Category Archives: Darts

Preview: 2015 Betway Premier League Darts – Week One

No sooner has the last tournament left us, the next one is upon us. The PDC tree is bearing much fruit as far as exposure is concerned and Thursday marks the start of this year’s Premier League – a 16-week jamboree which kicks off in Leeds before concluding at London’s O2 Arena in late May.

Participating in the 10-man event include the current top four in the PDC Order of Merit – Michael van Gerwen, Phil Taylor, newly-crowned world champion Gary Anderson and Adrian Lewis. They are joined by defending champion Raymond van Barneveld, Peter Wright, and Dave Chisnall, while James Wade makes a return following a one-year absence.

This year’s edition also sees two new debutants in the form of 2014 BDO World Champion, Stephen Bunting, and the improving Kim Huybrechts.

Here is my preview for the first five 12-leg match-ups taking place at Leeds’ First Direct Arena.

Dave Chisnall v Peter Wright

Chisnall and Wright are due to kick off the action and both will be keen to leave an early mark as the tournament gets under way. Chizzy showed some devastating form at last weekend’s Masters in Milton Keynes, averaging over 106 to defeat Robert Thornton before being denied in an incredible 10-9 contest against van Gerwen who recorded an average in excess of 110.

Meanwhile, Wright was steady, but also bowed out in the quarter-finals to Adrian Lewis. This should be a close encounter but if Chisnall can reproduce his standard from the weekend, his scoring power should be enough to nick it.

Raymond van Barneveld v Adrian Lewis

Meeting for the first time since van Barneveld’s dramatic 4-3 win at this year’s world championship, the pair of them have reasons to fancy their chances ahead of this bout. The Dutchman reached the final of the Masters, while Lewis also performed well, making the semis – with both being halted by van Gerwen.

Van Barneveld holds a 9-3 lead in their Premier League meetings with two draws and hasn’t lost to the Englishman in the competition since 2012.  However, recent history suggests there isn’t much between the two and the draw seems a decent shout here.

Kim Huybrechts v Michael van Gerwen

These two played one of the more memorable matches of 2014 at the Grand Slam of Darts with an inspired Huybrechts pinning a nine-dart finish as he overpowered van Gerwen. The latter was unstoppable at the Masters though, notching two 110+ averages as he stormed to another television title.

Huybrechts was absent at the Masters – virtue of not being in the top 16 – and may come into his first Premier League match slightly cold. The fiery Belgian should still be primed for battle though, yet I expect the world number one will have a bit too much here and run out a relatively comfortable winner – as comfortable as a first-to-7-legs match can be, anyway.

Gary Anderson v Phil Taylor

Anderson is in the peculiar position of having consecutive triumphs on TV over Taylor, with victories at the Players Championship in December and more significantly, the world championship final at Alexandra Palace last month. The Scot was a tad rusty at the Masters but still managed to make the last-four – testament to his form nowadays. Taylor was bounced out in the first round by Terry Jenkins but the well-documented death of his mother means it’s perhaps not the shock it would otherwise be.

Given Anderson’s success of late, and Taylor’s regular malaise in the opening Premier League fixtures, I predict the Flying Scotsman to secure a third-straight win over The Power in front of the cameras.

Stephen Bunting v James Wade

The ease of Bunting’s win over Wade at Ally Pally was one of the more surprising stories of the championship and the two are set to clash again in the final match of the opening night. Wade has proven to be Bunting’s bunny over the past 12 months, with the Bullet prevailing in all four of their matches.

Wade’s Premier League experience means he won’t be phased by the huge crowds, yet little has bothered Bunting since he made the switch from the BDO after winning the Lakeside World Championship in early 2014. I’m going for Bunting to snatch the two points on debut.

PDC Unibet Masters Preview: James Wade set to defend title

Fresh from the awards night at The Dorchester – yes, modern-day darts has expensive taste – the top 16 are back on the scene to contest the Unibet Masters in Milton Keynes this weekend.

With changes in both venue and scheduling – the former likely due to the rather vocal Scottish crowd at the last edition – James Wade is back to defend the title he won in dramatic fashion a little under three months ago in Edinburgh.

Here’s a preview of the first-round match-ups, all best-of-19 leg encounters.

James Wade vs Mervyn King

Wade starts his campaign against the man who squandered a cluster of match darts to beat him in last year’s final, Mervyn King. Both suffered early exits at the World Championships – King was ousted in the first round by Max Hopp while Wade fell in the next round to Stephen Bunting – and will be keen to start 2015 off on a good note.

The match should be full of high-quality finishing – a trait which served both of them well as they enjoyed strong 2014’s. It’s a tough one to call but with King’s recent Achilles trouble, as well as a trapped sciatic nerve, Wade has the edge in this one.

Gary Anderson vs Andy Hamilton

Playing his first match as a world champion, Gary Anderson opens his title bid against the struggling Andy Hamilton. Victory over Phil Taylor in the final at the Alexandra Palace capped off a brilliant 12 months for the Scotsman, and he is a massive favourite for this match.

Hamilton was fortunate to reach the last 16 at the Worlds, with unconvincing wins over Dave Richardson and Kyle Anderson, before being whitewashed by Peter Wright. It capped off an unassuming year for The Hammer and his form of late makes it hard to envisage him getting close in this one.

Simon Whitlock vs Raymond van Barneveld

Simon Whitlock is the higher seed for his clash with five-time world champion Raymond van Barneveld but the Australian has been out of sorts, with his first-round exit at Ally Pally culminating a torrid year for The Wizard – a result which has also seen him miss out on this year’s Premier League.

A dogged run to the semi-finals in London displayed fighting qualities from van Barneveld that have become all too rare. Despite not playing his best darts, the Dutchman is finding a way to win matches. If the new-found grit is on show, Barney should have little trouble dispatching Whitlock, who could hurtle down the rankings in 2015.

Phil Taylor vs Terry Jenkins

After the Daily Mirror incorrectly reported Phil Taylor would miss this event following the death of his mother, the 16-time world champion confirmed he would be participating and he faces a testing opening match against Terry Jenkins.

Taylor was solid, if unspectacular, in his run to another world championship final whilst Jenkins gave a good account of himself in a run to the third round. In normal circumstances Taylor progressing would seem almost a certainty, but with his personal situation, and Jenkins’ penchant for an upset, The Bull could score an upset win.

Michael van Gerwen vs Wes Newton

With his world title defence ending in a 6-3 semi-final beating by Anderson, Michael van Gerwen will look to get back on track as he takes on Wes Newton. The world number one dazzled at times at the Worlds while Newton was bounced out ignominiously by Spanish qualifier Cristo Reyes on the opening night. The Dutchman should win through comfortably.

Adrian Lewis vs Ian White

Adrian Lewis is probably still scratching his head from his last 16 loss to van Barneveld last month in a match he dominated, but somehow failed to close out. Stoke-on-Trent’s Ian White meets Lewis in Milton Keynes and a similarly off-guard Lewis performance could see White with a chance. That said, if Jackpot is near his best he should prevail in a race to 10 legs.

Robert Thornton vs Dave Chisnall

Robert Thornton threw some of his best arrows in a run to the quarter-finals at Ally Pally, and will be confident ahead of his clash with Dave Chisnall. After reaching the final in November’s Grand Slam of Darts, Chizzy failed to replicate that form at the Worlds, as he was conquered in the second round by Benito van de Pas. Both players are evenly matched though and this one is fiendishly difficult to call. It could go 10-9 either way.

Peter Wright vs Brendan Dolan

Following a confident run to the last eight in London, Peter Wright matches up against Northern Ireland’s Brendan Dolan at the Masters. Snakebite, who has vowed to prove his doubters wrong this year, should have enough in hand to beat a steady opponent whose tendency to miss doubles at crucial times could ultimately cost him.

Predicted Quarter-Finals
Michael van Gerwen vs Robert Thornton
Peter Wright vs Adrian Lewis
Phil Taylor vs Raymond van Barneveld
James Wade vs Gary Anderson

Predicted Semi-Finals
Michael van Gerwen vs Peter Wright
Phil Taylor vs Gary Anderson

Predicted Final
Michael van Gerwen vs Gary Anderson

Predicted Champion: Gary Anderson

The action gets under way on Saturday at 12.45pm and all of the matches are broadcast on ITV4 in the United Kingdom.

Darts Classics #1 – 2005 World Matchplay: Phil Taylor v John Part

In the first of a series of articles where I reflect on some of the best darts matches over the years, I look back on Phil Taylor’s quarter-final clash with Canada’s John Part in the 2005 World Matchplay at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool.

‘Phil Taylor’ and ‘dominance’ are often bedfellows in a sentence, but as the best of the PDC descended on Blackpool for the 2005 World Matchplay, The Power was enjoying a quite remarkable stretch even by his standards. Five-times defending champion, and only two tournaments away from completing the unprecedented achievement of holding all six television titles at the same time, Taylor was an overpowering favourite to collect an eighth World Matchplay crown.

Beginning his campaign with a comfortable 10-4 victory over Jamie Harvey, Taylor then overcame long-time rival Dennis Priestley as their last 16 bout went into extra time. But next, came an either tougher proposition, John Part.

Part, then a two-time world champion had proven one of Taylor’s toughest opponents at the time. After suffering a brutal 7-0 defeat in the 2001 world final, the Canadian bounced back to stun his nemesis two years later, with his dramatic 7-6 triumph at the Circus Tavern ending Taylor’s eight-year reign.

Part, known as Darth Maple, continued from his historic win to record further TV wins at the 2003 Desert Classic, and then another at the 2004 UK Open in Bolton, in a fruitful period which also briefly saw him become world number one.

However, Taylor got revenge at the next UK Open, hauling in 7-1, 9-5, and 10-6 advantages for Part, to snatch an 11-10 win and avenge the trio of losses. It ensured their Blackpool contest at the Matchplay less than two months later would be mouth-watering.

THE MATCH

Taylor eased into control of the best-of-31 legs match early on, breaking twice to assume a 4-1 lead at the first interval. An undeterred Part signalled his intent immediately upon the resumption, pinning a 130 checkout with Taylor sat on 40 to snare a break back.

Missed doubles from The Power allowed the Canadian to draw level, and a stunning 161 finish in leg nine, saw Part run off four consecutive legs to move ahead, before Taylor arrested the slide to send the match into the second break at five-apiece.

A missed arrow at double tops saw Part break once again in the 12th leg, but a 121 checkout culminating on double five from Taylor in the next, stunted his progress as the two continued to trade lusty blows. With the Englishman primed to break on 52 with the score at 8-8, a nerveless 118 finish from Part proved vital in keeping the match on throw. Neither showed any signs of wilting, and they left the stage for a fourth time with the score locked at 10-10.

Each started with 13-dart legs after the break but it was from then on that Part began to turn the screw.  Taylor’s four missed darts at double in the 24th leg proved pivotal as Part nailed his final spear at tops. A crippling 108 outshot with Taylor lurking on 42 added further pain as Darth Maple moved three clear.

Another break of throw from Part on double 11 took Part one away from the match cueing roars from an electric Blackpool crowd. But when he missed three darts for the match in leg 27, memories of the recent UK Open collapse would have whirred as Taylor was an afforded an opportunity. However, The Power was unable to capitalise, missing a dart at the bull and two at double eight allowing Part to return and hit double one, to secure a memorable win.

THE AFTERMATH

Part went on to defeat Peter Manley 18-16 in the semi-final before finally coming unstuck against Colin Lloyd in the final whose barrage of 180s saw him claim the title 18-13,  completing the win on a maximum 170 checkout.

A dejected Taylor quickly arrested the loss, winning the next three TV tournaments – the World Grand Prix, the World Championship, and the Premier League – before coming unstuck against Raymond van Barneveld at the 2006 UK Open, who had made the switch to the PDC earlier that year.

The Part-Taylor saga resumed at the same venue 12 months later in the last 16 but it was more of a procession than a contest, as Taylor stormed to a 13-2 victory, setting the trend for what was to follow in their rivalry. Taylor has won every match they have played on TV since.

Now Taylor has survived Huybrechts scare it could be too late to stop him

It was out of his hands. Kim Huybrechts had 15 darts to knock Phil Taylor out of the World Championship in the last 16. He couldn’t do it, he failed to even get a dart for the match.  He never recovered, and like a thief in the night, The Power was gone. Now Taylor has survived a huge scare – he eventually triumphed 4-3 in sets – it’s hard to see past the 54-year-old notching a 17th world crown on Sunday night.

For most, a tournament gets tougher as it goes on, that isn’t the case with Taylor. He thrives on the longer format, able to maintain a staggering consistency while the rest wilt. His ability to build leg-on-leg pressure without relent, makes him fiendishly difficult to beat. Unlike a Michael van Gerwen, or an Adrian Lewis, Taylor rarely has poor legs, ensuring his opponents are nearly always under tremendous pressure to hit their checkouts. There is no respite.

His dominance of the set-play format hasn’t been quite as strong as that of his leg-play – he hasn’t lost a match in excess of 25 legs since his 16-14 loss at the 2010 Grand Slam to Steve Beaton – but it is still unprecedented.

On the 19 occasions where he progressed to the last four of the world championships, only three times has he not gone on to lift the title. Those blots on the CV came courtesy of a  6-1 smashing by Dennis Priestley at the first WDC World Championship in 1994, and defeats in final-set epics against John Part and Raymond van  Barneveld in 2003 and 2007 respectively. The Power has also never lost a world semi-final.

So with the knowledge of Taylor’s supremacy in the latter rounds, if he is going to be beaten, the quarter-finals may be the last good chance to do it – a round which has brought his demise three times, most recently to Mark Webster in 2011.

Realistically, despite  a successful season for Vincent van der Voort, there is little to suggest he can threaten to beat Taylor over a nine-set contest. The Dutchman’s power scoring may create chances, but his frailties on the doubles and lack of experience at the business end of TV tournaments, do little to convince me he can upstage The Power on the grandest stage. A set, possibly two, but a win would require an effort unlike any he has produced before. It’s hard to envisage a vulnerable Taylor – especially considering any concerns with his new darts would have been quelled after the Huybrechts match.

Of course, the calibre of the remaining participants will hopefully – in the interests of competition – prevent a cruise to the title, seen so often in many PDC World Championships in the late 90s and early 2000s. Since van Barneveld’s switch of codes in 2006, which sparked a mass exodus of players from the BDO, Taylor has won the title just three times out of eight. Age, of course plays a part, but the increase of serious challengers is undeniably the main factor.

Providing he beats van der Voort, a semi-final match with either van Barneveld or reigning BDO world champion Stephen Bunting will await. A clash with van Barneveld would see a battle of titans, but the striking truth is, despite his win over Taylor in this year’s Premier League, that has been his only TV victory over his adversary in the last six-and-a-half years. – a period which has seen his mental strength battered through, a result of countless defeats against Taylor. In addition, van Barneveld has not shown form capable of triumphing over 11 sets. He may have possessed bottle in spades to dump out Adrian Lewis on Tuesday evening, but his scoring inconsistency would surely be punished more severely by Taylor. Past scars and current indicators point firmly to the Stoke-on-Trent master prevailing in a match between the two.

Bunting is the dark horse in this event and the BDO world champion is three games away from becoming the first undisputed world darts champion in over 20 years – if only for a week. The 29-year-old has moved swiftly through, dispatching James Wade in the last 32 and then Michael Smith in the third round with a ton-topping average. Bunting has secured a TV win against Taylor this year, in a deciding leg at the European Championship. While he would still be an outsider if a contest between them arises, Bunting has the game, and is in the form to beat Taylor if he is not at his best. It would be a fresh and intriguing semi-final.

Gary Anderson and van Gerwen are favourites to win their quarter-final matches against Peter Wright and Robert Thornton, and the two have an edgy rivalry, stemming from van Gerwen’s victory here against Anderson 12 months ago. The Dutchman has had the best of their matches in 2014, with key wins from 3-1 down at Alexandra Palace last year, along with another close win in the Premier League semi-final. Both have achieved success against Taylor and either would pose a strong test over 13 sets.

Defending champion van Gerwen lost the 2013 final to Taylor 7-4 in sets, but could have assumed total control at 5-2 if not for a missed double. Taylor has also had the best of their most recent battles, bouncing back from van Gerwen’s wins in two TV finals in 2013, handing out a pummeling at the 2014 World Matchplay, almost reducing his opponent to tears. The Dutchman is playing himself into the tournament, with a convincing win over Terry Jenkins on Monday. Set-play helps his up-and-down game, allowing him peaks and troughs without causing irreversible damage. If he can tighten up on the doubles, he could topple Taylor, but judging on his patchy year he would be the underdog over a 13-set marathon.

Could Anderson be best placed to take the title from Taylor? His Players Championship win in Minehead, and improving play at Ally Pally puts him in with a genuine chance. He overpowered Taylor in the quarter-finals in Minehead, and his 7-3 sets win over The Power in the 2007 World Trophy is testament to his credentials over the long format. That match may have been seven years ago, but Anderson’s current consistency and temperament, is arguably as great as it has ever been. However, in 2011 where he looked primed to win the tournament, he fell at the final hurdle to Lewis. The glut of 180s and strong double-hitting the Scotsman is showing at the moment will make him tough to overcome. If he doesn’t buckle and produces at his very best, the match is in his hands. His scoring prowess will offer up enough chances, it is whether he can take them.

Much is telling in that the quest to make an impermeable case for someone to defeat Taylor is so tough. His improvements round-on-round are ominous, and his character to fight back against Huybrechts was a far cry from his loss to Michael Smith in the second round 12 months ago. The Power looks assured and composed, in contrast to the edgy and uneasy version we saw earlier in the year.

Few chances come to knock Phil Taylor out of a World Championship and if not noticed when they present themselves, like that they’re gone. We may only be at the quarter-finals, but it might already be too late…

PDC World Darts Championship: Week One – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The first week of the PDC World Darts Championship always lends itself to mediocrity as an arguably bloated field of 72 take to the Alexandra Palace oche for their preliminary and first round matches.

This year’s event has been no different, with those in the higher echelons showing they are still head and shoulders above many on the rest of the tour – at least on television anyway.

But darts is darts and there has still been a fair bit to whet the appetite over the opening few days, with some entertaining contests, the occasional shock, and the ever-improving standard of the international qualifiers. Two even progressed to the second round, booting out seeded players in the process!

THE GOOD

Ten maximums from Max Hopp finally broke the defences of a battling Mervyn King to snatch an enthralling 3-2 win. The 18-year-old German’s power scoring regularly bruised the 10th seed – who was also suffering from a slipped disc –  but an array of clutch checkouts from King helped to quell the pain, as he managed to keep  his opponent at bay. But when the Masters finalist to seal the win in the fourth set, Hopp powered back, wrapping up the match with a stunning 161 finish.

In a match that could potentially decide his darting future, Wayne Jones fought valiantly in a high-quality match against former world finalist Dean Winstanley. Jones defied a poor year and two 136 checkouts from his adversary to go 2-1 up in sets. However, once the doubles deserted him, the match changed, Winstanley winning six of the last eight legs to win 3-2, and leave Jones’ career in the balance.

Michael van Gerwen’s bid to defend his world title began with a testing 3-1 victory over Joe Cullen on the opening night. After van Gerwen built a two-set lead, Cullen bounced back with some impressive finishing – almost sending the match to a decider – but the champion pinned double six for an 84 checkout to move through to the last 32.

Phil Taylor and Adrian Lewis recorded effortless 3-0 wins, notching up the first round’s two 100-plus averages. Five-time world champion Raymond van Barneveld also signalled his intent, dismantling Rowby-John Rodriguez with sparkling 167 an 170 finishes. Last year’s runner-up Peter Wright was also watertight on the doubles, shutting out Gerywn Price 3-0.

THE BAD

All has not been right with Simon Whitlock for a while and his loss to Darren Webster was the culmination of a poor 12 months. With only a semi-final at the World Matchplay of note, Whitlock would have been hoping for a resurgence at the Ally Pally – a venue where he made the final in 2010, and reached the semis on two other occasions. It wasn’t to be as his doubles – once the highlight of his game – failed him and Webster held his nerve, banishing memories of his match against James Wade last year, where he missed multiple match darts.  Whitlock’s Premier League spot could also now be in jeopardy, although those cynical would point to the TV contract with Australia’s Fox Sports and suggest, that despite his form, he is still a shoe-in. When all is considered, it’s only an exhibition event anyway.

A torrid year for Justin Pipe ended with a five-set defeat to Australia’s Laurence Ryder. The Taunton man’s quarter-final at the Masters was his only TV appearance past the last 32 all season, and a first-round exit at the worlds, will only accelerate his slipping ranking.

The two-year rolling ranking system has its merits but judging by Stuart Kellett’s performance, it may protect for too long. Boosted to 32nd seed following Richie Burnett’s absence, Kellett played abysmally, averaging a mere 73 as he fell ignominiously to German qualifier, Sascha Stein. The former BDO number one’s darts were a far cry from those that whitewashed Darryl Fitton at Lakeside in 2011. On the bright side, at least he no longer faces the prospect of a battering by van Gerwen after Christmas.

THE UGLY

Iberian qualifier Cristo Reyes dealt the tournament a major shock on the first night, bundling out an admittedly struggling Wes Newton – but it didn’t happen without controversy. Newton fought back from a two-set deficit as the match went all the way to a deciding leg when Paul Hinks, the referee, forgot the rules. Instead of asking the players to throw for the bull to determine who would throw first in the final leg, he simply instructed to play on. Once aware he’d made a howler, he tried to rescue the situation by restarting the leg again, to the fury of Reyes in particular. The Spaniard managed to gather this emotions to snatch the win, and claim a result that after all the confusion, was probably just.

According to Barry Hearn, they are all darts fans, but from what I have seen in the past week I would beg to differ. I wrote an article about crowd trouble earlier in the week and the dangers of attracting an audience whose main priority was not to actually watch the show. Yet things got even worse during Hopp’s match against King, where a number of louts decided to start chanting “10 German bombers”. The PDC’s direction is clear, and to their credit, as a business, the product is booming. But if I was Hearn, I would be increasingly at the clientele the sport is attracting.

POST-CHRISTMAS

The darts resumes on 27 December with the second round. For me this is when the tournament really gets under way, with the first of the seeded clashes, and the start of the longer formats. The opening salvos are concluded, let’s begin the quest to crown a new world champion.

The PDC has created a monster, they are now slaves to it

You could be forgiven for thinking there wasn’t anything wrong. Record crowd numbers, ever-increasing prize money, and now a gleaming new channel – Sky Sports Darts. But while Barry Hearn waxes lyrical about another of his “rags to riches” stories, it only takes a light scratching of the surface to reveal that all is not well.

The crowd is the life source of every sport. Forget television rights, sponsorship deals, the standard of the players, without the fan base a sport would cease to exist. When looking at the crowd so far from this year’s World Championship at Alexandra Palace you don’t see the legion of darts fans making the annual pilgrimage to the year’s highlight event anymore. They have been replaced largely by clusters of drunkards.

These drunkards are  segregated into two groups – the “stands” and the “tables” – and are locked in battle for four hours or more where they trade insults about their assumed economic backgrounds. Every 20 minutes or so, those differences are put aside so they can bellow a tedious chorus of: “Stand up if you love the darts!” – somewhat surprising considering it doesn’t appear they have actually watched any darts since their arrival.

Granted, this is not a new scenario. The crowd’s morph into something more resemblant of a mob has been apparent from the birth of the Premier League almost 10 years ago – but the last two or three have seen it get much worse. The idea of any order and respect is long gone. Mark Webster’s first round match with Ron Meulenkamp ended in farce with referee Russ Bray powerless to control an afternoon attendance baying for blood as the pair missed an array of doubles – in fact his calls for quiet just made things worse.

And now it also looks like Sky, longtime supporters of this “atmosphere” have had enough, either that or they are simply embarrassed. Constantly throughout the tournament they have been muting the crowd, whenever they show signs of unrest. My amazement at Sky’s decision stems from their ties with the PDC. Rod Harrington, a commentator and analyst is a PDC representative – it’s akin to having Sepp Blatter commentate on the World Cup! Sky and the PDC have always been a necessity to each other, hence the criticism is sparse.

Worse than the allowance of unruly “supporters” however is the alienation of the true darts fan. Many are no longer willing to part with their hard-earned cash to sit in these pits. It was only in 2011 when a man was convicted for assault due to his behaviour at a Premier League night. In the same season Adrian Lewis was subject to physical abuse, when members of a Scottish crowd threw coins at him while he was at the oche. Phil Taylor was also spat on during his walk-on, at the same Glaswegian venue two years later. Not to mention the majority of Premier League evenings finish up with grown men hurling full pints at one another. Despite being a darts fanatic I have no desire to set foot in these arenas, this is not the sport I grew to love.

A reversal in the PDC’s direction is unlikely, I would argue impossible if it continues in its current form. The only prospect of change would be the bubble bursting, something darts has suffered previously with devastating consequences. However, appealing to a demographic who come to darts event to not watch darts is dangerous. When the new fad ultimately comes along and these “fans” up sticks to somewhere else, the PDC will be left with swathes of empty seats the forgotten fans will not fill. This already looks to be happening at the World Grand Prix, with the CityWest Hotel in Dublin looking concerningly empty at times, particularly for the final.

On a more positive outlook, the sport’s expansion across Europe is encouraging, with Germany especially attracting huge numbers who seem to have a more loyal passion for the game. One wonders why the Netherlands – once a hotbed for tournaments – is now sparingly used, with them enjoying as much success as they ever have.

But overall I fail to see anything than a bleak long-term future. Hearn, for all his business acumen, has created an unstable monster. There may be more money in the game than ever before but at what cost? As Freddie Wilde wrote about cricket, the fans are the sellsword, and those in charge should ignore them at their peril. The same can be applied to darts. Hearn labeled me and others pretentious for raising the issues and injustices within the game. I would advise him to remember this: when darts hits the next inevitable wane, it won’t be us who deserts it.

Photo used from TungstenTales

PDC World Darts Championship: Taylor starts quest for 17th world title

Phil Taylor will begin his quest for a record 17th world title on Friday evening, taking on Germany’s Jyhan Artut at London’s Alexandra Palace on day two of the PDC World Darts Championship.

The 54-year-old  won the world title for a 16th time in 2013 – defeating Michael van Gerwen 7-4 – but was sensationally knocked out last year by youngster Michael Smith. Taylor has not enjoyed the most lucrative of seasons but he did secure a 15th World Matchplay crown in July as well as winning a sixth Grand Slam of Darts title last month.

Artut has made three previous appearances at the World Championship, winning one match. In 2010 he defeated Wayne Mardle but his most memorable match came in 2012, when he missed four darts to knock out Gary Anderson. The German is currently ranked 57th in the world.

Last year’s runner-up, Peter Wright, starts his tournament against debutant Gerwyn Price. After losing the final to van Gerwen 12 months ago, Wright has advanced to fifth in the PDC Order of Merit, and also triumphed in July’s European Darts Open. However, he has struggled in the majors, suffering a first round defeat to Stephen Bunting at the Matchplay, while losing to rank outsider Aden Kirk at the UK Open.

Formerly a rugby union player – playing as a hooker for Welsh Premier Division club Neath – Price has qualified for the World Championship at his first attempt, after winning a tour card at Q School back in January.

Former world finalist Andy Hamilton kicks off the night against Canada’s Dave Richardson. Hamilton, now ranked 12th in the world, has endured a difficult year but he has been afforded a favourable draw, with a second round bout against either Steve Beaton or Kyle Anderson if he can win tonight.

Richardson is making his World Championship debut, qualifying virtue of his win in the PDC Spectacular –  the North American qualifying event – in August.

Stuart Kellett, a former World Masters runner-up finishes off the night against the winner of the preliminary round match between Kim Viljanen and Sascha Stein.