Please feel free to stop reading right now. No one would blame you. You have better things to do in life than to read about darts. Save yourself, catch up on Wolf Hall. For the rest of you, I’ll begin.
The moment I truly fell in love with darts was the 1983 BDO world championship. In the final, Keith Deller, a young, unheralded qualifier from Ipswich, beat the mighty, seemingly immovable Eric Bristow. The much-missed Sid Waddell summed up the situation, describing Deller as “not just an underdog, he’s an under-puppy”.
I was hooked, and have remained so ever since. I don’t love darts in an ironic way, a nostalgic way or a kitsch way, I love darts as pure human drama and I love it as brilliant television.
That’s because darts has the best format of any sport. It’s perfect. Imagine if the sets in tennis were first to three instead of first to six. No more faffing about with the first few games, just straight into the big points, no chance to rest, no chance to regroup, just relentless pressure. Darts has cracked sporting jeopardy in a way that tennis can only dream of.
Novak Djokovic would be a shattered husk by the end of a best-of-17-set marathon against Phil “the Power” Taylor. Though he would, at least, be allowed to smoke roll-ups between games. Darts also has the best finish of any sport ever invented. Every time you want to win a leg or a set you must finish on a “double”, the hardest shot of all.
That means every single set or leg ends with heightened drama, and every single set or leg contains the opportunity for someone miles behind to catch up. It’s like Andy Murray having to finish every single game with an ace.
I also love the players. In a world where reserve team footballers drive around in Ferraris, and their wage demands force ticket prices out of the reach of so many people, darts is still often played by part-timers, and certainly by more human, relatable players. Everyday heroes, like the football players of the 50s. Also, how can you resist their nicknames? From the Scots Jamie “Bravedart” Harvey and Les “McDanger” Wallace, to Alan “Chuck” Norris and Dave “Chizzy Rascal” Chisnall. One particular nickname is my favourite.
Have a little think about what nickname you’d go for if you were the Stoke-on-Trent pro Mark Frost. Give yourself a minute. Got anything good? Mark settled for the quite wonderful “Frosty the Throw Man”. Where else do you get that? I recently took part in Let’s Play Darts for Comic Relief, where eight plucky, hapless amateurs – myself, Lee Mack, Liza Tarbuck, Bob Mortimer, Sean Lock, Roisin Conaty, Tim Vine and Martin Offiah teamed up with eight professional darts players, including Bobby George and Andy “the Viking” Fordham.
We were thrown straight into a tournament at the legendary Lakeside Country Club in Surrey, in front of the legendary Lakeside crowd. It was far and away the most nervous I’ve ever felt on television, and I’ve worked with the Chuckle Brothers.