A little over twelve months ago, I hadn’t played darts in public for something like a quarter of a century.
I love the game, and I wasn’t the worst player in the world, but my mind kept betraying my left hand and the ever-present chance that I would stand at the oche and not be able to release my darts was enough to make walking away a far easier option than the risk of (what I perceived to be) public embarrassment.
Last year’s series of “challenges” presented the ideal opportunity to test myself in a number of different ways; and however reluctant I was to face my darting fears, playing a leg of 501 in public just had to be on the list. Not just any leg of 501 though... it had to be against an international player...
Step forward Glen Durrant, the Middlesbrough-based player who had (at that time) just returned from the Lakeside, having been knocked out of the BDO World Championships by eventual runner-up Alan Norris.
Glen was not only happy to help—and we duly played several games at North Ormesby WMC last January—but he was also keen to push me even further. Playing in a pub or club is one thing, but playing Glen (by now a regular fixture in the England team) on stage in front of a three figure crowd... well that was an altogether different matter; but it was also an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Three months later, Glen arranged for me to play a leg against Deta Hedman, a lovely lady who, at that time, was ladies world no.1. Glen told me it would just be a practice game before her exhibition started... but on the night, he revealed the game would be part of the actual event. It’s quite hard to squeeze several weeks of growing panic into a couple of hours, but trust me I tried!
But when the moment came, I got up and gave it a go. I didn’t play particularly well and was beaten fairly comfortably, but that wasn’t the point. With Glen and Deta’s words of encouragement and Elaine’s presence in the crowd, I was so pleased just to have given it a go.
The challenge of playing Glen on stage was never far from my thoughts over the next few months. Again, it’s hard to put into words just how nervous I was. It doesn’t matter how well you play behind closed doors, it only took one pair of watching eyes for all the old doubts to resurface. Come the evening, even several measures of a well-known Russian spirit had little effect, but when the time came and the music started, my wobbly legs somehow carried me up the steps onto the stage. Obviously the first objective was for the darts to leave my hand and hit the board somewhere reasonably close to where I was aiming, but the personal goal was to register a three figure score from one of my throws.
My top score against Deta was 92, but although I improved on that against Glen, I couldn’t manage anything better than 95. After the game was over, Glen took the microphone and said some very kind words, but what was telling was that my overriding feeling was not relief at having got up and played Glen in front of all those people; it was frustration that I hadn’t done better....
I’ve kept on practising—firstly in the garage, but now in the more comfortable surroundings of the conservatory—and as many of you will know, I’m working towards attempting a 12 hour solo darts marathon next month. A difficult test, but a chance to do support others (in this case Grangetown Netball Club) the same way that Glen has encouraged and supported me.
My last “public appearance” before the marathon came last night, with the chance to take on the current BDO World Champion Scott Mitchell. Scott and Glen actually sat next to Elaine and I and it was great to be able to chat to both of them, and to ask Scott about his recent success.
It is nothing less than fascinating to try and understand what goes through the mind of someone who has in his hand a dart that will change his life forever... if it lands in the 8mm width of the right double. I have so much admiration for Scott, Glen and those other top players whose physical and mental self-control is strong enough for them to produce the same levels of performance under extreme pressure as they do away from the bright lights and cameras. And for Scott Mitchell, if hitting that winning double top and lifting the trophy didn’t make him appreciate the scale of his wonderful achievement, then surely having the wonderfully named Piddle Brewery producing a beer in his honour (“Scotty Dog”) must have been the moment of ultimate realisation!
For me however, last night’s goals were pretty much the same as when I played Glen back in August; to do myself justice (i.e. not make a fool of myself), and hit a ton....
Well I’m chuffed to say that missions (plural) accomplished. It was Scott’s opening game of the evening, so he was not (thankfully) at his best, but I managed to stay in touch and thanks to a (fanfare, drum roll etc) throw of 140, was actually first to a finish. On 85, I wasn’t good enough to get a shot at the bull or a double, and with that the chance was gone, as Scott stepped up and hit the winning double six.
No disappointment this time though—I’d given the world champion a half decent game; and recorded that elusive ton plus score in the process. After the marathon, I’ve no idea if or when I’ll play darts in public again, but thanks to Scott Mitchell, and particularly to “Duzza”, I took on a challenge, and I didn’t fail—and that’s a great feeling.