Category Archives: Darts

Seduced by simplicity, a slave to the complex I now am

180

Darts World Championship 2009
Alexandra Palace (and Lakeside), January 4th, 2009

Is darts the best game ever? Does sport get any better than a bunch of invariably fat (or fattening) guys throwing tiny arrows at a board as a crowd of pissed old-timers, fancy-dressed larrikins, pseudo-WAG chicks, dignified parents and B-grade celebs hold up signs with things like ‘I am The Stig’written on them and singing the darts song, all while going mental as a guy on a microphone shouts out ‘wuuuuuuuuuun-huuuundreddd-aaaand-aayyyyyteeeee!’?

Possibly not.

I recently posted an article on 10,000 Weekends that was written by an entrant in The Guardian’s Big Blogger 2008 competition. Blogger D’s treatise on the beauty of darts lay in the idea that darts, like life, is devastatingly simple: you’re either throwing good darts or bad darts. Sport is not some grand Rushdie-esque metaphor for life, but a rather more simple exposition. ‘The rest,’ as Blogger D points out, ‘is just window-dressing.’

And having spent the last three days glued to the telly, watching the action at both Lakeside and Alexandra Palace, I now know what Blogger D was really talking about.

In darts, unlike any other sport, there is simply nothing to talk about but the points. Leg by leg, set by set. Just the points. That’s it. The  pundits can’t rely on talking about different tactical formations, managerial mistakes, the strengths of kicking over running, beating a world record time, or any of the myriad other details other sports are predicated on. At one point during the Lakeside coverage, the commentators resorted to commentating on rugby  when they spotted some members of the Gloucester club side in the audience, particularly on how Wales are a very real possibility of doing the Grand Slam in the Six Nations this year. Then of course, there are moments like this that the commentators must dream of.

But back to the action. In darts you either ‘play well’ or ‘play badly.’ The analysis, if you were to call it that, only goes so far as discussing efficiency in the checkout and whether they could hit what they needed to hit. For example, when Raymond ‘Barney’ van Barneveld needed a double top to take a leg, and missed, the commentator sagely noted ‘he needed that.’ It was as refreshing as it was absurd.

(On a side note, if Roy Keane does get involved in sport again any time soon, I hope it’s in darts commentary. It seems custom-made for him. You can just hear Keano now: ‘he missed that because he’s a hack.’) 

But this is where I diverge from Blogger D, and from Martin Kelner writing on the Guardian Sportblog today. They argue that darts is simple. But they have been seduced by darts’ simplicity into thinking it is simple. Simplicity and simple-ness are two very different things. Simple means no substance; flimsiness; a ruthless reduction. 1 + 1 = 2 is simple. It is what it is.

Simplicity is divine. Simplicity is the art of somehow squeezing an endless complex of information and ideas and effort and skill into a bite-sized chunk. E = mC2 is simplicity. Yet the theorem invites exploration and proof and challenge, again and again, forever, with new results and ideas yielding themselves to the explorers time after time.

Of course darts is about getting to zero before the other guy. But the audience sits behind you. And they’re loud. And drunk. It’s like performing an appendectomy while your nurses sing karaoke. They say in football that when you take a spot kick the goal shrinks. But that’s nothing compared to those improbably small spaces on that improbably small board, which must feel leagues away from the oche.  Its complexity defies belief. But hey, it’s still just about getting to zero before the other guy, right?

Van Barneveld went from throwing a nine-dart finish in the quarter finals to being demolished by Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor in the final. His assessment? ‘Clearly practising 10 hours a day is not enough.’ What? Practising anything for 10 hours a day is bound to make you a millionaire at that thing. But such is the nature of darts that the seemingly simple act of throwing a metal pin into a bristle board is but the next exploration of the theorem. And some theorems elude and defy the best practitioners going around forever. Well, at least a year. Roll on Alexandra Palace 2010 for yet another attempt at cracking it.

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Guardian.co.uk Big Blogger 2008: An outstanding entry

When I finally get my head around witnessing 70,000 Welsh singing “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” (“Land of my Fathers”) on Saturday at Millennium Stadium, I’ll post something. Until then, check out this – in my opinion brilliant – piece that won The Guardian’s Big Blogger 2008 Week 4. It’s about darts; it’s excellent and it was the rightful winner of the round. Blogger D draws an analogy of darts to life, but instead of clouding it with the usual guff, it’s a simple case of darts and life either being ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Like I said, excellent. Unfortunately I don’t know the writer’s name or his blog address, but maybe he or she will find my blog and get in touch. Enjoy.

 

Blogger D


phil-the-power-taylorIt will shortly be that time of year again. Mistletoe and wine. Children singing Christian rhyme. Logs on the fire, leaves on the tree, etc. Darts.
With two world championships on the horizon, we’re about to be treated to a month of top quality darts.

Darts all day long. And for those of us who are, in the mangled words of Robert Palmer, “addicted to Stubbs”, we’ll have Darts Extra in the early hours of the morning. Oh yeah.

“Darts Extra”. There’s a clue in the name: it’s just more darts, in fact it’s inferior darts. They know it, you know it and they know that you know. But who can say no to extra darts? Not me, that’s for sure, but I have a terrible vision of waking up aged seventy to realise that I should have spent more time making love to my wife and less time watching Tony O’Shea making short work of Co Stompé. Or vice versa.

The PDC is where the serious action is nowadays, but for myself – and I refuse to believe I am alone – the BDO has an appeal that is both more elusive and evocative. It represents a land that time forgot for British sport. And is all the better for it.

Take the analysis. In welcome contrast to pretty much every other sport on television, there isn’t any. It’s just wall-to-wall drama. In Bobby George’s universe (not somewhere any sane man wants to visit) there is nothing to say about the game, there is no bullshit insight into technique or tactics, and there’s certainly no wibbling on about “understacking” or “overstacking”.

Someone is either throwing “good darts” or they are throwing “bad darts”.

And this refusal to dress up the spectacle extends to the players themselves. Only the most adventurous would even dare to make a distinction between “good scoring” and “getting his doubles”. The only tactic ever discussed is “speeding it up” or “slowing it down”.

After enough of this you can only conclude that as in darts, so in life. You’re either throwing good darts or your throwing bad darts and if the latter all you can hope is that you turn things around sharpish (but time is precious – particularly in the first round) or at the very least slow things down, put the cruel hand of fate off his game and hope he starts fluffing his out shots.

But the appeal does not stop there. At the Lakeside Arena, there is no clear difference between the people on stage and the people in the crowd. All the celebrities, the pampered professionals, have disappeared to the PDC. And they leave behind a vision of sport as it used to be, magically uninventing all the tedious, “workmanlike” identikit professionals and leaving only the ones who can’t be bothered putting too much effort in.

The pub players, the fat players, the thin players (they don’t come in medium). Men with silly hair, beards, hats. Those that tick all the boxes. Humanity in all its glorious variety is up on that stage. Some of them are Dutch for God’s sake.

So Phil Taylor can throw all the 180s he likes. Barney can defeat “The Power” in what was almost certainly the greatest sporting event yet witnessed this century. But until either of them dons a cape and throws a couple of plastic bats into the crowd, they are fighting a losing battle. At the Lakeside the audience and players are as one. Does anyone really care about how good the darts are?

A couple of years ago, whilst I checked on the progress of a young Jelle Klaasen (who stood to make me a small amount of money), the camera panned over a spectator wearing a Darth Vader suit. This caused great amusement amongst my children. Then one of them asked the question that nobody ever dares to ask. “WHY is he wearing a Darth Vader suit?” There is no answer. He just is. Just like Ted Hankey likes to dress up as a vampire and listen to trance in his loft.

You’re either throwing good darts or you’re throwing bad darts. The rest is window dressing.

 

 

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