How serious are pub sports?

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For many students across Durham, pool is quite simply a pub game that could never be taken too seriously as a sport. That said, one thing is very clear, students at Durham are serious about pool.

Fuelled by inter-college competition and rivalry, the pool league includes students ranging from Ustinov College’s post-graduates, to Hild-Bede’s first year students.

Pool at Durham has an undeniable ability to keep cross-university competition alive in casual settings of college bars. In the evenings it is a rarity that pool tables go unused, occupied by perhaps those simply wanting a couple of relaxed frames with friends or those fighting for promotion or a crucial deciding frame within the college leagues.

But what is it then that makes pool so popular?

The commitment to pool across Durham is illustrated clearly by the number of players and teams taking part in the university leagues; at Trevelyan and Hild Bede as many as six teams.

Each match team consists of 6 players and gameplay is subject to preference, with students playing the game how they wish to play it whilst maintaining the important element of college competition in the comfort and familiar settings of college bars.

Durham Pool League president Matt Barnes commented that students are often surprised when they find out how many people are involved in pool at Durham, and as a result there are always ways new players can get involved. Barnes also said that regularly visiting other colleges is one of the great attractions of the sport .

For a large number of players and spectators the game’s impressiveness comes from its speed, flukes and flair. To others however, the game is much slower and individual shots or breaks are meticulously thought through and this level of precision is key.

For many students across Durham, pool is quite simply a pub game that could never be taken too seriously as a sport. That said, one thing is very clear, students at Durham are serious about Pool.

Fuelled by inter-college competition and rivalry, the pool league includes students ranging from Ustinov College’s post-graduates, to Hild-Bede’s first year students.

Pool at Durham has an undeniable ability to keep cross-university competition alive in casual settings of college bars. In the evenings it is a rarity that pool tables go unused, occupied by perhaps those simply wanting a couple of relaxed frames with friends or those fighting for promotion or a crucial deciding frame within the college leagues.

But what is it then that makes pool so popular?

The commitment to pool across Durham is illustrated clearly by the number of players and teams taking part in the university leagues; at Trevelyan and Hild Bede as many as 6 teams.

Each match team consists of 6 players and gameplay is subject to preference, with students playing the game how they wish to play it whilst maintaining the important element of college competition in the comfort and familiar settings of college bars.

Durham Pool League president Matt Barnes commented that students are often surprised when they find out how many people are involved in pool at Durham, and as a result there are always ways new players can get involved. Barnes also said that regularly visiting other colleges is one of the great attractions of the sport .

For a large number of players and spectators the game’s impressiveness comes from its speed, flukes and flair. To others however, the game is much slower and individual shots or breaks are meticulously thought through and this level of precision is where the attraction of the game lies.

Pool would seem then to be an important element of college life, allowing students to meet other players, improve their skill, and also provide a welcome distraction from studying.

Overall, what is very clear is that many students in Durham are indeed serious about pool, but it is importantly not a sport that demands seriousness or a certain standard of the same level seen in many other inter-college leagues.

For hundreds of students at Durham, college darts has become an essential part of their university lives. On a Monday night in the corner of every college bar, you can expect to find two darts teams fighting it out in the prestigious darts league.

In total there are 22 college teams. This year every college has a least one team (a first in Durham!). Trevs and Butler have 3.

John Lumley, the organiser of the league, explains how popular the sport is: “We had demand for 25 teams, but I couldn’t fit that many in the schedule!” So big is the league that John runs a website to display results and fixtures.

Each of these 22 teams has 8 players, who get together once a week to play their match in the league.

Each member plays ‘a leg’. A ‘leg’ in darts is when you start at 501 points with the aim of getting to 0 by finishing on a double.

There is also a ‘bear leg’ half way through the fourth match, which involves all sixteen players in the two teams playing each other. The losing team has to buy the winners a pint.

Most people have a set drink that they use to ‘warm up’ with.

Rob Powell, captain of the University Darts Team and member of Mary’s A Team tells me how he “necks a pint and a half of Guinness before he starts to help him relax his throw, giving him a smoother action. Alcohol improves people’s game.”

In a sense Rob uses drink like a performance enhancing drug.

He plays last in the team so he can drink the most and make sure he loses all tension in his arm. His best game ever was after 11 shots, he tells me.

He does practice without it. This is just as well, as he trains 10-12 hours a week.

However one would be naïve to assume that all these darts players are fat, inebriated lay-abouts.

Emily Pearson, Captain of Castle B team, plays hockey, netball, football, rowing, badminton and squash.

“I do loads of sport, and darts is just a social thing.” And the same seems to be true for most players.

Some teams are made up entirely of members from one college sports team.

Watson, Captain of Mary’s Darts, says “our B team is almost exclusively made up of the college football club, who get together on a Monday night to play in the league.”

A member of this team, Johnny Westwood said that “there was so much interest last year amongst the footballers, that this year we thought we might as well form a team. We all play football together, so it’s cool to relax afterwards with a few pints and a bit of darts.”

This social aspect seems to be key for many involved in the darts scene.

Whilst all the players seem to go out with the intention of winning, they maintain that meeting and catching up with friends is just as important.

So much so, that a lot of the team selection is based on friendship groups rather than darts talent.

John Lumley explains, “Our A team is just my friends, our B team is just freshers and our C team is a lot of the football club.”

However he does acknowledge that in other colleges, where there aren’t as many teams, merit based team selection is necessary.

With only one team, Grey has to have a ladder system, where you can challenge the person above you on the ladder to a game in the week and then the top 8 go out and try to win in the league on Monday night.

Yet the players are not the only winners in this sport.

Monday night would be one of the quieter nights in most college bars, but Lumley explains that the 16 darts players provide plentiful business.

“Trevs bar would be empty then if it wasn’t for the league.”

What is more it seems that no one need feel inhibited about participating.

Emily Pearson says that as a girl it was at first a bit intimidating “with all the boys shouting and standing around the board.”

But in fact it “was really easy to get into”.

One would have thought that the sport would be very male orientated, even sexist. But Pearson denies this, saying: “it’s quite the opposite really!

If a girl is playing, it is darts etiquette for all the guys to support the girl, no matter which team you are on.

No one has any excuse not to get involved!”

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