At last I found the time to visit a top professional tournament and see how it's really done!
I went along to Blackpool for the PDC Matchplay ...my first visit to a major pro tourney. I arrived about 7.30 p.m. and walked the short distance from the car park to the venue at the Winter Gardens.
As I walked in, the first match was underway. Lowe Vs Dellar. I glanced round to see if I could find a seat - No Chance! The place was absolutely packed with darts fans of all ages!
I picked a spot standing up, in the middle at the back, and watched Lowey beat Dellar. Then after a few moments I was surrounded by Techy TV types and one of them decided to blast smoke out of a machine at me! Next thing I know I am surrounded by Scotsmen with all sorts of tartan paraphernalia draped over them...then the music started, 'I'll be in Scotland afore Ye'...I should have known - the entrance of Jamie Harvey! The Scotsmen around me all went raving mad, singing, stamping, clapping, and I was jostled to and fro and struggled to keep my feet for a second. It was like a scene from 'Braveheart'...any minute Mel Gibson's going to appear with his face painted blue and impale me on the end of his dart!
Then came 'I got the Power' and Taylor was coming! Even more people pushing and shoving and trying to touch old Phil, shake his hand or give a slap on the back!
Needless to say Phil won the match. Jamie tried of course, but Taylor was just too strong.
Amazing...I had seen the razzmatazz of these entrances on TV but to experience it up front and personal was brilliant.
What struck me was the availability of the players before and after their matches. I had a quick chat with Lowey, Ronnie Baxter, Dennis Smith, Shane Burgess who were all wandering around the place answering questions from spectators, having photos taken, signing autographs etc. Now there are not many other sports where the stars subject themselves to this kind of availability to fans. As a stark contrast a few days earlier, I had witnessed Tiger Woods walking round St Andrews golf course at The Open with three plain clothed SAS guys and a personal bodyguard!
All credit to darts and the players for making this great game a peoples sport!
On my recent holidays in Portugal I had my first go on one of these soft tip darts machines. First of all I had to use the soft tip darts from behind the bar, which were well battered but all that were available. They were very light and did not feel balanced at all - that's the excuses over with, back to the game!
I had a quick 'chuck' to get the feel and started playing my Portuguese buddy, Nuno, who it must be said, plays on these machines on a regular basis (more excuses!)
Now there is no 25 (single bull) ring on these machines, and I had heard that the thing to do was to go for the bigger bull rather than the treble 20 to get the score down. So that's what I did!
Away I went, second dart hit the bull and the machine went into overdrive, lights flashed, bells rung and I couldn't help but miss with my third dart!
'What the ...' I said and looked at Nuno who was laughing his head off in Portuguese!
Nuno won the game of course, laughing or not!
I observed a couple of things....the 'whoopidoodidingdong' noise the machine makes when you hit anything of any significance is very off putting for the poor naive steel tip player who is used to playing in virtual silence. Also it's difficult to get a rhythm going as the dart doesn't go 'Duff' when it hits the board ...it's more like a plasticky 'Slap' and the dart quivers a little as it beds in the hole! I would have to play for a couple of weeks to get anything like competitive on one of these things.
Thankfully these machines are still fairly scarce in the UK, and the soft tip scene has not taken off at all. How some of these pros switch from steel to soft I don't know, but power to their elbow if they manage it, and I know some of them do!
It's summer league time in the UK and I'm having a break this time. Most of the rest of the team decided to play on during the summer league, but teams are depleted due to holidays, so much so that some teams do not enter at all, and the league is run with reduced numbers.
Now due to holidays our team were particularly short of players one week. I couldn't play because I hadn't registered and I was spectating, so Brenda was asked to play!
Now Brenda does not play darts at all and usually sticks to dominoes, but she was quite willing to help the darts team out and play.
It was explained to Bren by the team captain that it really didn't matter if she lost and she was not to worry about it. ..."I'll just try my best" said Bren nervously.
Bren got absolutely slaughtered by about 250 points!
The point is that she didn't give a damn, she was playing with a great big smile on her face and almost giggling. She was having the time of her life! Her opponent was a perfect gentleman, giving her encouragement on her throw and I can't help but think he had nothing but admiration towards Bren for her attitude during the match.
"I really enjoyed that" said Bren to her opponent after the game was finished. "It was a pleasure to play you" said her opponent, shaking her hand vigorously.
I thought....well darts has a new fan and potential future player, who demonstrated what the game is all about. It wasn't about winning for Bren, she quite simply enjoyed the game of darts for what it was. Darts was the winner on this occasion, not her opponent!
I later told Bren I was going to write about her game as I, and others in the team, were won over by her exemplary attitude.
"You better not" said Bren, blushing and embarrassed!
Here it is Bren....sue me!
Throw where you Look, and Look where you Throw,
Throw where you Look, and Look where you Throw, Rockford