The Future Is Bright. The Future Has Always Been Bright
Darts as a world sport is a funny old thing, compared to others.
That last comment is a compliment. Please do not take it in any other manner. Let me explain.
Youngsters who get involved in playing darts are more likely to meet, talk-to and play against their heroes than most sports you can mention due to the accessibility, friendly manner of the darts family and the respect of where those players earning big money came from.
Do you disagree? – Ok. I’ll move on slightly.
I – as many others – participated in a lot of different sports as a youngster. I looked up to my idols with a glazed look in my eyes and fluttering ambitions to be where they were plying their trade. Through either a combination of peer pressure, lack of confidence, no support or the terrible teenage years where your head gets turned, those ambitions sometimes flit away into the breeze. I will never ever put ‘lack of talent’ or ‘lack of desire’ into that thought because I genuinely believe that all youngsters who embark on a sporting adventure have both those ingredients and should be encouraged that way.
The cold truth is that not all of us are the right speed to run 100m, don’t have the deft touch to become the next great footballer or the agility to become a world boxing champion. Controversially, you may not be the right gender. You can add as many adjectives you want to any sport you wish, but my point is this.
Darts as a world sport is a funny old thing.
It does not matter what gender you are or choose to be, how tall you are, how big or small you are. It draws no inference as to whether you are in the cool-kid gang or a geek or a street-wise ‘know-it-all’ who can handle whatever life slings at you. It makes no discrimination on colour, culture or issues you deal with. You can be an introvert, an extrovert, a mild mannered nobody in the background. What darts does command…no…demands, is that you have respect, humility and manners.
There will be a whole host of people about to jump on the keyboard-warrior train and point out certain moments of ridicule, agitation and frustration within the darts world which they have witnessed. Just, for a moment, take a step back and put that all of that theatrical drama into context.
Now you have done that, let’s take another step back.
That is where I aiming at with this article and what I alluded to at the beginning of meeting, talking-to and playing against your idols. It does not matter that the PDC have a lot television rights and major TV deals, you can and still have the opportunity of standing on the stage with Michael van Gerwen. Darts is not an elitist sport.
I make that comment based on personal experience and can with hand on heart tell you that every ‘famous’ dart player I have encountered, they had humility, manners and respect.
I was fortunate (or accidental) to have my baptism of darts at county youth level. I was eighteen years old and although I played local league darts I never really knew about county or super league. I didn’t even know county youth darts existed, but there I was at a social club in Farnham watching my then girlfriend play female county darts when the team manager tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I played. Of course, I said just local league and that I wasn’t very good. His response was that the Under-21’s were short and he’d rather I played than give up the game entirely. The next minute I’m wearing a county youth shirt and practising out the back on the boards with the other youngsters.
So, there I was, on a stage at a county youth match against Essex with my knees and hands trembling, a rather bizarre experience. I lost terribly.
I’ll cut a long story short, just to say in my next match I was playing against Mark Day from Buckinghamshire – an England international for the love of god! – But I then went to watch the Surrey County games and found myself in the company of people such as Peter Manley, Bob Anderson, Richie Gardner, Cliff Lazarenko, Dave Askew, Robbie Widdows, John Ferrell, Lionel Sams, Gene Raymond…..to name but a few…..and they actually accepted random youth players who they did not know to join them on the practice board. Not only that, they started to give advice on how to stand, how to throw and ask about your darts. Me? – I’ve only played two county youth matches and lost both miserably, why would you be interested in me?
Good to note at this point my county youth average was around a 50-58.
“What darts are you using?”
“You might need a different grip.”
“Try these stems, they’re shorter.”
“You need to stand to the right more, you’re too central.”
“Your darts are wobbling, you need to change your weight.”
“You’re releasing too soon.”
“Why don’t you pop down on a super league night for a game and to chalk, it will help your finishing.”
I would stand in a trance as they spoke to me like this. I’m a nobody, I thought.
Add to that….maths + maths – subtraction + maths + finishes = dart players giving advice. You can also add to that it would be around the same time I learnt what ‘banter’ was.
It was something I was never accustomed to. Yes, the little bit of advice from a guest coach at a football camp, the athletics coach at school shouting “shorten your stride” or when Duke McKenzie visited the local boxing gym and muttered a few things which I couldn’t understand, but for an actual professional or international player to take you to one side, without actually knowing you and coach, advise you and teach you – no payment required – Mind blown!
Welcome to darts.
Four weeks later I went to the West Midlands and I won with a 72 average and a 104 checkout. After that experience, you walk off that stage to the round of applause, a massive smile on your face, heart pumping and a skip in your step. Bizarre reaction from me, I went straight round to the practice board and threw some more darts (because that’s what Dave Askew told me to do after a match).
I then went to different ‘weekender’ tournaments where I was playing people like Chris Mason, Ronnie Baxter, Richie Burnett, Terry Jenkins, Bob Anderson, Dave Askew, Eric Bristow….. “Eric ‘Bloody’ Bristow, for crying out loud! – I lost, but I didn’t care. It was so much fun.
I would at this point say I had a shot at a double against Richie Burnett for the leg, but that is a bit like someone saying they had a one day trial at Arsenal once….it was a moment but it never happened.
Back at the county matches, all of a sudden I’m having really well known county players saying hello and asking me how the family are. Not just me, but the other county youth players and it felt really good. That is when you start to feel relaxed and it is a really nice feeling. You feel at home.
I’ve not been around the county scene for a very long time, but from what I have seen and heard, nothing much has changed and that is why darts is a funny old thing in its most pure form. Professional dart players coaching and advising young players who they must know may one day be standing on the stage playing against them, with one dart at a double for the match to beat them. Professional dart players just being who they are. Who we all are, human.
That, for me, is why darts is such a special sport and one which I hold very dear to my heart. It’s a bit of a family thing too, a lot of the time (not all the time) you get involved because a family member, loved one or friend plays the game but at the end of the day once you are in you are most definitely hooked.
A person sitting on the sofa one year – playing on the world stage the next.
A person playing in their local pub team one season – playing county the next.
A person who has never thrown a dart in their life – hitting double 16 to win the match for their local pub team.
Darts is a beautiful sport which brings many different people, from many different backgrounds together. There is no malice, not really. “Game on” – Play – Shake hands, win or lose (though don’t wander too far, you’re on chalks). That’s it. That is basically it. Pure.
I don’t think there are many other sports where you can say, “Yeah, I lost but afterwards I had a pint and a chat with Bob Anderson at the bar.” – True story.
The sport has moved on considerably, but the ethics and the teachings have not changed. That is why darts is very special and do not let anybody ever tell you any different.
On that note, I need to practice on double sixteen, that leg I didn’t get against Richie Burnett still haunts me.
The future was always bright, but lately it’s just got that little bit more sparkle about it.