BDO World Championship: Traditional home of darts at peace after years of civil war

In the great darts divide, the PDC might have the big names and £300,000 first prize but the BDO is the traditional home of the arrows family. Kevin Garside visits the legendary Lakeside club and finds peace has finally descended on the bitter civil war – all celebrated with fancy dress and a pint, of course

Kevin Garside
Thursday 07 January 2016 18:46
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The Lakeside Country Club crowd
The Lakeside Country Club crowd

There is no longer a battle for the soul of darts, rather an accommodation with the way things are. After the ticker-tape, razzmatazz of Gary Anderson’s PDC world title success on Sunday, the preliminary rounds have continued at the BDO’s annual congress at the Lakeside in Frimley Green in an atmosphere of raucous charm, a festival of ancient pub rhythms minus the bells, whistles and ring-card girls.

My arrival on Monday coincided with a bunch of bananas – three women and two men decked in yellow representations of that epic fruit. Also in the foyer was the BDO’s biggest sponsor for the past 30-odd years, Lakeside owner Bob Potter, arranging tickets for guests. It might have been 1986.

The walls of the entrance hall pay homage to Potter’s gift for the extravaganza. You might think he was on first name terms with the house of Windsor, pictured as he is with Princes Philip and Charles, as well as Princess Margaret. Should you want to marvel further at his life and times there are at reception copies for sale of a certain tome, Bob Potter OBE, One Man’s Dream, essential reading for the darts devotee.

The lobby feeds into the main arena where old favourite John “Boy” Walton, champion in 2001, was making short work of Australian debutant Rob Modra. It was Walton’s first appearance since 2013, the two-year hiatus forced upon him as a result of an injury to the vertebrae in his neck, a consequence he said “of looking right all the time.” His victory in the first match of the day was met with universal applause, and celebrated with a pint.

A fan feels the force at Frimley Green

“Surely the days of drinking at the World Championship are done,” I suggested. “I never drink before I go on that stage,” he said in stout defence of a disciplined approach. “And it tastes better than lime and soda at £2.70 a pop.” Yes, that’s another tradition fiercely defended by the BDO; the players pay for their own drinks here. And there I was with a lunch voucher in my pocket issued with my accreditation. “I pay for my own food, too,” Walton said, pointedly.

This is the World Championship as we have always known it, a celebration of a pastime that began in the pub and is loath to leave it. A sense of time standing still envelopes those privileged to access the backstage grandeur of old dressing rooms and warm-up bar. The unmistakable aroma of cigarette smoke woven into the carpets and paintwork assails the olfactory nerves years after the habit was extinguished in Britain’s public places.

And on the walls portraits of crooners from another age glory in big hair and bling. Engelbert Humperdinck is a personal favourite, and Elvis, of course, though I’m not convinced the Potter magic, not to mention chequebook, was ever persuasive enough to place the King on the oche at his Lakeside emporium.

The BDO quite rightly celebrates its role as the custodian of darts. Unlike the elite circus of professional players that is the PDC, the BDO is responsible for every dart thrown in authorised competition, as well as setting and safeguarding the rules and regulations. In this a comparison between the Football Association and the Premier League is apposite, the former responsible for the administration of the game as well as the national team, the latter a money-making machine concerned only with the top 20 clubs under its wing.

BDO chairperson Sue Williams accepts the financial supremacy of the PDC but there is no envy or desire to emulate owner Barry Hearn’s template, though it is a given that the BDO would like to augment a World Championship prize fund that stands approximately at one-third of the PDC pot. The £100,000 winner’s cheque compares negatively with the £300,000 Anderson took home, and that is a figure set to rise to half a million quid by 2020. “Barry is a very good businessman. He has great contacts,” Williams says. “We have started to move forward. We have new events coming on board, new sponsors, so we are in a very good position. I’m confident about the future. We would like to improve the prize-money, of course, and that is something under discussion with all our partners.”

Hearn offered to buy out the BDO three years ago for £1m and was told ever so politely were he might place his arrows. Should he return with an improved offer the answer would be the same, but that should not be interpreted as a hostile gesture, according to Williams.

Ted ‘The Count’ Hankey ahead of his first-round defeat to Martin Phillips

“As far as we are concerned we are friends. They do what they do, we do what we do. The days of hostility are finished. We are closer together than we have ever been but there will always be two halves. Yes we talk. They have been here all week. We go to their events. There is a working relationship. Things have changed.

“We now no longer view the situation as a division. They are different things. They are only dealing with 128 players. We deal with youth, ladies and men. We start off at super league championships, county, country, all the way up. It’s totally different.”

The great advantage the BDO enjoys is the greater visibility guaranteed by the long relationship with the BBC. Though the contract with the BBC ends after Sunday’s final, negotiations are nearing an end. Indeed, BBC executives were at the Lakeside this week for further talks. Williams does not look like a matriarch in fear of what the future might hold. “Watch this space,” she says.

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