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John ‘Darth Maple’ Part

As well as giving the world Leonard Cohen, Celine Dion and the faaaabulous Jay Manuel (America’s Next Top Model), Canada can lay claim to producing the world’s most dedicated professional darts player, a man who, according to his unofficial website, travels 140,000 miles a year ‘to quench his thirst for darts’. His name: John Part. Thirst is a recurring theme for Part, whose love of the booze is legendary on a circuit that prides itself on performing well despite utter inebriation. All those years on the liquor has left Part with an odd physical shape: regular looking from the front but with a gargantuan belly hidden beneath a sweaty black nylon darts shirt, the true scale of the beer baby revealed only in an expansive side profile shot.

As a player, Part claimed the British Darts Organisation championship a solitary time prior to the revelatory player breakaway to form the Sky-backed PDC in 1997, whose title he won twice in 2003 (beating no less than Phil Taylor in the final) and in 2008. His style is one of the most fluent and pleasing on the circuit, the hand rocking back and forth several times like a nervous masturbator while his face grimaces as the dart is rapidly released towards the board. His greatest asset is an ability to hit ‘cover shots’ (moving down from treble 20 to treble 19) at will, a skill bettered only by Phil Taylor. Beyond the oche, Part is a regular in the commentary box, his smooth, concise observations a welcome respite from the gibberings of the neurotic Sid Waddell and the insufferable patter of Tony Green.  An exquisite nine-darter can be found below.

Martin ‘Wolfie’ Adams

Poster boy for the Beeb’s cack-handed coverage of the second-rate world championship, the BDO, Wolfie is the darts player most familiar to Joe Public, his grizzled visage as integral to Auntie’s festive viewing schedule as Pat Butcher’s dripping mascara. In addition to the facial fuzz, the lesser-spotted Adams can be identified through his tinted aviator-style glasses, and the sight of his long-suffering wife, Sharon, clutching a toy wolf and screeching like a demented banshee at the Lakeside. While a class act with the arrows, Adams will never go down in the annals of darting folklore by virtue of his refusal to leave the cushy British Darts Organisation to join the big boys in the rival PDC, choosing instead to hoover-up worthless BDO titles year-by-year against mediocre opposition.

Wolfie’s other notable accolades include the Peterborough Telegraph Sports Personality of the year 22007 – 2011, and patron of the UK Wolf Conservation Trust. I’m sure the wolves appreciate his support in these difficult times. While I may mock Wolfie and his unwillingness to play against the best week-in-week-out, his crystal clear life philosophy cannot be questioned: “People ask why I still play for a pub team. Well, it’s where I started and it’s where I shall finish, so why not continue playing in the pub in between as well? I love it. No pressure, no hassle. Just a good night out with good company, good beer and a game of darts.” Good beer and a game of darts. Amen.

Steve ‘Magnum-PI’ Beaton

Of all the presents I have received down the years, perhaps my favourite was an unexpected parcel enclosing a signed picture of Steve Beaton, and some Steve Beaton darts flights. To my fiancé’s obvious displeasure, I proceeded to frame the Beaton picture and place it above the toilet, where it remains to this day. Few things stir the blood in the morning more than the sight of Beaton’s pristine mullet when taking a slash.

His distinctive appearance has led Beaton to collect three different darts monikers: ‘The Bronzed Adonis’ owing to a radiant tan that your local chav would kill for; ‘The Housewives’ Choice’ for obvious reasons; and his preferred shout,’ Magnum-PI’ in homage to the Selleck-esque tash. As a player, Beaton never really capitalised on his huge potential, with a solitary BDO world title to show for his efforts for the year’s biggest prize. Alongside Ted Hankey and John Lowe, his action is perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing in darting history, the delivery smoother than a pornstar’s beaver. A mild-mannered man, I was surprised to note that his favourite film is Rambo: First Blood, anticipating Smokey and the Bandit as more his speed. If I were to try and sum-up the great man in one sentence, I could do worse than quote baggervance9’s YouTube comment: “fuck me, that mustache [sic] that could probably make women pregnant if they looked at it.”

Andy ‘The Viking’ Fordham

An athlete in his youth, the young Andy Fordham was apparently known as ‘the whippet’, a revelation that, in light of events of the past few years, transcends irony. Whether Andy first developed his hunger after a crazed occasion at the school tuck shop, is hard to say, however what is clear is that at some stage the whippet morphed into a colossal st bernard. His nadir arrived in 2004 when, weighing in at circa 31 stone, he had to retire from a game against Phil Taylor due to heat intensity. Upon attending hospital, he was informed that 75% of his liver was dead and he needed to stop drinking immediately, no doubt something of a culture shock to a man who supped 25 Holston Pils and munched six steak and kidney pies before toe-ing the oche. Even when darts wasn’t on the agenda, Andy would do his bit for the British economy, drinking, “probably 15 to 20 pints of lager more or less every day.”

Since his spell in hospital, Fordham suffered the indignation of appearing on Celebrity Fit Club with rent-a-celeb, Paul Ross, and a bunch of washed up jokers from Corrie. Whether he shat himself at the fear of living in such company, or actually undertook some physical exercise, Fordham managed to lose 3 stone, which, proportionate to his body size, was akin to having a haircut. He returned to darts in 2007 following a self-imposed spell in the wilderness, during which he lost a further seven stone. The returning Fordham is a sight to behold: the head, as small as a pin, while the remainder of the body remains majestic in its scope. However while his health has improved, his darts has suffered, with the weight loss affecting his balance, causing him to relearn his technique. Fingers crossed the Viking can get back to former glories, if only to stick two fingers up at the ghastly, patronising Kay Burley. See interview below.

Phil ‘Nixy’ Nixon

Perhaps the greatest idol on this list, Phil Nixon’s claim to fame is reaching the 2007 BDO final at the age of 50 in only his first appearance at the championship, having tried in vain to qualify for the previous 20 years. Such was the unexpected nature of his performances, the beeb’s production team seemed unsure of his nickname, veering between ‘The Ferryhill Flyer’ in reference to his home town, and the more rudimentary ‘Nixy’, a handle only marginally better than Mervyn ‘The King’ King.

The final itself was hilarious, with Nixy seemingly destined for a crushing defeat, only to launch an inspired comeback before Adams crept over the line. As the arrows flew, we heard how the journeyman Nixy was a dedicated house-husband to his two children, with six other Nixy offspring existing somewhere in these fair isles. From looking at the man with his bland facial expression and weedy physique, he appeared to be anything but a rampant stud, but, as he started clawing back the legs, I felt proud that my taxes went to supporting his darting dreams, and the hungry mouths of his spawn.

Since that glorious day in 2007, Nixy has alas wallowed in the doldrums, failing to qualify for the past two world championships, no doubt spending his time rutting away in alleyways shortly after closing time. Come 2017, being the ten-year anniversary of the epic final, I hope to flick over to BBC1 to see the 60 year-old Nixy, father of twenty by that time, putting Wolfie to the sword to claim the most unlikeliest of victories since Lee McQueen won series 4 of The Apprentice.

For those who missed out all those years ago, link to the closing part of the final.

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Coming to no cinemas near you, either this year, next year or sometime thereafter is Pride & Pedigree, a short documentary about two men consumed by their passion for darts. Expect tears, laughter, blacking-up and spandex for what promises to be the first cinematic non-event of the 21st century.

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Andy Fordham

"Before a match I like to relax with 25 bottles of Holsten Pils and 6 steak 'n kidney pies."

– Andy Fordham, 2004 BDO World Champion, writing on his myspace page in 2007.

My English teacher always advocated the use of a quote at the start of an essay; something succinct to give the reader a grasp of what was to follow without giving the game away. When this point was first made, I thought I could see a logic and spent hours with my heard buried in obscure reference and quotation books looking for a couple of pre-fabricated sentences to lift my paper into the higher echelons of respectability. However on cynical reflection and with a few more years on the clock, I can see that both I and my fellow classmates were being cruelly duped. The real reason for an opening quote is idleness; the fear of procrastinating over the structure of an opening sentence. The security of a guaranteed opener removes this cloud of concern, and allows the writer to waffle on for a few paragraphs, fooling the reader into thinking that what he or she is reading is the end result of a month’s hard graft.

A good example of the distracting opening quote can be found in Lunar Park by Brett Easton Ellis: a deliciously dark and surprisingly complex novel with Ellis the central character, battling against the breakdown of his marriage, his own celebrity and the troubled relationship with his deceased father. I cannot recommend it highly enough. The novel begins with Ellis reflecting on the art of the opening sentence or paragraph, fondly recalling the brevity of his one line start to Less Than Zero.

– “People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles” – and lamenting the overly complicated openings of his subsequent works. For example, American Psycho beings with:

“Abandon all hope ye who enter here is scrawled in blood red lettering on the side of the Chemical Bank near the corner of Eleventh and First and is in print large enough to be seen from the backseat of the cab as it lurches forward in the traffic leaving Wall Street and just as Timothy Price notices the words a bus pulls up, the advertisement for Les Miserables on its side blocking his view, but Price who is with Pierce & Pierce and twenty-six doesn’t seem to care because he tells the driver he will give him five dollars to turn up the radio, “Be My Baby” on WYNN, and the driver, black, not American, does so.”

For Lunar Park, Ellis knowingly mocks the process by making the opening sentence a quote from Lunar Park:

“You do an awfully good impression of yourself.”

This is the first line of Lunar Park and in its brevity and simplicity it was supposed to be a return to form, an echo, of the opening line from my debut novel, Less Than Zero.”

What this has to do with darts is anyone’s guess, but I’ve successfully killed five hundred words by adlibbing an Andy Fordham quote, and I’ve remembered how much I like Brett Easton Ellis’ work, so I’m pretty happy.

Andy Fordham’s quote from 2007 will appeal to the darts cynics who dismiss the endeavours of Phil “The Power” Taylor and his contemporaries as a pub pastime, and the colleague who – without any evidence – asserted last week that darts is incapable of being classified as a sport.

History

It is well known that during the growth of darts from the 60s to the 80s, heavy drinking (not to mention smoking) was a stable fixture at the oche. Think Jockey Wilson, with his jack-o-lantern grin bereft of teeth, lurching himself at the board with a fag dangling from his mouth, bolting pints in between throws; this was accepted practice, but darts has cleaned up its act to become one of Sky Sports’ ace cards. Pints of bitter have been replaced by half pints of water, and smoking was cut out long before the national smoking ban was introduced. The British Darts Organisation (BDO), whose annual championship is shown on BBC, has been replaced by the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC), the premier darts organisation with tournaments and league games shown weekly on Sky Sports – it’s big business, but is it a sport?

Definition of a Sport

If you scour Wikipedia and the seemingly bottomless pit of online dictionaries, you will uncover a host of suggested meanings. Most cite the need for there to be a physical exertion, but the line – it must be said – is blurred.

Golf – for example – is widely credited as a sport, but why? Can it be said that a pre-requisite to playing the game is the requirement of physical prowess, or a toned physique? True, Tiger Woods is an admirable physical specimen, but there are others on the circuit – Colin Montgomery, for example – who carry a few additional pounds and still make it to the top. Therefore, as a general rule, fitness is not a necessity in professional golf. Looking back at my school days, I recall golf being played by the more rotund pupils who weren’t able to make their mark at rugby, football, tennis e.t.c. that is to say, it was a back up sport for those unable to partake successfully in the more rigorous pursuits. Those same pupils would often be found playing cricket, which – were it not for the fast bowling aspect – could be deemed to fall short on the physical exertion test.

It has been said that if you can smoke while doing it, then it will not be a sport. Applying this mantra, the following would be excluded from the definition of sport without controversy: golf, curling, polo, snooker and – it must be said – darts. More controversially, I would submit that the following can be enjoyed while smoking: rowing, weight lifting, table tennis, skiing, running, horse racing, cycling and most other forms of athletics.

Skill

In fact, athletics takes the argument forward. My appreciation of sport involves the recognition of skill and talent. It goes without saying that successful participants in major sports – Roger Federer, Lionel Messi, Daniel Carter – possess these attributes in abundance, with superb hand eye coordination being the shared feature. Tiger Woods, too, is a genius in his field and no sensible individual could argue against top golfers possessing a wide array of unique skills.

On the other hand, the majority of athletic events involve no talent. Take the 100 metres, for example, where the nation as one celebrated Usain Bolt’s Olympic feats, having failed to notice that all he did was run in a straight line. True, he did it faster than anyone else in the world but where is the talent? Yes, there is an incredible amount of hard work, allied with God-given physical attributes, but there is no skill there. The same can be said for cycling and swimming. Athletics is best thought of as a collection of playground pastimes: jumping, hopping, running e.t.c.

However – just to show how fine the dividing line – it must be said that hurdling must be considered separately from running, if only for the fact that an appreciation of timing is needed, but I do not consider the level of skill required enough to make it a sport.

Then there are a few wildcards. Take surfing, largely considered a leisurely pastime, but on closer inspection it is surely one of the most difficult sports to master, for top surfers not only extol an extreme amount of physical exertion, they boast a wide array of skills, from balance to timing.

Darts

The parallels with golf and snooker are clear: these are events requiring an extraordinary amount of precision, an appreciation of distance and time. Head to youtube and watch Phil Taylor and Raymond Van Barneveld rattle in 9 dart legs of 501 (throws of 180, 180 and 141) and try and have a go yourself. It will never happen. My personal highlight of recently throwing a 15 dart leg (100, 180, 26, 140 and 55) was the exception rather than the norm, whereas the top players boast 100 plus point averages with anything greater than a 15 dart leg considered poor darts on the PDC circuit.

As a contrast, try running in a straight line and you will be able to do it, and the more you do it the faster you will become. With darts, however, it is not a case of more practice making you better; many will be barred from reaching a higher level because they do not intuitively understand the mechanics of the throw, much like the mechanics of a golf swing or stroke of a snooker cue, and so will be unable to master it.

Conclusion

It seems to me that the litmus test for sport comes down to the following:

1.    Does the activity involve a degree of continuous physical commitment; and

2.    Does the activity require a unique skill or skills.

The criteria are, I think, fair allowing darts and (just about) snooker to the sporting table while excluding chess and other mind based games. However, it does have a failing, with sex, gardening and circus events arguably becoming sports; I say arguably, as there must be added a competitive element which would eliminate these particular “activities” from the sporting calendar, unless a world humping championship becomes accepted international sport.

Simon Barnes – the multi-award-winning chief sportswriter at The Times – has previously described Phil Taylor as the equal of Tiger Woods and any other sporting world champion, but alas this remains the opinion of the informed, rather than the opinion of the public and it is time that such attitudes should change. I would, in fact, be inclined to go a stage further and put Phil Taylor amongst other modern artists: Cormac McCarthy, JM Coetzee, Will Oldham, Neil Young and David Lynch – to name but a few – capable of excelling in their respective fields in such a way that leaves you happy to be given the opportunity to be observe or listen to their works.

Anyway, that’s me done. I’ll leave you with a link to a leg of darts between Phil Taylor and James “The Machine” Wade (one of my favourite players, incidentally) which is a fine example of two professionals at the peak of their powers. Just think: Chris Hoy got knighted for cycling in a straight line. And he sounds like a Chinese sexual position. Unbelievable.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ex9yRn0oOzg&feature=related

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