I’ve spent a significant portion of my weekend explaining, justifying, defending my predilection for watching a cadre of men, disproportionately overweight, uniformly under the influence of lager, who arc a small piece of metal 7 feet nine and a quarter inches into a round board of cork augmented with sisal fibres. It is, I must confess, an uphill struggle. Unless one instinctively appreciates the fluid motion of the darting arm, unleashing its tungsten missile in splendid parabola, flighted unerringly toward the small, red Valhalla of treble twenty, one is unlikely to be persuaded of the merits of the sport of darts.
I describe in vain the hypnotic pleasure of the three thudding arrows which accompany each darters turn at the oche. I laud, to little effect, the arithmetical dexterity required in order to instantaneously calculate a three dart finish in the hundreds. I elicit little sympathy when I invoke the stout musculature required to mitigate the hampering effect of several ounces of gold plate jewellery adorning the throwing arm. I find that the image of lager, beer guts and cheap nylon shirts has predisposed most people to dismiss the game without watching it closely.
The truth is that darts is a magnificently accessible, accepting, even egalitarian sport. It requires skill and application, but does not demand any particular physical attributes. Its fans offer generous, enthusiastic and scrupulously sporting backing to their heroes. Darts is grounded squarely in the culture of the British working class, but it is eager to reach out to any potential enthusiast. The Queen’s grandson, Peter Phillips, watched last Saturday’s action. There is no inverted snobbery to the arrows.
At present the BBC is screening the BDO World Darts Championship taking place at Lakeside Country Club, Frimley Green, Surrey. Although the standard is variable, this competition, rather than Sky’s PDC alternative, represents the sport at its most authentic. Tonight the final features Ted ‘The Count’ Hankey, glorious epitome of darts’ unselfconscious embrace of its own myths and clichés. The forty year old might be 10 years older. He has cut down his pre-match intake of lager from last year’s double figures to a disciplined ’two or three’ pints. Nevertheless he is a previous winner of the championship and has tasted defeat in the final too. He will take to the stage tonight clad in his customary cape, nylon shirt unbuttoned to his navel, throwing complementary plastic bats to his supporters.
His opponent will be Tony O’Shea, whose best previous showing came in 2004, when he defeated Hankey on his route to the semi-final. The ’Silverback’ is a grizzled veteran, performing at the peak of his game and he is likely to compete ferociously at the Lakeside tonight.
If you hadn’t intended to watch, I doubt this humble article will have persuaded you otherwise. For the minority of initiates, fully appraised of the sport’s pleasures, I hardly need remind you that coverage begins at 5.50pm on BBC 2.