Tag Archives: Darts

Mensur Mania reigns in Cardiff

I won’t feed you any PDC propaganda about Mensur Suljovic winning a “major”, because he hasn’t. But as far as exhibitions go, this BBC gig, the Champions League as its called, is just about the best of them. And if anyone was going to become the first new TV winner in a full-strength field since Michael van Gerwen scooped the 2012 World Grand Prix (not including World Series events or Peter Wright’s 2017 UK Open – a tournament without van Gerwen and Taylor), who better than Big Mensur?

One could say that Suljovic was at an advantage over his rivals, in that he likely didn’t give a damn that this tournament was on the BBC — unlike Peter Wright, who frittered away eight match darts against Gary Anderson in their group-stage decider.

Taylor stitches up van Gerwen once again

What to make of van Gerwen, who has now suffered consecutive humiliations on telly to Taylor? There’s no doubt he’s back in Phil’s pocket, who, in what he promises is his final year, has craftily orchestrated the crowd to ensure they give the Dutchman hell. Imbued from his 16–6 dismantling of MvG at the World Matchplay, Taylor felt confident enough to break out the Green Machine’s double fist pump celebration as he dumped him out in the group.

I don’t buy the line that Phil is on a free roll on his last lap of the circuit — his bratty antics in losing to Corey Cadby in Melbourne last month reek of a sorer loser than ever. He cares alright, and after van Gerwen’s dominance over him in recent years — a sustained run Phil had never experienced in his career — he’s revelling in landing a few blows of his own.

Just desserts for van Gerwen, one could argue, having been so overconfident at the Matchplay to text fellow Dutchie Vincent van der Voort during the interval of his second round match against Simon Whitlock to say that he’d already beaten him. Not that we can glean too much from Taylor’s word salad interviews nowadays, but it was clear that had riled him, as he made sure to mention it in his post-match spiel after beating the world number one in Blackpool.

He mused again in Cardiff on how van Gerwen was a bad loser. Hypocritical, but that doesn’t stop it being true.

After storming to his second world title in January, the Dutchman has found himself facing some unlikely adversity. He’s going to keep getting it in the neck against Phil, and right now, he can’t hack it. Frustrating, really, that the PDC’s greatest, most intriguing and genuine rivalry will be no more after January. They really do not like each other.

Taylor has opted out of next month’s Grand Prix, denying us of a showdown there, but we’ll hopefully see them go at it in Wolverhampton for the Grand Slam of Darts or at the World Championship.

Darts in capable hands on the BBC

Unlike the BDO, the PDC has given the BBC something to work with, and they did a capable job once again. Jason Mohammad fronted the coverage well, while Paul Nicholson and Mark Webster proved good sidekicks.

The only real downers were the showings from Adrian Lewis and Dave Chisnall, who both failed to record a win. That and a boring Taylor-van Barneveld match, which flatters to deceive more often than not now — even their quarter-final at the World Championships felt flat for the majority. Taylor won this one 10–6, for the record. ‘El Dartico’ or ‘darts’ El Clasico’ is rather generous.

It was a far superior event to last year, which was dulled by far too many one-sided contests. Mensur, whose personality we’re starting to become more acclimatised too, was the highlight throughout — his ballsy 160 match-winning checkout in the semis versus Raymond van Barneveld really was a cracker. And he held his nerve well in the final against Anderson, rallying superbly in the latter stages to finish the job, since he looked tetchy after being pegged back to 6–6.

Suljovic winning with a sub-88 average — that was more than 10 points inferior to Anderson’s — was also a delight. It won’t deter those drunk on statistics; we’re sure to keep seeing “leg averages” and being told “you can’t win with anything less than 100 average”. But it’s nice to know darts remains a game of checking out 501 more quickly than your opponent, with each leg being independent from the other.

More darts on the BBC? Yes please. More Mensur Mania? Yes please. More El Darticos? No thanks.

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Michael van Gerwen fires fantasy darts in performance for the ages

Picking the correct adjectives is essential when describing sport – labelling every significant moment “fantastic” or “great” just serves to devalue your lexicon. Very rarely do we see the stuff of fantasy that would equate to being fantastic, or an act of true greatness. We have to find ways of separating the highest tiers of brilliance in sport, or we cannot do them justice.

Last night Michael van Gerwen was fantastic. Last night Michael van Gerwen was great. Raymond van Barneveld fell barely short of both descriptors, yet he was still hammered 6-2 in the PDC World Championship semi-final by his ruthless Dutch counterpart.

Yes, van Gerwen’s romp was nearly 10 points shy of his imperfect – yes, imperfect – 123.40 world record average, but you cannot compare eight exhibition legs with eight of the hugest sets in darts. This semi-final showing was the best performance of all-time, beating a subjective honour previously bestowed upon Phil Taylor for his 7-1 thrashing of van Barneveld in the 2009 world final, where his average nudged 111.

Here comes the van Gerwen stats barrage: the highest ever average in a World Championship match 114.05 – almost three points superior to Taylor’s destruction of Shayne Burgess in 2002 –15 180s, 29 140s and a further cluster of big scores utilising the treble 19. Compared to van Barneveld’s two-out-of-three doubling, the 26-year-old was found wanting, but he still nailed more than half of his attempts. Oh, and he missed double 12 for a nine-darter too.

Barring Barney, the least enchanted by this darting wizardry was van Gerwen himself, who espoused the same brutal and commendable honesty he has for weeks. Some call it arrogance, that it may be, but we all know it’s what he’s thinking, and we’re thinking it too. Should he not win seven sets before Gary Anderson does and lift the Sid Waddell Trophy on Monday evening, the year will go down as a failure for Mighty Mike. Beating van Barneveld was another step towards that goal, the manner of it was just a happy little bonus, and something he won’t dwell on or coo over – the rest of us can do that.

Van Gerwen’s stunning second-half assault makes it easy to forget that for the first four sets this match was looking like a classic to end all classics. One constant of this famous rivalry has been van Barneveld’s feisty fight, a trait he has invariably brought to this contest even if it’s been sorely missing elsewhere – last year’s World Championship scalp is well-documented, but the less-talked about 2012 Grand Slam of Darts final is an exquisite example too.

Van Barneveld, seeking a first TV title in more than five years ran into a rampant young protagonist finally finding his feet in the PDC. Van Gerwen had blown away the field, including Phil Taylor, and was seeking a second PDC major to go with his first at the World Grand Prix a month prior, and he was the undeniable favourite to claim it.

But the elder Dutch boss hadn’t read the script. Clutch 180s and key finishes tormented a van Gerwen who just wanted to bulldoze, but he was unable too. Nerves crept in for van Barneveld near the end, but he banished them with a match-winning 11-darter against the throw to pinch the tournament 16-14. For four sets on Sunday we were seeing that same resolve, but in overload.

It was the best van Barneveld, a veteran of more than two decades and a winner of five world championships, had ever played on television, and it came because van Gerwen is the only man able to extract such darts from him. Not even Taylor could inspire Barney to this standard – in fact, after a while, he would rather quit than battle.

In terms of this match, van Gerwen started like a sloth, as van Barneveld cruised to the opening set 3-0 with a settling 107 and a gorgeous 131. All doubts surrounding which RvB would turn up following his long overdue scalp of tormenter Taylor 48 hours earlier diminished.

Red-hot Ray was in an even meaner mood after the break, sinking a never-in-doubt 160 to break – van Gerwen, who was waiting on 25, cast a slightly stunned look but was unperturbed. Then came the most crucial leg of the match, and had van Barneveld won it, he would have taken a commanding two-set lead. But he was never winning it, despite being on double 12 after 12 darts thrown.

Bish, bash, bosh. Triple 20, single 14, double 20 for MvG. A 12-darter, a break, a set back on throw and a dagger in the heart of his opponent. Van Barneveld positioned himself on the same double in the deciding fifth leg after four visits – once again, he never got a shot.

The bizarre was happening at Alexandra Palace. The averages were north of 110, the crowd were watching darts, and ‘Chase the Sun’ had been shunned for ‘Freed from Desire’.

Van Gerwen whizzed to the third set flinging yet more fire, but he was kept honest by his adversary, who pinned a routine 127 effortlessly on his way to levelling the scores after the Green Machine missed tops for a 94 that was, in the context of this match, a blink.

With no precedent for such mastery, one wondered whether the pummelling would eventually tell on somebody. It surely had to, and it did. Van Gerwen, somehow, got better while van Barneveld lost a couple of percentage points – but it was no more than that. MvG didn’t run riot for fun in the latter sets, he did so because he had to. The ageing Dutch master was nipping at his heels throughout, and even flirted at a comeback in the eighth set, before being savagely snuffed out.

A gutted van Barneveld oozed class in a beautifully miserable interview in the backroom after. He was devastated, not in awe. He couldn’t give a jot that he averaged 109 or played in the most mind-boggling match of all-time. Why give a valiant loss the time of the day when you’ve been crowned five times? Van Barneveld and van Gerwen have the same champion brain – there’s no substitute to this tournament and being successful in it.

It’s why van Barneveld has reached the semi-final at this event four times in the last five while generally being a pale shadow elsewhere. He doesn’t care about the rest. Victory in the Premier League was nice but it’s a mere career footnote.

For van Gerwen, oodles of expectation will be on him versus Anderson, who has staved off 11 World Championship challenges as the hunted – however, the 12th will be the Scot’s toughest by far. If van Gerwen has an outing remotely similar to the semi-final, Anderson will have to be more powerful and clinical than ever before. A rubbish cliché, granted, but it is true: if anyone can do it, he can.

The third and possibly deciding part of the Michael van Gerwen-Gary Anderson World Championship saga promises everything. The former won the first but invigorated the latter’s career in doing so, and Anderson repaid the favour 12 months’ later on his way to his first world title.

The darting world awaits a showdown usually only sports entertainment can provide. Buckle up.

Two years on, what to make of the PDC’s monster?

Two years ago I wrote an article on why I considered the Professional Darts Corporation’s decision to sell its events as a party rather than a sport was a gamble. Safe to say, the piece attracted a lot of attention – around 10,000 reads, about 70 percent of the total views this blog has garnered in two and a half years.

The response was mixed, although it was more positive than not, and as it’s still applicable, the post continues to receive comments today – especially at World Championship time. With a lot of water under the bridge, now is the appropriate time to revisit it. Much I continue to believe, although a few comments were admittedly slightly naïve.

In suggesting the PDC has become slaves to a monster, I dare say the past 24 months have vindicated that. Crowds have worsened, so much so that we now hear as many football chants as darts ones, while it sometimes feels as if few would notice if the players just packed up and walked off, given the backdrop behind the players is often a sea of backs instead of faces.

There’s nothing that can be done about this now. Indeed, referees seem to realise the once customary “thank you” is as useful as a Kevin Painter lesson in bottle. That’s the route they’ve gone down and it’s fair to say we’re not near the tipping point yet. A night at the darts remains mighty appealing, even if a night watching the darts doesn’t. With more – albeit anecdotal – evidence that I’ve had from people who say they no longer attend PDC events because of the crowd situation, it’s inevitable that things will keep moving in this direction.

Sadly the PDC revels in drunken tomfoolery. During Wednesday afternoon’s second-round session, the corporation’s official Twitter page shared a GIF of somebody taking a “PINT TO THE FACE!!!” – along with that god-awful crying with laughter emoji –before later deleting it after copious criticism. I cannot think of any other sport that not only allows its spectators to behave like idiots, but actively endorses it.

Any attempts to exercise crowd control are fruitless – they will do what they like when they like and make a lot of noise while doing it. And, as far as the PDC’s finances are concerned, that’s fine for now. But there are undeniably sustainability questions – surrounding having a darts crowd that isn’t there to watch darts – that will become pertinent eventually, although it’s hard to say when. What could change things is a serious kick-off at a UK event that makes headlines outside darts – the likelihood of that seems about as improbable but not impossible as it has ever been.

All of this gloom isn’t to say darts hasn’t made some huge strides, and my comment that the World Championships should have stayed at the Circus Tavern was a mistake borne out of pernicious nostalgia. It was a special place (sort of) and it’s a shame it’s not used for anything, but looking back, moving was the correct decision.

Purfleet’s finest was never the Crucible or a second Lakeside. Ultimately, the Circus was merely a venue that happened to stage darts’ most iconic match as its last World Championship salvo. With darts bidding for the big time, it wasn’t worth saving. The deteriorating atmosphere over the past decade hasn’t been caused by the change in arena, but by the PDC’s refusal to firmly stamp out the nonsense behaviour when it started.

Painting the PDC a “bleak long-term future” was clumsy. There’s plenty of reason to believe, with the growing European market at least, that further expansion is likely and forthcoming. Shipping a big major, ideally the World Grand Prix over to the Netherlands or Germany seems a logical step with the Citywest Hotel in Dublin having the most trouble filling the hall up of late.

That pretty much falls in line with what I said at the time, although it’s slightly bizarre that aside from now hosting a Premier League night, the Dutch are still being ignored. Encouragingly, folk out there and across the continent – while in for a good time – appear to care about what’s happening on the board too.

I still reckon the PDC will have long-term problems keeping its product fresh in the UK, but with other countries chomping at the bit, the organisation should stay in rude health providing it harnesses that potential. Finding a marketable replacement for Phil Taylor will be the bigger challenge.

Nobody has the lure of the Power, not even Michael van Gerwen. Taylor’s world finals against van Gerwen and Anderson in 2013 and 2015 respectively brought in around 1.2 million viewers apiece. Contrast that to the 668,000 who tuned in for van Gerwen versus Peter Wright in 2014, and the 908,000 who switched on for Gary Anderson’s title retention against Adrian Lewis last year. If nothing else, it’s a warning signal, as was the PDC’s foray onto the BBC back in September – despite getting the showpiece Taylor-van Gerwen final, fewer than one million watched it.

So, all in all, I’d like to think I’ve largely been proven right, despite being a tad heavy-handed in certain areas. The PDC has certainly created a monster, but for now, it’s a stable one, and they should be able to keep it so for a while yet. For real fans, who enjoyed going to the darts to watch the darts – such a novel concept – the long-term future is indeed bleak. Darts sold itself to reach new heights, and Barry Hearn concluded neglecting his core, dedicated audience in favour of a wild, carefree gang was for the greater good. Time will tell whether he’s right.

Magical van Gerwen storms to European title

Michael van Gerwen defeated world champion Gary Anderson 6-2 with an average just shy of 118 to win the first European Tour event of the year in Hildesheim, on Sunday evening.

The world number one dropped only seven legs in four matches on the final day of the tournament as he blitzed Stephen Bunting and Mensur Suljovic while also overcoming surprise qualifier Joe Murnan 6-4 in the quarter-finals.

After sharing the first four legs of the final with a barrage of 180s, van Gerwen stretched clear courtesy of 151 and 167 checkouts, before pinning a 10-darter followed by a 12 to claim the title and scoop the £20,000 first prize. The Dutchman’s triumph continues his scintillating start to the 2015 season, which has seen him lose only once since his semi-final beating at the World Championship by Anderson.

Despite falling short in the final, the tournament marked another lucrative weekend for the third-ranked Anderson,  who further narrows the gap to Phil Taylor in the PDC Order of Merit. The Scotsman’s day began with a 6-2 win over Steve Beaton, which he consolidated with a 6-0 whitewash of Justin Pipe before dispatching Adrian Lewis for the loss of two legs in the last four.

Elsewhere, Suljovic enjoyed a memorable run to the semi-finals, his methodical play secured the scalps of both Michael Smith and Robert Thornton. He was eventually blown away by van Gerwen 6-1 after his otherwise impressive doubling eluded him at the crucial stages.

It was also a superb weekend for Joe Murnan who reached his first PDC quarter-final after beating Brendan Dolan. His run was finally halted by van Gerwen, succumbing 6-4 but not before giving the eventual winner a scare.

The next European Tour event is scheduled to take place in Gibraltar in mid-March. James Wade is the defending champion.

The PDC returns to action on Thursday night with the Premier League at Liverpool’s Echo Arena. Anderson and van Gerwen will meet again in a repeat of the Hildesheim final.

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.

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