Clive has the darts

Forget zumba and golf, this time Clive 'The Snob' Agran follows another sport big on hand-eye co-ordination at the Premier League Darts at the Brighton Centre

Blessed with steely nerves, moderately steady hands, above average eyesight, an appropriate physique and an unquenchable thirst, I honestly believe I could have developed into a moderately decent darts player. Helped by the fact that at the professional level you don’t even have to score a double to start, I think I could have been a contender were it not for one thing…my indifferent maths.

In the excitement of banging in doubles, trebles and maybe even the occasional 180, it’s easy to overlook the vital importance of being able to instantly calculate the score. But even knowing that you need, say, another 135, isn’t enough. Because the rules require you to finish with a double, you have to be able to figure out the best way of what is known in the game as ‘checking out’.

What you definitely mustn’t do with your opponent anxiously awaiting his turn, thousands of spectators in the hall watching expectantly and millions of TV viewers holding their breath is use your fingers and thumbs to figure out a way of finishing. Although frequently criticised for their lack of athleticism, you have to admire today’s darts players’ stunning numeracy.

Whereas it’s relatively easy to remember that 170 is the highest possible checkout – two treble 20s (60 + 60) and a bull (50) – there are 162 different checkouts, which is almost as many as there are in all the Sainsburys in Sussex. And I bet you didn’t know this; there are seven quasi-mythical ‘bogey’ numbers. Nothing whatsoever to do with golf, bogeys are numbers less than 170 that you can’t ‘check out’ in three darts. If you do nothing else in darts, never attempt 159, 162, 163, 165, 166, 168 or 169 with fewer than four darts.

Like these numbers, darts is now huge. No longer confined to a room at the back of the pub, it’s a multi-million pound entertainment industry. A bit like boxing, there are different organisations running the sport with their own set of initials and their own world championship. Although I’ve no wish to become embroiled in what I suspect is a messy business, it would seem to me that the PDC (Professional Darts Corporation), whose world championship is on Sky, has the better-known players and is commercially more successful than the BDO, whose world championship is on BBC. But, a bit like my last attempt at hitting the bull, I may be hopelessly wide of the mark.

Anyway, the PDC not only organises its own world championship at Alexandra Palace around Christmas every year, they also run Premier League Darts, which is also shown live on Sky. The Premier League visits 14 different venues in the British Isles over 14 consecutive weeks and features eight of the best darts players in the world who confront each other twice in a series of head-to-head clashes. Having already been to Manchester, Aberdeen, Belfast and Exeter, the show rolls into Brighton and I’m queuing outside the Brighton Centre because I’m eager to join in the fun.

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My first concern is that I’m not properly dressed. Although wearing a moderately fashionable shirt, my second best pair of jeans and reasonably sensible shoes, I’m feeling self-conscious standing behind five chickens and immediately in front of Superman, Batman and Spiderwoman. If only I’d known it was fancy dress. Although I try to pretend I’ve come as a journalist from Sussex Life by tucking a pencil behind my ear and whipping out a notepad, it doesn’t look convincing. Mind you, my gut feeling is that there aren’t a great many Sussex Life readers among the packed crowd of 4,000. I may be wrong but I suspect Premier League Darts won’t join Hickstead, Goodwood and tennis at Eastbourne as part of the Sussex ‘season’ and I would hazard not many glasses of Pimms will be sipped tonight. Lager is evidently the favoured beverage and, as well as numerous bars, there are dozens of young sellers wandering around dispensing pints via tubes connected to containers on their backs that resemble rucksacks. Although I’ve never been to the Munich beer fest and am therefore in no position to make comparisons, this is what I imagine it’s like.

As we await the first two competitors, the atmosphere is not far short of frenzied. Sitting at a long narrow table between Fred Flinstone and a ‘convict’ about 50 yards from the stage, I can just about make out a distant dartboard. Fortunately there are two giant screens on either side of the stage that will presumably show us what’s happening. At the moment, they are telling us all about Kevin ‘The Artist’ Painter and his darting achievements before, accompanied by a leggy lady, he enters the hall like a gladiator to the blaring accompaniment of I Predict a Riot. There’s a momentary hiatus before Andy ‘The Hammer’ Hamilton makes an equally flamboyant entrance this time to U Can’t Touch This by M C Hammer (no relation).

As the players take a few practice throws, I wonder what I would choose for my signature tune. Sibelius’s Karelia suite has always been a favourite of mine but would it alienate the already slender fan base of Clive ‘The Snob’ Agran? The hall erupts and what few spectators were sitting rise to their feet when Andy Hamilton hits the maximum 180 on his way to taking the first leg.

Everyone is staring at one or other of the giant screens so that they can follow the action and, seemingly much more important, know when the cameras are on them. Pockets of hysteria break out around me whenever a camera is pointed this way and spectators leap about, grin and wave handwritten signs with messages to friends and loved ones watching at home. Now I understand the rationale behind the fancy dress; the more outrageous the outfit, the better the chances of attracting the attention of a cameraman. Not unsurprisingly, the bald bloke who has come dressed as a reporter from Sussex Life isn’t seen on TV. Meanwhile, Kevin Painter fights back from being four legs to two down to win the match 8-5.

‘Sing’ isn’t quite the word but in between matches and whenever Sky TV goes to a commercial break, the whole crowd bursts into Planet Funk’s Chase the Sun, which has become a sort of darts anthem. Because I’m not on the screen and therefore confident that none of my friends or family can see me, I, too, jump to my feet, wave my arms about and ‘sing’ along.

Even if you don’t follow Premier League Darts as closely as you do, say, the stock market, you might nevertheless have heard of Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor. Undoubtedly the greatest darts player to ever sink a pint of lager, he has won the World Championship no fewer than 15 times. The man’s a legend and I show respect by jumping to my feet to greet him as he enters the arena to take on Gary ‘The Flying Scotsman’ Anderson. Despite the latter being the reigning Premier League Darts Champion, he’s over-powered by Taylor 8-1.

After another burst of Chase the Sun, it’s James ‘The Machine’ Wade versus Raymond ‘Barney’ van Barneveld. Since Wade is from neighbouring Hampshire and Barneveld is Dutch, I root for the former and, with my support, he races to a 6-1 lead. But ‘Barney’ fights back to trail 7-6 before Wade clinches the decider to win 8-6 and grab both points.

And finally it’s Simon ‘The Wizard’ Whitlock versus the reigning World Champion, Adrian ‘Jackpot’ Lewis. Apparently Lewis earned his nickname by winning a $72,000 jackpot in a casino during the Las Vegas Desert Classic that was withheld because, according to US law, he was under-age.  And he doesn’t have much luck this evening either and loses 8-4 to his Australian opponent. It’s a particularly tiring match for me as I’m on my feet cheering an impressive 15 180s.

It’s been good fun and, if nothing else, at least I’ve learnt the words to Chase the Sun which I sing as I walk to the car, “Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da da-da-da-da-da-daaaa, oy-oy-oy.”

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