Robin Scott-Elliot: Verbal jousting gives darts edge in duel with the pool

View From The Sofa: Duel in the Pool/World Darts Championship, BBC3/Sky Sports
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The sight of empty lanes, while a plus on the motorway at this time of year, is not designed to instil a sense of occasion into a swimming match. It makes the event resemble a December PE lesson where any sensible pupil has engineered a note to keep them in the semi-warmth of the changing room and out of the reach of Miss Davies' questioning gaze.

These gaps, said Adrian Moorhouse, should have been filled by European "bombers to create some waves" so as not to allow the Americans in the neighbouring lane a smooth ride; which conjures immediate images of Peter Kay shoehorned into one of those nipple-crushing go-faster suits leaping into the pool shouting "waahey" while Michael Phelps looks in vain to the lifeguard to bring some order.

When you are sitting shivering on the festive sofa, swimming does not make for ideal television and it was an attitude that seemed to have spread to the competitors. "It is a bit cold," one chisel-jawed all-American admitted to Sharron Davies. The organisers tried to whip up a bit of pizzazz over the whole occasion but the Americans by and large shuffled reluctantly poolside swaddled in dressing gowns (before proceeding to win almost every race). The contrast with Ally Palace in "HHHHHLondon", as MC John McDonald has it, could not have been greater.

Darts players would, of course, be perfect for Moorhouse's bombing role, but what makes their world championships such a merry watch is the sense of fun, and lager, that imbues the entire spectacle. It is not sport, it's entertainment. Most of it meant.

The World Championships kicked off at the same time as Duel in the Pool, it was six packs v a six pack, a couple of Bacardi chasers, a multipack of cheese and onion crisps and don't forget the pork scratchings. The Palace was a different planet; one populated by chubby men and women wearing less than Rebecca Adlington in her work gear. It was a sporting version of Life on Mars.

Each competitor was accompanied to the oche by a woman who often had to cope with having smaller breasts than the player she was, one must presume, supposed to be accessorising. The exception was Christian Perez, a slender farmer from the Philippines where darts has, we were informed, become popularised by Manny Pacquiao's love of the sport.

Perez beat a Dane nicknamed Peachy. The nickname is important in darts, which is where Perez – "he's a clever man. He has a degree in plant pathology. Whatever that is" – fell down. His nickname is Ian. "From Christian?" wondered commentator John Gwynne.

It's the commentators who pop the cherry on the top, as they attempt to outdo each other in hype, simile and historical cross-reference. The hyperbole is turned up to 11 from the off, as was the television, as Sid Waddell had apparently decided to become Whispering Sid. "Murmur, mumble... baffled the boffins," said Sid as Phil Taylor began the defence of the trophy he's won 59 times in a row. "Mumble, murmur... stubby barrels... murmur, kerfuffle...knitting needles... phhrrrrr... lovely platform... perfection."

The problem was solved in time to hear that "Monkey" Colin Monk (see where they're going there?) had a "ragged habit". Waddell's co-commentator, Dave Lanning, upped the ante. "Monk is the greatest thing to come out of Basingstoke since the M3, but if he beats Taylor he'll become the most talked about monk since Rasputin."

Back in Manchester Moorhouse admitted that he "was a tad embarrassed" at what had become a damp squib in the pool. Embarrassment is nowhere to be found anywhere at the Palace, and that's its greatest strength. Chutzpah, as they say in nearby Stamford Hill, is one word for it, but no doubt Waddell and Co will find many, many more over the next couple of weeks.