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.

News
Mickey Rourke celebrates his victory against opponent Elliot Seymour
people
News
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case
News
Actor Burt Reynolds last year
people
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game