I’m undecided about darts as a spectator sport in this country.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to watch darts on the rare occasion it’s on television, like last weekend’s coverage of the Cash Converters Players Championship Finals live on ITV4. Three days, 32 brilliant players and non-stop action on the world stage. As a mild darts fan and all-round sports lover, what’s not to love?
Going down to the event, this one at a Butlins in Minehead, must be a whole different animal. Thousands of people grace the arenas and halls that host events on the PDC and BDO tours, all craning to watch the antics of two large men aiming for a pretty small board that’s way too far away to see anything clearly. So, for the majority of the time, you’re left watching the game on one of the tellies dotted around.
Of course, like going to see a diminutive comedian on stage at the O2, darts is only part of the reason you’d go and watch darts. Unlike any other sport I can think of, darts gives the crowd the chance to get absolutely trollied. Book tickets to attend both sessions in one day of the Players Championship and you’ll be there for about eight hours. As midnight draws in, one of the few things you can do outside of watching the matches is heading to the bar and getting another pitcher in. Could you imagine that at a snooker match? During the UK Championship in York this week, all too many times I’ve heard the referee demand silence from the droves of people leaving for a quick wee during another game’s interval, supposedly the only sound coming from their shuffling shoes. To me, darts is every bit the precision sport that snooker is – you’re aiming for a tiny spot on a board or ball and need to make this sport several times during a match. Wouldn’t mucho noiso put darts players off?
That doesn’t seem to matter to the sport and it’s one of the reasons that its popularity is growing. Watching the final of the Players Championship, erm, finals, was akin to a derby match in a football league. Without any warning, a huge section of the audience burst into a song and I’m not entirely sure what for. No idea who “Steven” is, or whoever. It visibly perturbed Phil Taylor, although nothing was going to put him off his riotous against Belgium’s Kim Huybrechts. In the end, darts thrives on the raucous and the enthusiastic in order to detract from what is, in essence, a really sedate game you play in the pub with one of your mates. As long as they’re chanting for one of you and not suddenly swelling up with a chant that makes you throw your dart into the sky.
I’m hoping to attend the Sheffield leg of 2013’s Premier League Darts, all issues aside. It’ll be my first live darts spectacular in a year I’m also trying to break my ice hockey cherry. With friends and beer, I imagine it’ll be a whole lot easier to understand the tribal darts throng than sitting on my leather sofa with a glass of milk.