For me one of the televisual highlights of the year is the BDO Embassy World Professional Darts Championship of the World (now renamed since the smoking ban ended) from the Lakeside Country Club Frimley Green. Sadly, this takes place in January and TV tends to be downhill all the way thereafter. The ridiculous double act of Ray Stubbs and Bobby (“rattle rattle, jewellery, jewellery”) George, the poor commentary of Tony (“I used to be the scorer on Bullseye, you know”) Green whose regular references to “lovely ladies” in the crowd make one pine for the awareness, expertise and sensitivity of Alan Partridge. The entertainment value comes from the players although there are very few of the current BDO players that have the star quality that made darts in its eighties heyday such essential viewing. The big stars, of course, fled to Sky some years ago. There was a cracking “Blood on the carpet” documentary on BBC 2 last year discussing the WDC/PDC/BDO competing world championships split. The programme “Poisoned Arrows” was hilarious, yet – for someone that loves watching darts and wants to see the best play the best – rather sad.
For the viewer without Sky the best of the players are no longer seen on the small screen. They are found in the PDC world championship and other tournaments throughout the year. King of the darts players is Phil “the power” Taylor, twelve times world champion. Last year I was given a copy of his autobiography (written with the greatest of all sports commentators, Sid Waddell – see earlier post for Sid on fashion). The autobigraphy is called simply “The Power” (available at all good book shops). Taylor, the greatest British sportsman of the modern era, has dominated his sport in a manner comparable to the great Ed Moses’ achievements in the 400 m hurdles. He is never a man to underestimate the physical challenge of playing top quality darts – see pp 249 – 252 for a welcome discussion of darts players as athletes which includes the passages,
“I reckon darts demans more physical effort than archery, shooting or golf. … [Leighton] Rees was the holder of the Embassy world title, but for about 10 days over Christmas and New Year had not used his right arm for anything more strenuous than pint lifting. After three hours of hurling tungsten the great man was almost in tears with the pain in this throwing arm.”
Point proved, I think.
The section goes on to compares the darts player’s preparation with that of boxers. As Phil notes,
“The more I talk to my boxing friend Ricky Hatton, the more I am convinced that future darts champions will have to train like boxers”
The strict training, practice, and no alcohol regime Taylor follows (aside from “the odd brandy-and-port three hours before I play, because I eat nothing more than breakfast on a match day”) indicates his dedication. Taylor loves his sport, is committed to improving its image, and he has come as near to perfecting his sport as any sportsman has in recent years. As Sid Waddell himself said, “If we’d had Phil Taylor at Hastings against the Normans, they’d have gone home.” (More Waddell quotes here for anyone interested).
The book is an entertaining read, never being more challenging than the usual sports biography. However, within its pages it has one entry nearly rivalling Taylor’s darting prowess. I refer to the index. Some years ago JG Ballard published a short story called “The Index” in which the book has gone missing and only the index remains. The result is hilarious. While not in Ballard’s league, for non-darts fans a perusal of the index for “The Power” is highly recommended. As well as references to Jim Bowen, Sebastian Coe, Steve Davis, Roy Keane, and Nick Faldo we have
“Anderson, Bob 35, 43, 103
cowboy walk-on 102-103″
the entry for “George, Bobby” contains references to “glitter cape 320 ; police impersonation incident 243-245; poor quality TV commentary 170″; but the entry for Jocky WIlson includes the following,
drinking 47, 108-109, 111-112
finely tuned athlete 199
picketing Embassy tournament 85
playing style 256
Top of the Pops incident 108-9
waxworks incident 98″
Wilson is of course one of the great Scottish sports stars. I doubt if in years to come anyone would be able to refer to Andy Murray in a biography making reference to his picketing, dentures, drinking, the waxworks incident, and the Top of the Pops incident. The latter is one of the great TV moments and the finest moment in Top of the Pops history. Sadly, the autobiography repeats the erroneous version that Dexy’s Midnight Runners singing “Jackie Wilson Said” in front of a large picture of the great Jocky was a researcher’s error. The truth – that Kevin Rowland suggested it - doesn’t make as good a story.