Every now and then we’re offered a vivid snapshot of the class composition of the British media and the instinctive prejudices of reporters, producers, editors and presenters. 16 year-old darts prodigy Luke Littler has given us a fresh illustration of the intractable and tedious ruling-class domination of the media in Britain, of the narrow and backward and tragically involuted interests of the major outlets, of their damaging and disappointing isolation from the lives of ordinary people.
Broadcasters, newspaper journalists – please stop trying to explain darts to your audiences. I know you were privately educated and find darts to be kind of exotic – like chicken shops or pigeon racing – but when you invite a contributor to answer the question “…but is it a sport?” or laughingly ask what “one-hundred-and-eighty!” means, you’re embarrassing yourself and your profession.
Darts has been a recognised, international sport for decades (although Sport England, a body dominated by the men in blazers, only offered darts formal recognition in 2005). The famous players of my youth – Jocky Wilson, Eric Bristow, John Lowe – all went pro in the 1970s and were wealthy celebrities by the mid-eighties.
Playing darts – and the various championships and tournaments – have been a vital platform for working class men (and now women) to enjoy themselves, to excel, to win fame and to make money for even longer. But as a proletarian sport darts has been labelled as aberrant, a permanent exception (here’s the chief sports writer from the posh people’s paper explaining that it’s not a sport anyway). Real sports in Britain were invented on the playing fields of Eton (and Rugby obvs) and codified by aristocratic amateurs. A pastime that emerged from the pubs and clubs of working people couldn’t possibly be elevated to the status of a sport. When reporters attend darts matches to amusedly observe the scenes at the back of the crowd, to ask fans why they’ve come all the way from Holland, to share the atmosphere like clever anthropologists who’ve noticed something interesting happening amongst the lower classes, they’re perpetuating the stupid, backward, class hostility that still structures life in Britain. They should stay away (just send someone from the sports desk).
Spoilt literary dweeb Martin Amis wrote a whole novel about darts, published in 1989. It’s very good.
Things went a bit quiet for darts after that initial explosion of interest but the PDC world championship was first contested in 1994 (a break-away championship started by 16 leading players). Prize money was, from the very beginning, comparable to other world sports, games were carried on live TV, winners were celebrated everywhere darts is played. I once saw 1980s prodigy Phil “The Power” Taylor mobbed by fans and autograph hunters in an airport. He was so chill.
The annual championship meeting has been filling the huge, main hall at Alexandra Palace for over 15 years. Every match sells out. I tried to get some tickets for this year’s event months ago and evening games were going for over £250/ticket. Premier League footballers and soap stars fill the front tables.
PDC events have been noisy and chaotic – with crowds encouraged to dress up, bring signs and banners and come up with inventive chants – since at least the switch to Ally Pally. It’s one of the most entertaining sporting events you can watch live. Players (mostly) enjoy the racket, play up to the audience and get extra energy from the noise behind them. Fans from Holland, Canada, the Baltics and elsewhere attend. Alcohol hasn’t been allowed on stage for years.
And to finish, the rules are really simple (about a page of A4) and scoring is easy to understand (honestly, you could be an expert in ten minutes).