If Santa Claus ever wanted to go out in public and not be recognised, he could try the World Darts Championships.
There are so many spectators dressed up as Father Christmas at London’s Alexandra Palace that they might actually be able to deliver presents to all the world’s children in a single night. The only problem is that the tournament is always held at Santa’s busiest time of the year. If he didn’t turn up to work, he would surely get the sack.
As Dave Clark informed us (Sky Sports One, Thursday), “Christmas in the capital means only one thing: darts!” It’s good to know that the real meaning of the festive season has not been lost. Poor old Jesus, meanwhile, had better not try to get into the Ally Pally. The Christ lookalike Nathan Grindal (he has long hair and a beard) wasn’t allowed into this month’s Players’ Championship at Butlin’s in Minehead after his appearance last year incited the crowd to some kind of near-religious fervour. It must be the time of year.
Santa would fit in with the old-school darts players: rotund, red-faced, and he likes to drink on the job. Now the gladiators of the oche in pubs and clubs across the land tend to resemble accountants and act like nominated drivers, sipping their water. As they say in darts, what’s the point of that?
Sky Sports still whoop it up for all it’s worth – even without the surreal spiel of the sadly departed doyen of the commentary box, Sid Waddell, and the disaffected John Gwynne. Instead Rod Studd, who must have had a career in porn before this, sung the praises of “the sport of kings at the people’s palace”. According to the opening credits it was “massive darts”, although they don’t look much bigger than normal. And it’s all happening “under one roof”, which is stretching the hype a bit far.
If the darts does get a bit boring after the defeat of Phil Taylor on Friday night, you can always watch the crowd. The guy who came as a gorilla surrounded by a gaggle of women dressed as bananas was the pick of the bunch. As for the bloke holding up a sign saying “Happy anniversary Helen”, he might have been better off wearing a disguise.
There was a lot of talk about the slow play of the likes of Justin Pipe. The titans of tungsten are all getting younger and prefer to play quickly. But they weren’t deliberately slow in the old days, they just had to catch their breath between puffs on a ciggie and try to focus on the numbers.
One throwback to the golden age is the rather shambolic Austrian Serb Mensur Suljovic, who bowed down and out after a humdinger against Mark Webster on Thursday. He looks like he’s about to topple over, as if the tipple has got the better of him. “It is the oddest of throws,” opined Studd, “one-legged, reminiscent of a mating ritual of the flamingo.” John Part added: “It is effectively ballet-looking to me” but he ruined the poetry by calling him “staccatic”.
Then the man from Mensa got his sums wrong, miscounting at a set up and 2-2: the accountants would never have done that. “Mathematical madness from Mensur,” said Studd to lift the level of commentary, which has been rather lacking in flights of fancy.
The match was a thriller but it wasn’t “world-class in capital letters”. As another double went missing, Part said: “Wow, there’s a lot of speed bumps on this road.” That’s one improvement on days gone by. The dartists of yesteryear wouldn’t have even noticed the speed bumps.