on the throat and as a student of Modern History, I can tell you that if that had happened 800 years ago then, at best he would have been locked up in the tower and, at worst, would have his head on a spike!
So our sport has a new world champion and a very deserving one.
Several years ago, a young Adrian Lewis told his boss that he wouldn't be coming in to stack shelves the next day because he wanted to go and win a darts tournament.
His boss told him not to bother coming back to work, so the unemployed Aidy went out the next day and won £3,000 playing darts. Look at where he is now; a world champion at the age of 25.
People have asked me why I didn't go mad over his nine-darter in commentary. Well, it's because I knew he was capable of doing another one. That's how good this kid is. He is a darting genius and he has finally shut up the people who said he had no (to use a stupid word) "bottle".
If Lionel Messi scored 63 goals for Barcelona and then missed a penalty because he was trying to place it one inch inside the post (when most human beings would aim one yard inside the post), does that mean he's got no bottle? No it doesn't.
It's the same with Lewis; just because he can throw treble 20's without looking and then miss a few doubles, it doesn't mean he has no bottle. However, Keith Deller has made changes to his mentality; his ups and downs are less intense than they used to be and that was the key to his success at Ally Pally.
Yet he's still a showman and that's wonderful for our sport.
Other highlights? Well, I'll never forget Mensur Suljovic dancing around like a ballet dancer after beating James Wade. From his wife's reaction, you'd think he'd been made president of Austria.
Also, commentating with Freddie Flintoff was an absolute blast. That guy could write the GCSE paper in darts jargon, such was his knowledge of lipsticks, lies, lay-ups and all the other phrases that myself, Phil Taylor and Rod Harrington have come to use over the years.
And I will never forget waking up on the final morning to be greeted by a parcel from some Stoke fans, containing eight oat cakes filled with sliced cheese... the favoured morning snack of Robbie Williams and Philip Taylor!
People have sniped about darts for years, accusing us of not being a sport, but this year we saw top sportsmen like Will Greenwood, Brian Moore and Andrew Flintoff in the crowd. Try telling them that this isn't a sport?
What this 16-day tournament has shown is that you need to be mentally and physically prepared to play top-level darts now.
For 45 weeks of the year, 150 of these guys are travelling from Barnsley to Amsterdam and back to do battle in the Players Championship events, with around £6,000 on offer to the winner.
To win one of those tournaments you have to play tough darts for seven to nine hours a day - and sooner or later everyone will come a cropper. It's an intense and physically demanding circuit.
That belies the notion that these people just stand around in pubs swigging beer. We've seen players, some unknown to the general public, throwing some terrific averages at the World Championship and that consistency comes from incredible hard work and fitness. It's also a tribute to the excellent work of the PDC.
There is a coal face and these guys work at it.
Finally, one of the most unique aspects of our sport is that the crowds can come and watch in an atmosphere that isn't tribal.
From the pals of the players to the guys off building sites to the stockbrokers with a £1,000 bet on the outcome, they're all jumping around together and the enthusiasm is entirely positive. It's a very democratic atmosphere and very British night out.
The crowds give the commentators so much to work with and the wit on the placards is often amazing (even though half of them seem to be proposals from girls young enough to be my grand-daughter).
These are days of austerity in our country, so how wonderful to see the British people getting an enormous amount of collective enjoyment from watching working-class lads throwing darts at the start of the year. The Premier League will be the same, but spread over 14 weeks and should make for spectacular viewing
Thank goodness some people were willing to walk out on their bosses to step up to the oche!