Minor British Institutions: Darts

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The Independent Online

Like many minor British institutions, this one used to be a lot bigger. Within living memory, almost every public house in Britain offered a darts board, with the design – doubles, trebles, bullseye and so on – and construction (of sisal) being more or less standard by the end of the 19th century.

The ancient origins of the game are poorly chronicled, but the "oldest oche in the world" – dating back about 350 years – was uncovered in a former pub in Essex, naturally, and it seems an English invention. For the past few decades pretty much everything has gone wrong for darts.

The decline of the pub and working mens' club has stymied talent, the ban on tobacco sponsorship has robbed it of funds, and a sketch on Not the Nine O'Clock News – in which the fat players attempt to out-drink and out-smoke each other – left it with a scuzzy image. The disappearance from terrestrial television of the commentator Sid Waddell, author of Bellies and Bullseyes, was a further blow. Jocky Wilson is badly missed.