Retro delights: Darts
In the 1970’s it seemed a beer belly was a requirement for any aspiring ‘oche jockey’. Now with talk of darts becoming an Olympic sport, Chris Maume looks at its history
Saturday 01 March 2008
The golden age of darts was the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, when the likes of Eric Bristow and Jocky Wilson bestrode the "oche", beer-bellied demigods with magic in their fingertips. We gazed in awe, mesmerised by the waistlines, seduced by the staccato rhythms and mathematical certainties. Even those otherwise indifferent to sport grew accustomed to finding themselves unable to rise from the sofa thanks to some gripping late-night confrontation from Wembley Arena or Alexandra Palace.
Thought to have begun with off-duty archers keeping their eye in by hurling mini-projectiles at the ends of upturned barrels, the game soon caught on, and Anne Boleyn presented Henry VIII with a fancy set of "arrers" (rumours that she lost her head after beating him with a nine-dart check-out have never been confirmed, but then neither have they been disproved). It was also said to have been played on the Mayflower, though presumably without the heroic drinking that characterised later years. The Victorian era was the Dark Ages, thanks to the Gaming Act, but in 1908 William "Bigfoot" Anakin, a local champion, was taken along by a publican to Leeds Magistrates Court to demonstrate its credentials as a game of skill. Three double-20s apparently convinced the beak. Game on!
By the 1930s, when darts was called up for service in the circulation war between the News of the World and the People, it was virtually a national obsession, and in 1937 the King and Queen were photographed launching a few royal darts. TV coverage followed from the early 1960s, most of it featuring the commentary of the great Sid Waddell. But when Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith took to the oche in Not the Nine O'Clock News, downing their double gins and triple Bacardis – "it went in but, oh, it's come out again!" – they fixed darts in the public mind as a drink-sodden joke, and the bubble burst after World of Sport was pensioned off in 1985.
Splitting into two separate entities in the early Nineties could have been the death knell, but the galvanising effect of Phil "The Power" Taylor – think Tiger Woods, except not so young and not so handsome – was its salvation. Now it's in rude health. Three years ago, Sport England said it satisfied the requirements of "mental and physical skill" to receive funding, there's drug-testing, and even talk of Olympic status. And for the amateurs among us, today's binge-drinking culture seems ideally suited – what better way to round off an evening's brawling and vomiting than with a quick blast of 501? Careful with those arrers.
Latest in Sport
Have Liverpool found the next Luis Suarez? Reds give trial to Uruguayan wonderkid Juan Manuel Sanabria
UFC 190 Ronda Rousey vs Bethe Correia: What time does it start and where can I watch it, plus Mauricio Rua vs Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Manchester United 2015/16 kit unveiled: Morgan Schneiderlin leads the Adidas campaign as new shirt is launched
Ashes 2015: Mitchell Johnson goads England fans as Edgbaston crowd shows little mercy for Australia
- 1 Windows 10: man updates PC, wakes up to find porn slideshow on repeat
- 2 The 'world's most beautiful vagina' has been debunked by science
- 3 John Green schools morning show hosts after awkward interview with Cara Delevingne
- 4 Supermodel Gisele Bundchen mocked for wearing a burka to avoid being seen visiting plastic surgeon in Paris
- 5 Bulletproof armadillo puts Texas man in hospital after shot bounces off hard shell
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn says 'we can learn a great deal from Karl Marx'
Is Britain really full up? Are migrants taking our jobs? Leading academic answers the most common anti-immigration claims
Calais Migrant Crisis: Deputy Mayor of Calais labels Cameron's use of 'swarm' as 'racist' and 'ignorant'
Public anger after French sunbather beaten up by gang for wearing a bikini in Reims park
Labour leadership: New poll shows party is now even 'less electable' than under Ed Miliband
£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...
£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...