By Josh Powell
In the corner of a quiet pub on a sunny day in 2008 sat a couple of old men, the landlord, a dog and me. The magic of the World Matchplay had stolen our hearts and all five of us had fallen in love with darts. Four years on and with the 2012 tournament starting on Saturday I haven’t looked back since.
Whether it was the glamorous walk-on girls, the over-hyped Sky Sports montages or the passion of thousands of drunk men in fancy dress I’m not sure, but it was brilliant. These weren’t athletes on stage, these were people like you and me who spent too much of their time in pubs and the chipper. Yet here they were, on stage in front of packed out arenas, having the time of their lives.
The World Matchplay is one of the most prestigious tournaments on the PDC Tour, second only to the World Championships in December. It is held in a ballroom at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool which provides one of the best atmospheres around for a darts crowd. Phil Taylor has dominated the event, winning the trophy 12 times since its inception in 1994, and the tournament never fails to produce a moment of history.
The final I saw in 2008 went down in darting legend. James ‘The Machine’ Wade was the defending champion and he faced the man who had dominated the sport for well over a decade, the unstoppable Phil Taylor. Taylor went on to win 18-9 and although it sounds one-sided it was a true epic. Despite losing Wade had a three-dart average of over 102 and Taylor’s was close to 109.5 which is a remarkable standard given the pressure of the final.
The final few throws of the last leg summed the game up. Wade was up against it and needed a 160 check-out to stay in the match. Unbelievably he landed his first two in the treble. The crowd was going mental. As was the dog. He wired his last dart as he tried to take out tops and there was a sharp intake of breath from one of the old men in the pub.
‘Annie Oakley couldn’t hit that…’
Taylor was on a tricky 132 and his first dart snuck in to the 25 at an awkward angle. The landlord shook his head as the Power pinged treble 19 to leave the bull for the title. “No chance”, he said. I couldn’t help but agree. The first dart had covered the target completely, there was no way another arrow could get through. Taylor didn’t care, he took three strides to his right so he was the other side of the oche, paused, and took aim.
So this is the dart for the Matchplay Championship, a cheque for £60,000, you’re standing an extra foot away from where you normally throw, aiming for the smallest target on the board and there’s another arrow in the way.
It didn’t matter. He hit it. I couldn’t believe it, the old men clapped and starting talking about how it was the best thing they’d seen in years, the dog just looked on in amazement. Taylor was in tears when he collected the trophy in front of the thousands of fans cheering his name.
Me and the landlord, stayed up all night trying to replicate the shot at bull but whether it was down to fatigue, sambuca or lack of skill, it never happened. I’ll never forget that night and I won’t forget all the other tournaments I’ve watched since. This Saturday I’ll be down a pub again eagerly watching the darts, taken in by the magic of the Matchplay.