Pie Bashers pay homage to Taylor's arrow-straight aim

Welcome to Blackpool, where a passionate crowd this week revelled in darts' finest hour

Forget Wembley, Lord's and Wimbledon and the plodders of English sport. The élite of world darts, dominated by a hundred English stars, have been eating candy floss, sinking Thwaites Bitter and flinging brilliant darts at the Winter Gardens here all week in front of a 2,000-strong audience that makes tennis and cricket crowds seem like a convention of car park attendants.

Forget Wembley, Lord's and Wimbledon and the plodders of English sport. The élite of world darts, dominated by a hundred English stars, have been eating candy floss, sinking Thwaites Bitter and flinging brilliant darts at the Winter Gardens here all week in front of a 2,000-strong audience that makes tennis and cricket crowds seem like a convention of car park attendants.

Commanding the World Matchplay proceedings has been the greatest sportsmen England has ever produced in the last one hundred years - snooker's Steve Davis agrees with me on this point - Phil Taylor, the eight times world darts champion who has been wined and dined by Tony Blair and will surely receive a CBE soon. It is a humble pleasure for a miner's son like myself to see the sport taught to me by my proud father Bob served up in such magnificently panoply in Blackpool.

Darts is essentially a sport played by working men fresh from the pit, the building site or laying tarmac on the roads - and in Blackpool for one week in July the whole darts circus meets its public and intermingles with them. We are in the geographical sports equivalent of the Mississippi Delta. For jazz and blues read karaoke, for Creole maidens read belly toppers with pierced navels, and "Kiss Me Quick" hats are your local Dukes of Hazard. I arrived here last Sunday, had a pint with Taylor and Dennis Priestley. Then we spent the evening on the karaoke, (imagine Alec Stewart or David Beckham down Brannigan's Cavorting Bar, leading the sing song and singing well). Dennis sang "Obla-dee Obla-daa" and me and Jamie Harvey brought the house down with "New York, New York".

Monday at noon sees us in the Winter Gardens, which is a cross between the Doge's Palace in Venice, the Maracana Stadium and Lenin's Tomb. Two thousand lads, lasses, kids and players are engrossed by every single dart thrown. Entrance was £3, kids free and the ale was only £1.50 a pint. Note publicans in London: there are no rip-offs in darts.

Thirty-two of the best players on the planet, who would have to average 110 to win the title, were after Rod Harrington's cup. The winner would also require 15 180s to win the final. Ominously Taylor in practice was averaging 130 and hitting 180s with his eyes shut. The crowd included "tarts for darts" - six extrovert secretaries from Essex dressed like girls from St Trinian's - and 10 big lads from Wigan with T-shirts claiming they were The Boss Pie Bashers and hundreds of holidaying jocks and jockesses dressed like Russ Abbott. Myself and Dave Lanning, verbal doyen of speedway and darts, signed more autographs than the players. We have both become cult figures with our zany commentaries. But the players love us because they know that with 65 years joint experience there is nothing we do not know about darts.

The star of Monday's play was John Lowe, three times world darts champion in three separate decades. He had beaten Keith Deller, another former world champion, 10-7, and Ronnie Baxter, of Accrington, made the Pie Bashers ecstatic when he took out the No 2 seed Peter Manley 10-6. Mind, the Pie Bashers had several hundred pounds on him so no wonder the lad was popular.

There was a real fairy tale on Tuesday when the 25-year-old Alex Roy, a builder from Hertfordshire, tore to shreds Peter Evison, a former winner of this match play title. He was only called into the championship as a substitute four days before the tournament started but had worked out a brilliant way of preparation: sip three glasses of Blue Nun wine and then have a pint of lager. And this habit has caught on among the players who I saw sipping Chablis and even a rather naughty Sancerre - next, this lot will be eating oysters instead of Holland's meat pies.

The same night, the biggest character to hit darts since Jockey Wilson retired five years ago, Shayne Burgess, beat the England captain, Martin Adams, star of the rival British Darts Organisation camp. Then he went back to his caravanette to make a pie out of the 15 squirrels he had shot that morning. Shayne has a vermin licence to use his air gun on bunnies, squirrels and rats. You won't find him in the oyster bar or the chip shop, he feeds himself on the cheap.

By Thursday John Lowe was the talk of Blackpool. At 55 he is still trim and a top world player. Compare this to the sad fate of the great Jockey Wilson, who retired in December 1995 because: "I could not be Jocky Wilson without 10 pints of lager and a lot of vodka per night - and I'd rather live." Lowe, like many darters, is a crack golfer, but was no match for Phil Taylor, who routed him 16-4.

"I want this title because nobody has done the darts grand slam - the World Grand Prix, the World Championship and the World Matchplay title," said Taylor as we walked along the prom to the north pier. "I want to pack it in four years' time with every honour in the business and put my feet up in Spain."

"That's great. Maybe one of us can get a title if Phil Taylor is sitting on a beach in Spain," said Chris Mason, echoing the sentiment of all dart's leading figures.

On Saturday night, with the Winter Gardens bulging, I saw just about the greatest darts exhibition I've ever seen in my life. After 15 legs Taylor was leading Alan Warriner by 10-5. He was also averaging a phenomenal 1-1-2. By 9pm he had stunned an audience and gob-smacked us commentators with an 18-12 victory that included nine 180s.

I have been saying for three years that he is the greatest darts player ever to draw breath and he proved it in Blackpool. Finally, he gave his darts to a little kid in the audience because he is a great human being as well as a giant of sport.

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