‘Working class golf’ – the posh media will never understand it

A close-up image of a dart, against a white background. It's one of the darts used by Luke Littler, 16 year-old runner-up in the 2024 PDC world darts championship. On the flight the words 'The Nuke' are reproduced.

Broadcasters and journalists – please stop trying to explain darts.

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 darts a sport?” or laughingly ask what “one-hundred-and-eighty!” means, you’re embarrassing yourself and your profession.

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.

Text from the UK Daily Telegraph newspaper 3 January 2024 - Sorry to all Luke Littler fans but darts is not a real sport. Comparing Littler to Tiger Woods is absurd as the teenage darts sensation does not lead the life of a professional athlete. Oliver Brown
Chief Sports Writer
Telegraph sports writer stays on message.

Darts has been a recognised, international sport for decades (although Sport England, the official 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.

Black and white photograph of a group of men playing darts outside a pub in Wales. Details from the archive page: Mr Ifor Williams, the carpenter from Cynwyd near Corwen and his workers playing darts at lunchtime. Photographer: Geoff Charles. Date: 17/12/1964
Darts in 1964. From the Geoff Charles Collection at the National Library of Wales

Playing darts – and the various grassroots championships and tournaments – has been a vital platform for working class men and women to enjoy themselves, to compete, to win fame and even to make some money – for a hundred years. But as a proletarian sport darts has been labelled as aberrant, a permanent outsider to the real sports. Here the chief sports writer from the posh people’s paper explains that darts can’t be a sport because its latest superstar doesn’t work out like Tiger Woods did, dodging the more salient comparison between golf and darts—that when you think about them for more than about a minute they’re both splendidly, indefensibly ridiculous activities.

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, played in precious time off by people who worked six days a week, couldn’t possibly be elevated to the status of a sport. The very idea that a sport might emerge in a wholly working-class environment, in the total absence of middle-class officials or governing bodies (or PE teachers and headmasters) was anathema. It literally could not be a sport.

So when reporters sent off to attend darts matches amusedly observe the scenes at the back of the crowd, ask fans why on earth they’ve come all the way from Holland and ‘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 (send someone from the sports desk).

Cover of paperback edition of Martin Amis's 1989 novel 'London Fields'. The cover is white with a large dart with red flights overlaid.
Posh literary dweeb Martin Amis wrote a whole novel about darts in 1989.

There have been quiet periods in the history of darts but the PDC world championship is now thirty years old (a break-away championship first contested by 16 leading players in 1994). Prize money was, from the very beginning – if not exactly Formula 1 – at least comparable to other world sports. Games were carried on live TV, winners were celebrated everywhere in the pop media. I once saw 1980s prodigy Phil “The Power” Taylor mobbed by fans and autograph hunters in an Irish 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 tickets for this year’s event months ago and evenings were going for over £250/ticket. Premier League footballers and soap stars fill the front tables.

Darts fans wearing traffic cone hats at the PDC world championship

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 from Essex to Ally Pally in 2007. It’s one of the most entertaining sporting events you can watch live. Players 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.

And to finish, the rules are really simple (there’s a handy one-page summary) and scoring is easy to understand (honestly, you could be an expert in ten minutes). Print them out and put them on the wall near the coffee machine.

  • This scientific study compares scoring results from historic matches with those from the period when matches were played without audiences during the pandemic and actually concludes that there’s a (slight) negative effect from having a noisy crowd in the room.
  • If you’re my age you may sometimes find yourself experiencing flashbacks to a 1970s ITV programme called The Indoor League, presented by retired cricketer Fred Trueman. On this 1975 episode you’ll see a 19 year-old Swedish prodigy Stefan Lord piling on the 180s and a tense women’s competition.
  • Women have probably played darts for as long as the men (see The Indoor League for examples of competitive women, some travelling from other countries to play, back in the seventies). The women’s World series has been played for over twenty years and there are now dozens of professional players.
  • Bullseye carried darts mania right through to the mid-nineties. It was a sweet show. Big-hearted entertainment from another era. Here’s a 1985 episode.
  • It was mega-promoter Barry Hearn who perceptively called darts ‘working class golf’—a game played by ordinary people with extraordinary skills.