On 29th August the night finally arrived... it was the Boro Boys charity darts event, and I was due to face England international and BDO ranked world number 4 Glen Durrant in front of a sizeable gathering at Thornaby’s Sports and Leisure Centre.
Over the weeks, I had done a fair bit of practice in front of a crowd of none in our garage, and without any pressure I’d done reasonably well: a good few 180s and several games of 501 in fifteen darts – and less on one or two occasions. Give me an audience however, and the fish would be swimming in an altogether different kettle.
Elaine and I had opted for the VIP tickets, which meant we could get a free glass of something fizzy, a few nibbles from the buffet and seats that were too close to the stage for comfort... my comfort in particular.
In addition to Glen, The players on view were Middlesbrough-born Colin Osborne (PDC ranked 41), former PDC under 21 world champion James Hubbard, Welsh international Jim Williams, “Rapid” Ricky Evans (PDC ranked 54) who throws as quickly as his nickname would suggest, and the “mystery guest”, who turned out to be the former world no.1 and three-time world championship runner-up “One Dart” Peter Manley.
The second half of the evening would be devoted to these six men, but the first part of the evening offered chances for some local players to have a game of 701 against one of the stars. There were a few moments that really stood out for me: Ricky Evans hitting three bulls to check out on 150, and Peter Manley needing 40, and living up to his nickname by planting the first dart in double top – despite a poster of Peter completely covering the board. Both finishes showed wonderful skill and provided great entertainment.
Some of the youngsters who got up on stage were excellent. The first lad – I think he was called Josh – should have really beaten James Hubbard, having hit consecutive scores of 140 and 135, and a couple of other players showed the level of talent there is within the area. Really impressive.
Obviously there had to be a bit of a dip in the performances, and that duly came when it was my turn in the spotlight. I’d spent a bit of time on the practice boards (as well as having a quick chat with Peter Manley, who seemed a decent bloke) and I was still scoring well – albeit in patches.
I was given a lovely introduction, but I was quaking inside as I climbed the stairs onto the stage to the strains of Sharp Dressed Man by ZZ Top (I could have sworn I’d asked for I Missed Again by Phil Collins). Elaine’s final words were: “Don’t trip over the oche!”, and I’m pleased to report that my footing was secure throughout...
The game got underway and after three darts each, I was actually in front; but the situation changed very quickly as Glen hit a string of good scores. The MC must hast have been getting fed up of starting every sentence with the words “one hundred and...” after Glen had thrown (I know I was!!!), but the test for me wasn’t in trying to compete, it was simply to stand up in front of all those people, with the memories of all the times darts hadn’t even left my hand, and actually play a reasonable game of darts.
And I think I did that.
My highest score was 95. That was three more than I managed against Deta Hedman, so if I keep up that level of improvement by my reckoning, in twenty-nine games time, my opponent is likely to be in very real trouble!
After closing out on double four, Glen then took the microphone and said some very kind words about me and my charity challenge, before making a generous – and humbling - donation, as well as giving me a set of his darts; hopefully they come with a guarantee that they will fly as straight for me they did for him!
Glen has been so helpful from the day I first contacted him, all the way through to the moment I stepped off the very hot stage and sat back down next to Elaine. He probably has a reasonable idea how tough a challenge this was for me, but he genuinely believed I could do it... and I am more grateful for his encouragement and support than I can properly convey with these words.
I would also thank Claire, who must have put so much time and effort into organising the evening, and just for the record, I will definitely come along to next year’s event – as a spectator!
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