A Welsh plumber called Mark Webster got a namecheck at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards last Sunday evening, bringing a wry smile to the faces of darts enthusiasts everywhere.
Webster is the reigning British Darts Organisation world champion, but anyone who knows their arrers from their elbow is aware that the only meaningful world championship is the Professional Darts Corporation version, which began yesterday at Alexandra Palace in north London, covered, needless to add, by Sky Sports rather than the BBC. The PDC champ, Canadian John Part, went conspicuously unmentioned by Gary Lineker, Sue Barker and Co last Sunday.
The PDC trophy is contested each year by unequivocally the world's best players – the last bit of equivocation evaporating in 2006 when the mighty Dutchman, Raymond van Barneveld, crossed the Rubicon, leaving the ranks of the BDO for "greater challenges". He rose to them, too, winning the PDC title at his first attempt following one of the greatest of all finals, in which he denied Phil "The Power" Taylor a 14th world title, storming back from three sets down to win 7-6.
And so to this year's championship, in which Part is seeded four and Van Barneveld two. The top seed once more is Taylor, who, despite it being two years since he got to take the trophy home to Stoke-on-Trent, would have to be glowing to be a hotter favourite. He was in the form of his 48-year-old life going into this competition, with no sentient bookmaker offering him at a better price than 1-2. Van Barneveld was second favourite at 13-2, just ahead of the young ex-mechanic James Wade, with Part way out at 50-1. The bookies see it as a one-horse race.
Last week, in a hotel overlooking Hyde Park, I got to see why. I have met Taylor quite a few times before, always in the sanctuary of his converted garage, and occasionally he has kindly given me a quick once-over on the oche. This time, however, I got the full masterclass, and watched him throw a series of 180s with the insouciant ease with which I throw 16s and 17s. Actually, I do myself a slight injustice. When The Power invited me to the oche to have another look at my action, my first arrow sliced exquisitely through the air and hit treble 20 with a small, gorgeous thud.
"Blimey," cried The Power. "You'll qualify next year. I'll probably draw you meself!" I blushed dutifully, knowing he was thinking "what a fluke – that's the worst action I've seen since Eric Bristow had his dartitis, and couldn't let go of the bloody thing!" You can afford no illusions about your own sporting talent in this job. As a prologue to an interview I was once given a golf lesson by the celebrated swing coach David Leadbetter. He invited me to hit half a dozen balls, each of which flew straight and true, after which I turned to him half-expecting him to say, "There's nothing I can teach you". Instead he said, "I've noticed one very good thing ... your trousers match your socks," before pointing out the disaster areas in my grip, my stance, my backswing and my downswing.
Anyway, The Power, like the bookies, thinks it will be the sporting upset of 2009 if someone stops him winning world title No 14. But he put it less arrogantly. "It'll take a good'un to beat me this time," he told me. I asked him to what he owes his resurgent form, which has seen him averaging over 113 in some competitions this year. "To be honest, it was them Olympics," he said. "I watched the archery really carefully, and it reminded me of the basics – aim, pull back, fire. That's all it's about. Aim, pull back, fire." It sounds easy. And to him, it is. Whether he can change a washer as swiftly as Mark Webster, however, is a different matter.
Sky Sports is screening exclusively live and HD coverage of the World Darts Championship.
Harry has advantage in earning his spurs
In telling the Tottenham Hotspur AGM this week that his squad is not remotely good enough to get anywhere near challenging the Premier League's top four, dear old Harry Redknapp was being craftily disingenuous. Spurs might have lost Keane and Berbatov, they might have a goalie reminiscent of Gary Sprake on a bad day, but their squad includes Aaron Lennon, David Bentley, Darren Bent, Luka Modric, Ledley King, Jonathan Woodgate, Jermaine Jenas, Tom Huddlestone and Roman Pavlyu- chenko. Harry understandably wants it to seem like a miracle if he drags them to a top 10 finish, but a poor squad? There are at least 10 other Premier League managers who would give their right arms for such poverty.
Any more answers?
There is still plenty of time to enter The Last Word's quiz, presented here last week. The prize, donated by brewery Shepherd Neame, is 365 bottles of beer, and the best score so far is a mere 19 out of 30, so what's stopping you? Merry Christmas.Reuse content