“The sky is her blue eyes, begin to open. The storm is upon me, but I’m chasing the sun” That is the opening verse of one of the most recognisable songs in the sporting world today. Yet 99% of people who actually watch the game on TV will not have a clue who the artist is, or what the song is actually called. If I say Planet Funk then a few more may get it but for recognition I will need to hum the tune…
“Det der der der der der der der der derder der der der oi oi oi”…..Recognise it now? Of course – The Darts! Not just any darts either…Proper darts. PDC darts. Not old man’s darts – that tournament played every winter at Frimley Green where old women sit in the front row doing their knitting. Love him or loath him, Barry Hearn has taken an old fashion sport and had made it sexy. And we all know that sex sells. So consequently the sport is now huge.
Every year there are a number of tournaments played all around the world. The top players these days who sit under Hearn’s Professional Darts Corporation earn upwards of £500,000 a year from the so called “pub game”. Current PDC world champion Adrian Lewes won £200,000 for winning the competition at Alexandria Palace in January.
But one of the interesting concepts was the introduction of the Premier League of Darts. Take the four best ranked players in the year, add in four wildcards, determined on tournament wins, charisma and a silly nickname and get them to play each other twice over a fourteen week period, playing at a new venue each week. At the end of the league take the top four and have a straight knock out. Has it worked? Well sell out audiences in venues such as the Exeter, Bournemouth, Glasgow and Cardiff suggest it has. Despite the actual “action” being just 17 3/4 inches wide, thousands of fans pay up to £40 each week to see the best darts players in the world competing for the ultimate honour – The 888.com Premier League Title, and the £125,000 winners pot.
We’ve all seen the darts on TV and marvelled at the atmosphere. Beer and fancy dress seem to be essentials for the evening, as well as writing ridiculous signs to try and attract the TV cameras. And it is not just the average guy in the street who goes. Such is the influence of the game now that is has its own royal patronage, although with beer, loud music and scantily clad women abound, is it any wonder Prince Harry has been seen at recent events?
Who wouldn’t want to experience the fun? Well CMF for starters and so she procured tickets for the Final at Wembley Arena for the two of us. And that meant for one night only I can bring you….THE BULLSEYE IS ROUND.
So after the fourteen rounds of the league the top four were confirmed as:-
Phil “The Power” Taylor – currently…deep breath…World Matchplay Champion, PDC Premier League Champion, European Champion, UK Open Champion, US Open Champion, Players Open (Australian) Champion and the World Darts Cricket Champion. He was also runner up in the BBC Sports Sports Personality of the Year in 2010. As a rough estimation Phil has won over £500,000 alone in “winning” prize money in the past year. He has won more than 150 professional titles including a record 15 World Championships. Coming into Finals night his record stood at 13 wins and 1 defeat in the 888.com Premier League. You could say he was the favourite. Random Phil Taylor trivia. On February 2, 2009, he made a guest appearance in Coronation Street, playing the part of ‘Disco Dave’, the captain of a rival darts team to the Rovers Return.
Gary Anderson – “The Flying Scotsman” is a former BDO and WDF World Champion as well as the landlord of the Wellington Arms in Rooks Bridge, Somerset (Darts player owning a pub – now there is a shock). He was runner up in the 2011 PDC Word Championships and holds the “unofficial” world record of highest three dart average with 133.35 in a UK Open qualifier last month but because it wasn’t televised it does really count.
Raymond van Barneveld – To say that Barnie is a one man revolution in bringing darts to the forefront of the Dutch public is not an understatement. It is now the second most popular sport behind football thanks in no part to the 11 PDC championships he has won. He has been involved in some titanic clashes with Phil Taylor, including the 7-6 win in the final of the PDC World Championship just a few years ago.
Adrian Lewis – The current PDC World Champion secured his place in the final with a 7-7 draw with Anderson in the last round of games from Newcastle. He is nicknamed Jackpot, following a visit to a casino whilst competing at the 2005 Las Vegas Desert Classic when he “won” a $75,000 jackpot but was unable to claim the money as he was under-age by US gaming laws – despite being eligible in the UK.
We headed up to Wembley straight after work. CMF had managed to loan the children to one of our friends so we were young free and single (Well, middle aged, mortgages and married) so we could at least enjoy a few £4.30 pints of Becks and a Hot Dog in a mouldy bun (true – Food Standards Agency please be aware). We got to our seats at 6.50pm. Tickets said the “show” started at 7pm but there was no more than a 1,000 actually in the area by the time the TV cameras started rolling and Dave Clark stood on the stage and introduced the event. Looks can be deceiving and all Sky do in these circumstances is raise the angle of the camera and ask a few people who gormlously want to be on TV to move to the edge of the stage and start singing. And voila – a sell out for the cameras.
7.30pm rolled around and the first game was ready. Adrian Lewis come out first (well they don’t actually come out of that long corridor – they come out of the stage area, walk down the corridor and then turn around to start the slow procession – like a airplane on a catwalk). As soon as Pigbag came over the speakers the “chavette” next to me who was on her third Blue WKD of the evening launched into action. She loved Lewis. In fact she was happy for him to shag her apparently and “have his babies”. Nice thought.
Taylor followed with Fanfare of a Common Man, quite apt I always think based on his background. The two rivals from the Potteries, once Master and Servant faced each other for the place in the final. Lewis was 4/1, Taylor a ridiculous 1/2.
Semi-final 1 – Phil Taylor (seed 1) 3 Adrian Lewis (seed 4) 8
Well this was a turn up for the books. BY 8pm any late arrivers will have been greeted by the site of a scoreboard that showed Taylor was on the verge of a huge defeat. You know he is suffering when he starts to bite the flights of his darts and that started when he went 3-0 down, but pulled 2 sets back. From then on it was all Lewis and he raced to a 7-2 lead with five 180’s whilst Taylor simply could not hit a barn door. Despite one late set, Lewis wrapped up victory within 35 minutes. Lewis had hit 67% of his doubles, Taylor 30%. As the final double 18 was hit there was only one response from the crowd. “Oi Oi Oi”
Semi-final 2 – Gary Anderson (seed 2) 8 Raymond van Barneveld (seed 3) 6
We met up with Richard and Anna at the end of the Lewis/Taylor game for a couple of beers and a chance to watch the weird and wonderful customers of some of the crowd. A team of England cricketers complete with pads, gloves and bat were trying to drink their way through the line of spirits on offer but it was going horribly wrong. A Ronald McDonald wearing a skirt came along with catcalls of “Show us your burger Ronnie” making him blush, and most ridiculously was a chap in a lycra bodysuit, complete with hood over his face who was so desperate for a piss that he was having to cut a hole in the front rather than trying to peel it all off.
Anna explained that they had to buy tickets from a tout as she had brought last year’s ticket to the venue and was offended that they wouldn’t let them in with those tickets. “couldn’t they see we weren’t your average riff raff?”
Game two started with the Barney Army in full force. Both players averages were below 100 but that still didn’t detract from a great game that swing this way then that. Barney hit a massive 137 check out to level at 6-6 but then Anderson went into overdrive to take the final two legs. Nice to see the crowd to our left continue to chant “Engerland, Engerland” when Anderson was throwing. Who exactly were they supporting? “Barney is an English name ain’t it?” said one chap. Of course it is.
3rd/4th Place play off – Phil Taylor 8 Raymond van Barneveld 6
This was the final everyone (bar our chavette) wanted to see. However, with nothing but a £50k cheque for the winner (and £40k for 4th) to play for, the level of enthusiasm showed by the players was understandably subdued. The crowd in front of us featuring Krusty the Klown, Ronald McDonald (again), A chicken and Philip Schofield (bloke in grey suit, with grey sprayed hair – I assume that is what he was trying to be) tried to get everyone going with a “Walking in a Taylor Wonderland” ditty but most people were more interested in the beer. Whilst on TV it seems that the crowd are close and engaged, you are actually miles away from the action and you are essentially watching it all on big TV’s hanging down from the ceiling.
Three dart averages for both players failed to get above the 92 mark and both of them had check out ratios below the 30% mark. It really was a case of what could have been for both of these.
Final – Gary Anderson 10 Adrian Lewis 4
Was this a shock? Well Anderson finish the Premier League in 2nd place, and despatched number three seed Barneveld with ease in the semi-final. But Did we expect more? Neither really set the event alight with only six 180’s and Lewis failing to break 90 with his three dark average. So it was left to the Scotsman to take home the £125,000 price as he rattled through the final in just about 30 minutes.
So overall verdict? The atmosphere would have been ten times better in a smaller venue but apart from that for less than half the price of a ticket to see the relegation doomfest at Upton Park on Sunday I would thoroughly recommend a visit. Now repeat after me…Oi Oi Oi.
More pictures from the night can be found here.