Sport on TV: Crowd of savages fail to deflect dedicated darters

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The Independent Online

When 82,000 supporters turn up to watch a club rugby match between Harlequins and Saracens, even though it's on television, you know the public's appetite for live sport is as endless as a festive buffet. Nowhere is this more obvious than at Alexandra Palace for the PDC World Darts Championship (Sky Sports), where fans can carry on their seasonal excesses with impunity for a fortnight. You can even dress up as your favourite character from Sesame Street and still blend into the beery, blurry background.

When the announcer called it "the hottest ticket in sport" he wasn't just talking about the fetid atmosphere inside the gargantuan bar-room. You could imagine stormtroopers, Vikings and pantomime horses queuing around the block. So what is the attraction of sitting at the back of a cavernous hall getting soaked in beer and sweat while two unlikely sporting gods throw darts at a tiny board in the distance? The action can only be seen on a giant TV screen.

Perhaps it's all about audience participation. Rather as if you were sitting in the pub, the darts is a sideshow to the general revelry. Really they should have an enormous fruit machine clanking and burbling away in the corner. Or at least somebody dressed up as one.

When Robbie Savage was picked out by the cameras amid the throng, the spectators chanted long and loud about the footballer's interest in self-gratification, quite oblivious to the spellbinding contest that was going on between Simon Whitlock and Michael van Gerwen, who played out a 4-3 humdinger on Thursday.

"Strictly come darting," intoned the commentator Nigel Pearson, hitting the bullseye. At least Clare Balding didn't get savaged when she came on the screen. It could have come straight from the horse's mouth.

Grinning presenter Dave Clark called the Whitlock win "a really really fantastic fantastic game there". But there were plenty of errors to go with the thrills and beers spills. Van Gerwen still managed to miss 16 doubles as he went three sets down. So does the extraordinary din have any effect on the players?

There has been quite a lot of chat about that over the last two weeks, perhaps because in darts there's not much else to talk about. When Kim Huybrechts played Paul Nicholson, Wayne Mardle said "the crowd were only interested in Kim's girlfriend", while Justin Pipe was barracked for his slow throwing against Terry Jenkins. The latter was enthusiastic about the public pillory – well, it wasn't directed at him – pointing out that it was preferable to the tour events when you can hear a pin drop. More sharp objects being thrown around, but with less drama.

Dave Chisnall, conqueror of Phil Taylor last week, has no qualms about noise because he is used to combining his training with childcare, often practising with his baby daughter Lexie-Rose cradled in his non-throwing arm. She makes more noise than the Ally Pally.

"Chizzy Rascal" had seen off the king of the oche by resisting his psychological assault, according to Mardle: "Every now and then someone worries him. 'You know what, fella? I can't get to you, get in your mind.'" It's good to know that darts is about mental fortitude these days rather than the body's ability to withstand sustained abuse.