So it is the end of that first working week of the year. And, as usual, it was a load of shit, wasn’t it?
No particular reason for it, as far as I am concerned. I deftly managed to avoid getting involved in anything too strenuous so far, touch wood. The Facecrack status updates of many of my friends confirm that this time just gets us all down. It is a conspiracy of villainous circumstances:the gloomy cold of January; the reluctant return to work after the universal Christmas holiday; the prospect of another whole year until, well, Christmas; a whole load of new year’s resolutions to feel guilty about breaking; and this year we have the special kicker of a recession to look forward to. It’s the New Year Blues and it hurts.
Fortunately, there is a remedy for this most mirthless of weeks. It is dished up yearly by the BBC and represents the acme of British sporting excellence (and absurdity). Yep, you know it, you love it, you live it: it’s the BDO world darts championship from the Lakeside.
Right. Now that the vast majority of readers have clicked off to their preferred social networking / pornographic entertainment site at the mere mention of darts, I can be sure the only people still reading are the faithful few, the cultural cognoscenti, or at least those open-minded enough to give me a chance to justify this bizarrest of British gifts to the world.
Yes, the competitors are the least physically healthy of any sport, I imagine in the world. Sumo wrestlers may be fatter, but they don’t pack away the pies and fags like our boys of the board. Sumo wrestlers don’t have cheesy 1980′s pop walk on music like “You got the Power”, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, ”Jump”, or any thing by Queen. I don’t speak Japanese, but I seriously doubt that those serious warriors have official nicknames like “Wolfie”, “The Dazzler”, or “Robbo”. And I have never once seen any sportsman of any description come on stage with a crown, cloak, and candelabra as is the wont of Bobby George. What can I say, the man has class.
Darts is the only seriously contended sport I can think of where drinking alcohol is actually an integral part of the training and pre-match conditioning.* You can’t blame them really. These guys have to stand up in front of hundreds of people, all of whom are pissed-up like Geordie cab-drivers and twice as violent. They have to throw delicate arrows at tiny targets whilst making tricky mathematical computations. No wonder the average darts player limbers up for a match with a good three or four pints of old peculiar. It is not unknown for players to come out to the oche (throwing position) too bladdered to even throw straight. I love how the commentators always discuss it as some sort of tactical miscalculation.
The rowdiness of the crowd is spectacular. In football, the fans may be mental, but there is a clear separation from the players. In darts, the competitors are crammed in a crowded room with the rampant revellers, who holler and bray like churls at a mediaeval hanging. But this all adds to the atmosphere, which is good-natured really. The punters come in all manner of garb in the hope of getting a good 2 seconds of fame on the telly. They dress up as pantomime horses, Vikings, storm-troopers, vampires, robots, farm animals, and even Scots.
The boozing and the crowd-nonsense reveal the true beauty of darts: it is a high-spirited evening down the pub translated to the Olympian stage.
But more to the point, it is the man from the pub’s chance to be a hero for a week. Yes, there are dedicated ‘professional’ players, but because of the relatively small prizes (the BDO world champion wins only £95,000, a fortnight’s pay for a premiership footballer) darts is played for love, not to earn a crust. I found out this year that the women’s prize money is a paltry £6000! Not much for the crowning achievement in your sport.
More so than any other sport, darts is the sport of the common man. Football and boxing may be seen as a way for people from humbler backgrounds to make it big, but when you watch league footballers you know they turned up to the match in Ferraris. When you watch darts, the players are still ordinary people like you or me, unless this blog has started to attract premiership footballers, of course.
Darts players are real people, a rare breed amongst the groomed and coddled of tv-sports entertainment. They don’t all have Emporio Armani tattoos and pretensions of releasing a pop single. Take 2004 BDO World Champion Andy “The Viking” Fordham for example. Publican by trade, he weighed 31 stone (197kg) at his at his zenith. His walk-on music was “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred. He used to drink a crate of beer a day and once drank 25 bottles before a match. Alcohol almost killed him, so it is a good thing he gave it up, and has lost 15 stone! Bless him.
It is a greatly entertaining sport too, I can confirm. The psychological ebb and flow, which is the only trully interesting bit of sport anyway, is ruthlessly and sometimes cruelly exposed. You can join in at home too. I find it difficult not to echo the stirring roars of “a-waahnnn-hunndreed-nd-AHHHHHIGHTYY” whilst strutting round my lounge like a Cockney chicken.
So why not lift those January blues and get involved in the darts. It’s the semi-finals today, the grand final tomorrow, and the BBC iPlayer is good for it. It is not linked on the main page of the BBC Sports webpage, but relegated to the ‘other sports’ page.
Incidentally, I decided years ago that if I were a darts player (there is still time – Bobby Dazzler only started playing at 30), I would be called Tom “The Rat” Rowland, and my walk-on music would be either “Theme tune from Grange Hill” or “We’re Having a Gang-Bang” by Black Lace. What would yours be?
*Perhaps ten-pin bowlers drink to steady the hand too, but my thinking is so addled by ‘The Big Lebowski’ that this might be pure phantasy