January. Don’t we all just hate it? The dark mornings, the return to dull routine, the lack of cash, the lack of a waistline.
But for me, every January there is a small gleam in the darkness, courtesy of the BDO Lakeside World Professional Darts Championships. In our house, this is genuinely one of the TV sporting highlights of the year. Though we don’t do much TV sport, in fairness.
There’s much to love about darts. First of all, the players themselves. Every man (and it is mostly men) has a nickname, a ‘walk-on’ song and a static-filled synthetic shirt, often with a wacky image stitched on the back. An unwelcome development this year has been some toning down in the sartorial department – too many polite, minimally adorned polo shirts for my liking. Tats and sovs are still very much in evidence however.
Top players include Martin ‘Wolfie’ Adams, Tony ‘Silverback’ O’Shea and John ‘Boy’ Walton. My favourite is Ted ‘The Count’ Hankey, who sadly crashed out in the first round of this year’s competition. He resembles an overweight Dracula, walks on wearing a cape and throws rubber bats into the crowd. He plays with a scarily intense, surly demeanour and is prone to bouts of ‘oche rage’. He’s great.
The venue, a vast function room in the Lakeside Country Club, Frimley Green, Surrey, plays host to packed houses every night. The fans are noisy and enthusiastic, dressing up in tribute to their favourite players and waving 180 banners in the air every time the maximum score for a throw is achieved. Altogether now – ‘Ooooonehuuuuuundred – aynd- eeeiiightteeeeeee’. For all their fervour, the crowds are also very sporting, respecting the calls for ‘best of order’ at crucial moments.
This also applies to the players. Rather than polite handshakes at the end of a match, you’re more likely to see full-on bear hugs and big smiles all round, albeit a little forced on the part of the loser.
The BBC coverage is also excellent. The commentators come up with regular gems – the other night they likened John Boy Walton to a ‘battered cod’ who was being ‘reeled in’ by his opponent. At the climax of the match they were calling for a milk float so they could see who had the biggest bottle. The BBC has also secured the services of darts legend and never knowingly under-bejewelled Bobby ‘Dazzler’ George as guest pundit. Bobby knows his darts, is never afraid to voice a frank opinion and loves a catchphrase – ‘trebles for show, doubles for dough’ being a favourite.
Ultimately however, the real joy lies in the incredible skill of the players. Their accuracy and consistency of scoring is quite amazing to watch, not to mention their mental arithmetic as they constantly recalculate what scores they need to achieve in order to check out on a double. The game also requires extreme mental toughness. Like all individual sports, there is often as big a challenge from nerves as there is from the opposing player. Players can suddenly lose their ability to hit the target, when they could do no wrong minutes before.
At these moments, the TV picture cuts away to the long-suffering wives and girlfriends, mums and dads. They are living every throw – and it’s pure torture.
Women players don’t feature hugely in the BDO tournament coverage. Unfortunately they are treated almost as also-rans and their matches are only ever a somewhat pathetic best-of-three sets, as opposed to best-of-13 for the men’s final. Things may be different over at the rival darts organisation, the PDC, (there was a split years ago) but as we don’t have any sports channels we are once a year BDO fans only.
This Sunday afternoon will see myself and my husband glued to coverage of the live final. Our kids are vaguely embarrassed by our enthusiasm at this stage, so may not join us in our little January ritual. They don’t know what they’re missing.