Column One; The day they came to bury Barney Rubble

"BOEM! SLOPEN" read the banner Rogier Gerritzen had carried all the way from southern Holland to the Wembley Conference Centre in north London. "Slopen," he explained, "means demolish, destroy. And boem, well, that means boom."

Rogier was wearing an inflatable orange crown. The three men standing just in front of him were sporting orange dressing gowns, and as for orange novelty wigs - well, there were too many to count. For an hour yesterday afternoon, one side of the Conference Centre was Holland, NW10. The other side, and most of the middle, was Inger-land.

There were almost 2,000 people there in all, turning the hall into a raucous cauldron of colour and the sort of chants more suited to the famous football stadium next door. And all to see two men throw darts, in a match that was conceived and sold like a title unification fight in boxing.

Darts, like heavyweight boxing, has had more than one world champion for most of the last decade - not that much of Britain has really noticed. Phil Taylor, a pub landlord from Stoke, who throws his arrows on satellite television, is reckoned by many to be the finest player in history.

In Holland, though, they do not get to see BSkyB, and the 400-odd orange- clad fans who turned up yesterday would not hear of defeat for their man, Ray "Barney Rubble" Barneveld. "To be honest," one of them said, "until this match was announced, I had never heard of Phil Taylor."

The pair's coming together in combat yesterday had been brokered by Barry Hearn, and went out live on ITV, the station's first darts broadcast for 14 years (unless, of course, you count Bullseye).

No detail had been overlooked as Hearn tried to push the hype to the limit. Smoke machines added great gusts of fog to the haze that had already been stoked up by several hundred Bensons and Players. There were disco lights, loud thumping music and girls in swimsuits with the flags of England and Holland. And from the middle of all this emerged two podgy gladiators about to do battle with six lumps of tungsten.

They may call Barneveld "Barney Rubble" but in truth, his build is closer to Fred Flintstone's pet dinosaur, Dino. But at least he has height on his side to flatten out the worst of his spare tyre. Taylor, several inches shorter but every bit as heavy, is one of the unlikeliest sporting heroes you could imagine. Brilliant he may be, but you will never find a picture of him on your daughter's bedroom wall.

The chanting rose to a crescendo as the two players threw out their practice darts, but immediately cut to pin-dropping silence the moment the clock above the board started to count down from one hour. The two men would be playing for 60 minutes, 501 a leg, finishing on a double or - for a real flourish - with the bull. Within three minutes Barneveld was one leg up, thudding a dart smack into the middle of the board.

But Taylor was just warming up. Soon, he was hitting the tiny space of the treble-20 box time and time again, and when it came to hitting the closing doubles, he was all but faultless. The cold-blooded accuracy his podgy publican's fingers coaxed out of the darts was astonishing.

By half-time in the match, when ITV went to a commercial break, the match was in effect all over. At 9 legs to 4 up, Taylor spent the time dancing, or rather wobbling, happy little jigs around the stage, while Barneveld, with his chin in his chest, was as subdued as any of the men and women in the orange novelty wigs.

But by the end even they were applauding as Taylor produced yet another finish with three exquisite flicks of the wrist. The final score was 21-10, little short of a humiliation for Barneveld. "Boem slopen" indeed.

Rogier Gerritzen was shell-shocked. "I've been watching darts for years on TV," he said, "but I've never seen anyone play darts like that.

"I've never seen anyone hit so many high-score finishes. Whenever you thought he couldn't possibly do it again, he did. It was marvellous."

Fierce rivalry, an atmosphere that could blister the paint, and magnanimity in defeat - all on an afternoon when the standard order at the bar was not a pint, or even a round, but a trayful. If the same is true after the next big event at Wembley a week on Wednesday - when England meet Scotland in a certain Euro 2000 football play-off - it will be little short of a miracle.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine