Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, Barney and Adrian ‘Jackpot’ Lewis are household names thanks to their heroics at the much-loved PDC World Darts Championship. But the sport has another world champs, with a whole different cast of unlikely characters. Calum Henderson peers into the parallel universe of the BDO.
One of the best summer holiday traditions we have in New Zealand is staying inside every morning and watching the darts.
In a stroke of dumb luck the sport’s biggest annual tournament, the PDC World Darts Championship, is perfectly timed to coincide with our lazy stretch over Christmas and New Year. For a lot of New Zealand fans these World Champs are the only televised darts they ever get to watch.
This year’s edition was as surprising and dramatic as always, and culminated in a tense, nervous final between defending champion Gary Anderson of Scotland and the man who beat him in the 2011 final, Stoke-on-Trent’s Adrian ‘Jackpot’ Lewis. The crowd at the Alexandra Palace in London – almost all in some state of fancy dress – drank and chanted and cheerfully jostled to get their crazed handwritten signs in front of a camera, while on stage Anderson held his nerve to win by 7 sets to 5. The tournament was the biggest, brightest, loudest yet, and the standard of darts has never been higher.
But in a funny twist of sports administration, it wasn’t the only darts world championship to take place this month.
The BDO World Darts Championship takes place at the Lakeside Leisure Complex in Surrey, a “hotel, entertainment and leisure complex” which looks like the kind of place Alan Partridge would ambitiously choose to host a book signing. Watching the event is like entering a parallel darts universe, populated with its own set of weird characters, none of whom you have ever heard of.
The British Darts Organisation was the sport’s governing body during its smoking, boozing ’70s and ’80s heyday, up until the early ’90s when many of its best players defected to form what ended up being called the Professional Darts Corporation. The dispute was based around pay and television rights and is so complex and long-winded it has its own separate Wikipedia entry and a BBC documentary about it.
Since those acrimonious times, the PDC has grown into the giant party we recognise as darts today, but the BDO seems to have largely stayed the same. It’s like entering a timewarp back to before ‘the split’, like a living museum piece showing how darts used to be.
The first thing you notice when you watch it (thanks to a Dutchman called Theo Kaspers who has uploaded full games from this year’s tournament to Youtube) is the low ceiling. The second is how eerily quiet it is. Some in the crowd still dress up, as a Where’s Wally or a Spiderman or perhaps a naively racist caricature, but they don’t do the chants. No ‘Seven Nation Army’ ad nauseum, no “boring boring tables”. There’s no doubt that they love the darts, they just don’t feel the need to stand up to prove it.
The discrepancy in prizemoney between the BDO and PDC tournaments is ever-widening. The prize pool at this year’s BDO World Champs was £339,000, with the winner’s share £100,000. In contrast, this year’s PDC event boasted a prize pool of £1,500,000 with a winner’s cheque of £300,000.
It’s no surprise that almost all the best darts players now play with the PDC. Most of the sport’s superstars – Michael Van Gerwen, Phil Taylor, Raymond Van Barneveld – have all played in the BDO, either because they’re old enough to have been active in the ’90s or as a step on the ladder early in their career. Increasingly, the BDO seems like a sort of unofficial feeder circuit for the PDC, although there remain some who prefer the charms of the BDO over the lure of big money.
Players who remain in the BDO are mostly amateurs. Many seem to work day jobs as tradesmen of some description – as his nickname suggests, Dutchman Wesley ‘Sparky’ Harms is an electrician, and the back of his shirt is emblazoned with a cute anthropomorphic plug holding a set of darts and a lightning bolt in the colours of the Dutch flag.
With a gold medallion around his neck and a threatening scowl on his face, Harms is described by one of the commentators as “the coolest guy at Lakeside”. His walk-on song is ‘It’s My Life’ by Bon Jovi. BDO walk-ons are muted in comparison to those in the PDC, which involve women in tight dresses accompanying the men onstage and require epilepsy warnings before they are shown on TV. At Lakeside players simply enter stage right.
Harms, the fifth seed in this year’s BDO World Champs, fell in the quarter-finals to fourth seed Jamie ‘Yozza’ Hughes, who in turn fell in the semis to eventual winner and ninth seed Scott Waites, who has preposterously reappropriated the nickname ‘Scotty 2 Hotty’ from the American professional wrestler. The balding, goateed, slightly overweight Scotty 2 Hotty beat unseeded Canadian Jeff ‘The Silencer’ Smith, who was wearing what looked like prototype Google glasses, 7-1 in the final.
The BDO’s number one ranked player is Glen ‘Duzza’ Durrant, a 45-year-old from Middlesbrough who credits hypnotherapy with his rise to the top of the rankings. His biggest threat at the top is Martin ‘Wolfie’ Adams, whose use of menacing wolf imagery and the Been Trill font belies the fact that he looks like an unpopular geography teacher.
There’s Scott ‘Scotty Dog’ Mitchell, who won in 2015, and Dennis ‘The Harbour Master’ Harbour, who’s not a real harbour master at all. Nicknames are not one of the BDO’s strong points. Then there’s stalwart Ted ‘The Count’ Hankey, with his shirt unbuttoned to the top of his pot belly, looking as though he’s swaying to avoid Death’s scythe every time he steps up to the oche.
But if the BDO still has one advantage over the PDC, it’s a pretty significant one: women compete at its World Champs. They are segregated into a separate tournament with significantly less prize money at stake (the women’s champ gets £12,000 compared to the men’s champ’s £100,000), but their games are played alongside the men’s, making this a rare opportunity to see a woman on stage at the darts in any capacity other than as a sexy mascot.
This year’s Women’s World Champs was won by Trina ‘Golden Girl’ Gulliver (walk-on music: ‘You Sexy Thing’ by Hot Chocolate) – her tenth title in the last 15 years. She beat Jamaican-born Englishwoman Deta ‘The Dark Destroyer’(!) Hedman (walk-on music: ‘Feeling Hot Hot Hot’). With an average in the final of 72.93, Gulliver was about ten points off the pace of the average score on the men’s side of the tournament.
Over in this year’s PDC World Champs the best players routinely averaged over 100. In one set during his semifinal defeat of Jelle Klaasen, Gary Anderson averaged a record high 132. Players like Anderson and Michael Van Gerwen are currently raising the benchmark of darts scoring at an unprecedented rate.
The gulf in quality and popularity separating the BDO and the PDC will likely only continue to grow in line with the money at stake. But the BDO has its place, and retains an undeniable appeal. Unlikely heroes in dreadful shirts, the wonderful tension of the split-screen, a man saying “one-hundred-and-eighty” into a microphone. The simple joy of darts.
The Spinoff Sports is brought to you by Premier League Pass – click here to subscribe and watch the rest of the season live and on demand.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.