What I discovered watching the darts

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If you had asked me a month ago what I thought of darts, I would probably have drawn a blank. Or maybe I would picture some blokes playing in the dingy corner of a pub, sharing a couple of pints, discussing the traffic on the nearest motorway. Of course it’s an age-old stereotype but one that, as I settled down to watch my first ever PDC World Darts Championships, I hoped to explore.

First things first, I suspect the fact I had never actually thrown a dart, or watched many others doing so, was severely limiting any chance of gauging the skill, suspense and scintillation that cloaks the sport.

Is sport the right word, or is it more of a game? It’s a long-debated question and not one I shall delve into for the time being, but regardless of where your opinion lies, as those 96 players burst onto the stage at the Alexandra Palace for the World Championships every year, it is nothing short of spectacular.

Darts is the closest thing sports fans get to binge-watching your favourite show

Clad in their signature baggy shirts, nicknames proudly emblazoned across their backs and accompanied by a gaggle of supporters, a darts walkout is the closest you will get to those ringside.

I can’t deny my surprise at the drama of it all, it certainly was a far cry from my previous image of a darts match. But then again the ear-bursting atmosphere provided by the increasingly intoxicated crowd, kitted out in their best fancy dress, would make anyone feel invincible.

And some of them seemed it. Purely invincible. Striding out steel-faced and unwaveringly focused, spectators eagerly awaited battles between the likes of ‘Bully Boy’, ‘The Iceman’, ‘Mighty Mike’ and ‘Snakebite’. I got the sense very quickly this wasn’t a sport for the fainthearted.

Clad in their signature baggy shirts, nicknames proudly emblazoned across their backs and accompanied by a gaggle of supporters, a darts walkout is the closest you will get to those ringside

Following their ceremonious entrance however these players have to muster up the utmost concentration, calm, and accuracy the moment they step up to throw their first darts. With just a moment’s hesitation or psychological wobble, as Danny Noppert discovered this year, your tournament run could be over in brutal fashion. And the oche shows no mercy.

But it’s that capability that shocked me the most as a darts novice. I simply watched on in awe as Michael Smith hit a nine-dart finish in the final while somewhere in the blurred background a spectator was being urged to down yet another pint in impressive fashion. It would be like trying to sit an exam in the middle of a wedding reception when the YMCA comes on. 

Although the raucousness would make fans at Wimbledon’s Centre Court clutch at their pearls, darts players seem to have an innate ability to find tranquillity among the commotion. And in a game where mere millimetres separates your triumph or going bust, competitors will go to any length to keep their eye in. Such a technique was proven by Gerwyn Price – the number one seed for this competition and the pantomime villain of the darts world – when he resorted to wearing ear defenders in his quarter-final match to block out the noise.

Sitting down to watch it for the first time though, I found myself also enthralled by the pace of it all, with four of five matches played back-to-back. Oftentimes, tungsten flies towards the board for only 20 minutes before the sets have been wrapped up and you start the whole thing over again. Darts is the closest thing sports fans get to binge-watching your favourite show.

Although the raucousness would make fans at Wimbledon’s Centre Court clutch at their pearls, darts players seem to have an innate ability to find tranquillity among the commotion

Beyond that though, what particularly piqued my interest this year is that my aforementioned stereotype about darts players seems, albeit gradually, to be eroding. 28 different nationalities – from Brazil to Lithuania – starred at the world championships this year, thanks largely to the 32 spots available for international qualifiers.

However, the 96-player format doesn’t just seem to facilitate the internationalisation of darts but also helps promote female players to the world championship stage. Three years after Fallon Sherrock made history by becoming the first woman to win a match at the PDC World Darts Championships, the ‘Queen of the Palace’ was joined by Lisa Ashton and Beau Greaves who both qualified via the PDC Women’s Tour.

Discussing the move towards darts becoming a gender-blind sport, Sherrock explained, “I’ve always had the game, but us women have never had the opportunity to prove it.” Her heroics in 2019 meant she proved to the world that “women can play men at darts and beat them” and that “we’d beat men more often given the chances.”

The PDC now guarantee at least two spots for women at the World Championships, and those that take to the stage hope to boost female representation and inspire fellow women to take to the oche.

Consequently, I can proudly say I’ve bitten the bullet and thrown my first darts, looking forward to delving further into a sport where outrageousness, tension, and unparalleled accuracy all collide. I guess having done a full 180 on my darts opinion, it’s probably time I try hit one on the board. I may be some time.

Image: Clem Onojeghuo via Unsplash

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