I had my chance, but threw it away: Magnus Mills recalls the night he came off the substitute's bench to play the fool for his darts team

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Indy Lifestyle Online
TUESDAY night is darts night. We play a match each week around various south London pubs, and last week for some reason our captain, Jim, put me in the playing team. This came as a surprise because my usual role is substitute number two in the 'B' team.

They used to ask me to keep score, until a visiting team captain complained about my arithmetic. So I spend most weeks watching. But tonight I had been selected to play, so I had a pint of Guinness to prepare myself. I was fifth on the board and, when my name was chalked up, disbelief appeared on the face of Steve, the club secretary.

He did not question the captain's decision, but I knew what he was thinking. 'You throw a nice dart,' he once told me, 'but you can't handle match conditions.'

Indeed.

Last time I was in the team, for a match over at Putney, I went completely to pieces. Jim got the hump; we lost.

Tonight we were playing at home, one corner of this busy pub having been set aside for darts fixtures. Tom, the landlord, nurtures his darts team with large plates of sandwiches and after-hours drinking (if required). Darts night is good for trade.

The main advantage of playing at home is supposed to be that you can get on the dart board for some valuable last-minute practice. Tonight, however, the visiting team had arrived early and had been hogging the board for about an hour. We could only watch as they plugged away at the doubles and trebles.

At last we were ready to start the match. The spotlight was switched on. There were two people at the scoreboard: a chalker and a shouter, which meant that every score would be announced to the whole pub. Apart from that, a deadly hush fell on the playing area. The atmosphere was solemn from start to finish. It is the silence that usually gets to me.

Darts players are a hard lot to please, and even the best players got no more than murmurs of approval. Only if someone threw something really classy, say 180, would one side break into a cheer while the other side stood around in reverent silence. The best response I got during the evening was a desultory chorus of 'Nice darts' from my team-mates when I landed double- top for game in the pairs. However, as luck would have it, I was drawn against the other side's best player in the next game. He defeated me comprehensively. When we shook hands afterwards he sportingly crushed mine.

As play continued, I stood at the back and examined my hand. I wondered if it would obey my eyes in the next game. I have tried everything to improve my hand- eye co-ordination. I have even learnt to juggle (balls, that is, not darts). My problem is that I can throw straight, but I sometimes forget to let go of the dart properly, which tends to 'choke' it somewhat.

'Relax,' said Delroy's reassuring voice, 'and just remember what I told you.' Delroy tries to coach me from time to time, and he always places great emphasis on a relaxed flow of play. And another pint of Guinness to help the process. Thanks, Delroy.

But whereas Delroy is a man of cool precision, I tend to be slightly more heavy-handed, which was to prove to be my undoing. When at last I returned to the oche (the line behind which the players stand), I was indeed very relaxed. I threw my darts with accuracy and retrieved them with a flourish. But they were well-embedded and I somehow managed to pull the dartboard right off the wall. It landed on the back of my legs as I turned away.

We got the board fixed up again, but did not win any more games. As a matter of fact, we lost the match. And, judging by the look Jim gave me, he seemed to think it was my fault.

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