Howard Jacobson: The self-contempt needed to love darts

Lose at darts and you compound ingloriousness with disgrace. It’s even worse if all you’re doing is watching

Related Topics

Too cold to go out, too cold to stay in, too stuffed with food to bother cooking, no friends to talk to because they're all in the Gambia – or is it the Zambia – every book on my shelves a distraction from the book I'm writing, nothing on television. Is it any wonder I've been lying in bed and watching darts on Sky Sports since the middle of December.

"One hundred and 80!" I've seen so many of them I think there's nothing to it. Just hand me my arrows. "One hundred and 80!"

I was divorced, once, by a woman who had warned me several times she'd leave if she had to listen to someone screaming "180!" ever again. Couldn't I at least turn the sound down? It was just a game of darts, for Christ's sake. It had no essential aural component. I explained that the sound a) of the dart going into the board and b) of the compère announcing "180!" was intrinsic to the atmosphere of the sport.

"Intrinsic to the atmosphere of the what?"

"The sport."

"Darts? A sport! Darts is no more a sport than life with you is."

In those days I had no answer to such ferocity. I would just feebly suggest that she move into a B&B if she couldn't stand the racket. It would be over in a fortnight. I even offered to go halves with her on the cost.

Things have changed since then. Now, everyone knows it's dartist to say darts isn't a sport just because players move less of their bodies than the average viewer does pointing the remote control. Take the recognition accorded to Phil "The Power" Taylor MBE, 15 times world champion, and a man, according to Sid Waddell – himself a student of Herodotus and the greatest commentator darts has ever known – "who could hit the dandruff on a fly's forelock". Taylor has just been voted runner-up to the jockey Tony McCoy, whoever he is, as BBC Sports Personality of the Year. I'd like to have been able to rub my wife's face in that. "See! Sports Personality of the Year."

But she long ago packed her bags. I think the B&B suggestion was the last straw, though in the end she walked out over a mere "120!". Her divorce lawyers called it mental cruelty.

I put up no defence. I'd have divorced myself had I known how. But we are still somehow together, I and this moronic other half of me who is prepared to sit in front of the television for hour after hour watching charmless men with heart-attack colour in their cheeks and close-together eyes aim at the same narrow band of red cork while 2,000 drunken darts aficionados wave pieces of paper on which is printed "180!" – isn't that a strange thing to want to do? – and sing along to "Chase the Sun" by Planet Funk. "Oy, oy, oy."

Planet Funk – isn't that an Italian band specialising in electronic dance music? What the planet funk does Planet Funk have to do with darts? Nothing. They just wrote the song and darts just ingested it. That's the way of it with popular culture. Anything can turn up anywhere. Prince Harry, for example. What does he have to do with darts, you might fairly ask. But he bowled along for the final at Alexandra Palace. Maybe he just goes to anything called a palace on the assumption that he owns it. Or maybe that's the future – a royal family that carries its own tungsten around in little leather crested pouches and shouts "Oy, oy, oy" after every foreign dignitary who leaves.

The "Oy, oy, oy", in case you've found more rewarding ways of killing off the old year and don't know what I'm talking about, is not a Jewish ejaculation of darts anxiety – "Oy, oy, oy, the shmuck's going to miss the 180" – but what I suppose you'd have to call the "refrain" to "Chase the Sun". The players walk off for a toilet break, the cameras turn their attention briefly to the audience before the ads begin, and you, if you are there and wearing a Robin Hood or Tarzan outfit, wave your hands above your head and shout, "Oy, oy oy."

It makes me almost nostalgic for my failed marriage. If my ex-wife thought "180!" was grounds for separation, she should have heard "Oy, oy, oy".

Anyway it's over now and the house is quiet. Even a touch sad. Phil "The Power" did not win his 16th title. Nor did the other one-time champion, the Dutchman Raymond van Barneveld, known affectionately to his supporters as Barney, a player immortalised for hitting the first nine-dart leg ever in the PDC world championships. That's treble 20, treble 20, treble 20, treble 20, treble 20, treble 20 ... but you get the picture. This year neither Phil nor Barney even reached the finals. The old order changeth. Suddenly there are younger throwers around – not leaner or fitter exactly, just crueller. For youth is no respecter of age.

You can tell when a darts player knows he's on the skids. The puffiness goes out of his cheeks. He looks embarrassed and even a touch sulky, as though the other player's darts have been thrown into the treble 20 which is his heart. If things aren't going well for you on the football or rugby pitch you can run up and down a lot, but darts players have nowhere to hide. They know the cameras are on their faces. That's where they lose – not in their wrists or fingers, not in the swollen bellies that are indispensable to their balance, but in their light-quenched eyes.

There's no app to find the mind's construction in the face, unless the face in question is that of a darts player, and then it's easy. I knew Phil wasn't going to win this year. I could see he'd stopped believing. Barney too. The pair of them seemed bonded in some secret anticipation of shame. The degree of hurt a sportsman feels is in inverse proportion to the nobility of his sport. Lose at tennis or the 100m and you can hold your head high. Lose at darts and you compound ingloriousness with disgrace. But it's even worse if all you're doing is watching. The last dart is thrown, the final "oy" is sung, and what's left to you? Anti-climax, self-contempt, ignominy and loneliness. But then doesn't watching television always leave you feeling like that?

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicola Sturgeon and her former boss Alex Salmond  

I voted Yes in the referendum – but that doesn't mean I'm going to vote for the Tory-esque SNP

Alasdair Clark

If I were Prime Minister: I'd shrink the gap between the highest and lowest paid

Marina Warner
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power