Why I love the raucous genius of darts – and want to see it back in our pubs

Pub Spy's dartboard showing his record 103 checkout: 7 - T20 - D18.

Take a look at the board in the main picture. The total of the three throws is 103 – my best ever checkout in the magnificent game of darts.

Yes, as anyone with even the slightest knowledge of the game knows, that’s not much cop. Nonetheless, I’m chuffed with it.

I’ve had a board up in my central Canterbury flat ever since I received it a few Christmases ago. It’s played on once or twice a week.

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And that, quite frankly, is the great paradox of modern darts. The ultimate pub game is played less and less in actual pubs and mostly at home instead.

Where almost all of Canterbury’s pubs used to have boards, few now do. The Cross Keys in Oaten Hill has two, the King’s Head in Wincheap has one I believe as does the Two Doves in Nunnery Fields.

Rob Cross in action against Michael van Gerwen

There may be a few more dotted around, but if so they’re not in places I’ve been to recently.

Many pubs today have very high opinions of themselves. They charge a lot for drink, a lot for food and have mutated into bourgeois hang-outs.

The sight of portly men necking lager top and cheering a double 16 are not conducive to their images.

But the truth is that the more the popular the sport has become as a result of television and skilful marketing, the more it has disappeared from our pubs.

When I was 18/19, I used to play every Friday night at The Dolphin in St Radigund’s at the time that big Graham Dash ran it. It was a proper boozer back then. I can’t imagine a board reappearing in its current incarnation.

And yet more people of the people involved in this wonderful working class pursuit are distinctly not working class.

In London, local leagues are flourishing once more. My brother has his own set of darts and plays in uber trendy East End in a league composed of mostly well-heeled City of London workers.

Darts has also blatantly overtaken snooker as Britain’s premier indoor sport. Tournaments are televised constantly.

Scotland’s Jocky Wilson on tv in the 1980s

That’s a far cry from the days when it was just the yearly world championships from Lakeside and the odd England v Scotland match featuring those two great protagonists Eric Bristow and Jocky Wilson.

Today there are all sorts of competitions: the Premier league, the Grand Prix, the European tour events and even a World Cup.

Of course, it’s the World Championship over Christmas at the Alexandra Palace that gains the most attention.

Earlier this year, Kent-born outsider Rob Cross stunned the sport by beating world number one Michael van Gerwen in the semi-final and then its greatest ever player Phil Taylor to win the title.

Thanks to exceptional marketing by the sport’s boss Barry Hearn, darts is now mainstream.

Canterbury’s pubs need reasons other than beer and food to get people through the doors. A dartboard and something to score on tucked away in a corner might just be the tonic.

And if landlords think they’ll be attracting a load of beer-swilling hooligans, think again. Darts’s appeal is increasingly universal: men, women, children – builders as much as bankers, the fit as much as the fat.

Game on!

With that I’ll leave you with the immortal words of darts ever greatest every commentator Sid Waddell: “Jocky Wilson…what an athlete!”



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