Premier League Darts – Brighton Centre, Brighton

Thursday 18th March 2010

After Wembley, Alexandra Palace and The O2, the darts roadshow continued with a trip to Brighton for Week 6 of the Premier League.

I arrived at the hotel in Brighton a couple of hours early, just in time for a quick bite to eat. Whilst eating in the lounge, I thought I’d noticed Róisín O’Shea from Unicorn sat opposite, but couldn’t be sure as I’d only seen a photo of her on Twitter. It now felt like I was daydreaming, as further back I recognised members of the Lewis entourage. Then I glanced to my left and realised Ronnie Baxter was having a pre-match drink with his wife, as Adrian Lewis walked in. It started to feel like I was having a pre-match meal inside a 3D television.

The players were waiting for the security to head out to the Brighton Centre. I decided it was time to head to my room. Whilst waiting for the elevator, a couple of other guests had asked Adrian Lewis for a photo. As he was about to walk past, I decided to ask for a photo too. He said no problem and I gave my camera to his wife to take the photo. He was extremely friendly and we had a quick chat about his current darts and off he went.

The Brighton Centre was completely packed out and I had a good view from one of the table seats near the front, although I have to say the tables were possibly a bit too close together. Phil Taylor (No .1) was up on first against draw specialist Terry Jenkins (No. 5), but The Power completely outclassed The Bull with an 8-3 victory. Next up was the battle between Raymond van Barneveld (No 2) and Mervin King (No. 4). The King almost had the match in the bag, but amazingly and with the crowds support, Barney fought back to secure a 7-7 draw.

It was now getting quite rowdy in the venue, with almost half the crowd focusing on a cute girl in the front row up in the circle. The matches were going on whilst there were eruptions of “Where’s your boyfriend gone?” and “We can see you sneaking out”. Eventually she had to leave for the sake of the darts as Ronnie Baxter (No. 6) was up against Adrian Lewis (No. 7). The Rocket stormed into a commanding lead, but a superb comeback from Jackpot secured an 8-6 win. The final match had the in-form Simon Whitlock up against an out-of-sorts James Wade (No.3). Even with a fantastic 170 finish, The Wizard was no match for The Machine, who went on to wrap up an 8-4 victory.

I walked back into the hotel at the same time as the PDC match officials. Whilst taking a photo with Scott Gibling, he pointed out that Sid Waddell had walked into the hotel. Wow, I was now standing next to the legendary commentator and the man who is synonymous with the world of Darts. He was more than happy to have a photo taken too.

With the adrenaline pumping, I decided to get a drink at the bar. I was acknowledged by members of the security team who had recognised me from the Brighton Centre. I had a quick chat with Adrian Lewis at the bar and then sat on one of the couches in the lounge. It then dawned on me that just to my left was Ronnie Baxter and his wife, in front was Adrian Lewis and his family, and on my right was Phil Taylor, Sid Waddell and Dave Lanning with their family members.

I could hear Phil Taylor explaining to a drunken ‘fan’ that he already taken at least 3 photos with him already, but still allowed him to take one last photo. I felt I had to ask too and broke the ice by showing him a picture of the teenager that was fortunate enough to receive the match dartboard and a set of darts from The Power. It put a smile on his face seeing the teenager’s joy. I didn’t expect Sid Waddell to give up his seat for me to sit down and for Taylor’s son to take the photo. I thanked Taylor and asked him a few questions which he answered gracefully. I didn’t want to take up anymore of his time, even though at no point did he make me feel like I should leave. I was also in Sid’s seat, so felt extra guilty.

Fans were now taking photos with Ronnie Baxter, so I thought I might as well get the full set and he was very obliging too. At this moment, I needed another drink to let the last hour sink in. Adrian Lewis invited Phil Taylor to join his family and friends for a drink which I thought was a really nice gesture. But to my astonishment, he turned to me, noticed I was sat alone and invited me over too. It just felt wrong for an outsider to join them, so I said thank you, but no, it was ok. But Lewis was not taking no for an answer and said, don’t sit over there on your own, join us and even pulled up a chair.

With the night already beyond a darting fan’s dream, I was now sat at the same table with Lewis, Taylor and their family and friends. I declined the offer of a drink as I really felt I was taking liberties, even though I was invited to join them. At one point, I even muttered the words “this is mad” under my breath, but think it came out louder than I had hoped. Lewis made everyone laugh when he said I and one his friends looked like ‘Baddiel and Skinner’. I ended up showing them the Whyte and Mackay Fan’s Poster to see if they could spot the mistake. They noticed the missing 13 after a few seconds. Later, Baxter spotted that the 13 was a 3 too.

I’d love to say I had a great night sleep, but my mind was in overdrive. At breakfast, Phil Taylor and the members of the security team were already there. I sat on the other side of the room, and it was really nice of Sid Waddell to walk past and say hello on route to the buffet. After breakfast, I ended up sharing an elevator with Raymond van Barneveld. Barney was really friendly and we had a chat about Holland and Darts.

Back in the room, I decided to get ready and catch the earlier train. I had more than enough excitement and felt it was time to leave. I have quite a vivid imagination, but even I’d never daydreamed of the events that had unfolded. A massive thank you goes out to Adrian Lewis, Sid Waddell, Phil Taylor, Ronnie Baxter, Raymond van Barneveld, the security and the officials. All had a part to play in a great evening/morning, but Adrian Lewis went beyond the norm and really made it a special night. Now all I need is the hotel’s CCTV footage, as I doubt my friends are really going to believe this story!

Premier League Darts – O2

Thursday 11th February 2010

What’s next, Darts at Wembley Stadium? Well for now we’ll have to make do with the expected 10,000 fans for the first night of the new Premier League season at The O2.

In recent years, Premier League Darts has gone from strength to strength, adding more and more fans along the way. So much so, it’s now able to stage an event at the impressive O2. Only 2 of the 6 of us actually made it to the event, which meant we ended up with a front row table to ourselves.

Unlike at Alexandra Palace, the tables were really spaced out. Personally I would have added a few more rows of tables and had less people in the seats miles away from the stage. Not to pack them in like at Ally Pally, but enough for more people to get closer to the action. And another thing, unlike Wembley and Alexandra Palace, it was freezing in there, which should help Barney and The King.

First up was Ronnie Baxter (No. 6) against Terry Jenkins (No.5). The Rocket has been around since the BDO days, so it was no surprise that he was taking photos from the stage at this historic event. The match itself was tight, with draw specialist The Bull clawing his way back to earn a 7-7 draw.

Next up was Mervin King (No. 4) and wildcard entry Adrian Lewis (No. 7). Much is expected from Jackpot this season, as among all the players, he has the most potential to be a star in the sport. But like Jimmy White at Snooker, the worry is he may not fulfil the great talent he has been blessed with. King on the other hand is a real battler and is throwing better than he’s ever thrown. A good match entailed with King just coming out on top 8-5.

Time for a repeat of last year Semi-Final between Raymond van Barneveld (No. 2) and James Wade (No. 3). The Machine came out on top and then went on the lift the trophy, that Taylor had held for the four previous years it was staged. This time around Barney was up for the challenge and triumphed 8-5.

The final match was a repeat of The World Championship Final staged 6 weeks earlier between Phil Taylor (No. 1) and wildcard entry Simon Whitlock. There was a possibility that The Power was going to miss out due to a virus, but not only turned up, pretty much destroyed The Wizard 8-3. It seems The Power really want HIS trophy back.

Loads of fun at the Darts and The O2 proved a good venue. Being colder than other venues probably did help Barney and The King. However the performance of the night was from The Power, even though he was far from 100%. Great start to the tournament, and next up for me is a visit to the Brighton Centre for week 6 in the Premier League season. Can’t wait!

Masters Snooker Semi-Finals – Wembley Arena

Saturday 16th January 2010

I played snooker throughout the whole of my teens and was a keen follower of the sport at the time. But I’d lost track of the game in the last 20 years.

I’d studied in Sheffield and lived in London, but for some reason, even though I loved Snooker in the 1980s, I never considered going to watch a match live at either the Crucible or the Conference Centre. Football aside, Darts was my main sport now. So the fact Barry Hearn had now taken the reigns at Snooker’s HQ, it was time to book tickets for the Masters at Wembley Arena. While I’m at it, it made sense to book a whole day covering both Semi-Finals.

Unfortunately, we arrived minutes after the first match had begun. Having to wait outside the hall, we followed the game on a small TV. We were then allowed in just before the break for the third frame. Unlike the atmosphere at the Darts, you could hear a pin drop and it was so difficult to keep quiet whilst looking for our seats. Armed with our earphones, we were able to follow the commentary from Dennis Taylor and Ken Doherty.

The opening Semi-Final was between Ronnie O’Sullivan (No. 1) and Mark Williams (No. 15). Both players were superb throughout the match, going at it blow for blow. Just when you had thought, Williams had done enough, Ronnie would force his way back into the match. It was fitting in the end, that it would go to the last frame. The Rocket eventually coming out on top 6-5 and through to tomorrow’s final.

It would have been great if the matches were reversed. Having two super quick players up first meant that even though it went to the maximum 11 frames, it finished in no time at all and we had over 3 hours to kill before the second Semi-Final. So after a bite to eat, a drink, one mate going home and even more waiting, the next match was about to begin.

Up next was a match up between Stephen McGuire (No. 3) and Mark Selby (No. 6). A slow start to the game made me think that the decision by one of my mates to go home early made some sense. The other mate just moved around the arena. I think I counted 5 different areas he sat in throughout the day. The main thing that kept the game entertaining was the commentary, but that was also proving a problem too. The ex-pro’s kept cracking jokes and thus making the audience laugh. Even though the referee called silence a number of times, it was like we were being told off for something outside our control. Eventually, the match recovered and got going after the interval, with Mark Selby going through to the final after a 6-3 win.

Not sure what impact Barry Hearn will make on the Sport, but it definitely needs a push in the right direction. At Boxing you hear “Let’s get ready to rumble” and at Darts you hear “It’s time to meet the players” before they are introduced with loud music blaring into the arena. For the first time, Snooker introduced its own “Let’s get the boys on the baize” with a musical introduction. However, unlike Boxing where a punch is thrown immediately, or in Darts where a 180 is possible, what you get with Snooker is a safety shot off the break. So the excitement of the intros is lost.

All in all though it was a fantastic day out. I loved it and may make it a yearly obsession!

Watford 0-0 Forest – Vicarage Road

Saturday 26th December 2009

With a superb run of 14 games unbeaten, Forest have climbed from 19th up to 3rd in the table. A Boxing Day clash away to Watford will provide Forest with another tough test.

In a match of few chances, the home side were slightly on top without really threatening. Watford did have a shout for a penalty in the second half, but the referee waved the appeals away. Forest had a good chance to steal the win through a Blackstock chance late in the game, but the keeper made a great save to deny the striker.

The match ended in a 0-0 stalemate keeping both Forest’s chances of automatic promotion alive and Watford’s hopes of pushing for a play-off place. The large Forest faithful amongst the 17,086 were probably happy with the point. Now it’s 15 games unbeaten and no Forest fan would have thought that possible after bad start to the season.

World Championship Darts – Alexandra Palace (n6)

Wednesday 23rd December 2009

One final fun night at the Darts, even though my mates were somehow expecting to see Barney or The Power. Well they’ll have to make do with the current Premier League Champion, The Machine.

Once again the weather was playing havoc with our plans and the almost impossible climb uphill via the icy pavements to Alexandra Palace. Even so, the place was packed out again and everyone was getting comfy for another great night of darts.

Up on first was Wayne Jones (No. 22) against Alex Roy. In a pretty tight contest the high ranked player managed to outscore the Ace of Herts 3-1 and book a place into the second round.

In the preliminary match, Sweden’s Magnus Cariz was up against Spain’s Francisco Ruiz. An easy 4-0 victory for the Swede put him through to a round one match later on against Colin Lloyd.

It was time to enjoy some of the great food on offer whilst Dutch superkid Michael Van Gerwen and crazy-haired Peter Wright took to the oche. In a pretty tight match, Mighty Mike came out on top 3-1 against the red and white dreadlocked Snakebite.

The current Premier League Champion, Jame Wade (No. 3) was up next against Steve Brown. This turned out to be the match of the night with high scoring averages and great outshots. The Machine finally coming out on top 3-1.

In the final match, Colin Lloyd (No. 10) was up against the qualifier Magnus Caris. The Swede was no pushover and Jaws had to put in a great performance to triumph 3-1.

Favourite moment was finally getting to hear the words to Colin Lloyd’s walk-in song “what’s that coming over the hill, is it a monster, is it a monster?” live. Another great night at the Darts. Shame I now have to wait 2 months until the Premier League debuts at the O2!

World Championship Darts – Alexandra Palace (n4)

Monday 21st December 2009

With reports that Alexandra Palace train station had closed and tv coverage showing the area at a complete standstill due to the extreme weather, it seemed almost certain that the event was going to be cancelled.

Even though a mate had called earlier to say the heavy snow had meant it was impossible for him to get across London, I still planned to make the short trip to Alexandra Palace. I was just about to turn off the TV when I heard Sky reporting that due to the chaos on the roads, there was a chance the event was going to be cancelled. With players struggling to make it and with safety of thousands of fans to take into consideration, it was probably a wise idea.

But then reports were coming in that some of the players had managed to make it to the venue, whilst others were on their way. There were a few hundred people inside the arena too. The PDC website was not saying anything specific in case of refunds and a similar lack of advice was provided by Seetickets and the venue itself. So I was torn between the warmth of my home or the crazy journey in the worst snow the UK had seen in years.

The moment I’d heard that there was a possibility of all the matches going ahead as presenters, commentators and players like Paul Nicholson had walked a couple of miles to get to the venue was all I needed to hear before an instant decision was made. One of the matches was already underway, but so what, I had to go.

It was an interesting journey, mostly trying to stay on my feet. A short train journey followed by an almost impossible walk up the hill to Alexandra Palace. The cars on the road were going nowhere, as the ones up the hill were stuck facing the ones down the hill.

One player who wasn’t waiting around was Dutchman Vincent Van Der Voort. Whilst I was still making that ridiculous journey up the hill, Greased Lightening strolled to a 3-0 victory against the qualifier from Gibraltar, Dylon Duo.

I managed to catch most of the preliminary match between Japan’s Haruki Muramatsu and Poland’s Krzysztof Kciuk. The man from Japan came out on top 4-1, going through to a round one match later on against Ronnie Baxter.

With John Part’s late arrival the next match was a superb tie between crowd favourite Terry Jenkins (No. 6) and the latest pantomime villain Paul Nicholson. By now there was around 1,500 inside the venue (around 75% full) to see the match of the night. The Bull scraped through 3-2, but I have a feeling we’re going to see great things from the Aussie-Geordie Nicholson.

Next up was Ronnie Baxter (No. 7) against qualifier Haruki Muramatsu. The Rocket was in fine form and with a superb display, shot to an easy 3-0 victory.

And finally it was the turn of 3-time World Champion John Part from Canada who was up against Toon Greebe from The Netherlands. The Dutch have provided a number of good young players in recent years, but Toon was unable to match hype with performance, as Darth Maple cruised to an impressive 3-0 win.

Favourite moment was back home watching the recorded coverage of the night. Sky cut to a shot of me, as Dave Allen and Eric Bristow were saying ‘credit to these guys for coming out in this weather without even knowing how they’re going to make it home, it could be the biggest sleepover ever’! Ok it wasn’t the easiest journey back, but it was well worth being a part of this crazy night.

World Championship Darts – Alexandra Palace (n3)

Sunday 20th December 2009

Even with the UK covered in heavy snow, it can’t be used as an excuse to miss a night at the home of darts. So it’s back down to Alexandra Palace to join faithful the Barney Army.

One of my tips for a successful tournament Kevin Painter (No. 15) was up against the Austrian qualifier Mensur Suljovic. The qualifier proved to be a tough first round opponent with The Artist managing to scrape through 3-1.

Next came the preliminary match between New Zealand’s Phillip Hazel and Slovenia’s Osmann Kijamet. This was a good tussle between the two qualifiers with Kijamet coming out on top 4-2, returning later in the final round one match against Andy Hamilton.

The third match of the night had two top players battling it out in a first round tie. It was the turn of England’s Jamie Caven (No. 26) against Scotland’s Garry Anderson. In a fantastic match, with both players on match winning averages, The Flying Scotsman triumphed 3-2.

Time for the Barney Army to sing their hearts out. Poor old Warren Perry had the tough task of taking on Raymond Van Barneveld (No. 2). The qualifier from New Zealand found the task almost impossible. With Barney on decent form, he cruised to an easy 3-0 victory.

The final match was between Andy Hamilton (No. 14) and Kijamet who had qualified earlier. The Hammer cruised to a 3-0 victory in a match that had the crowd cheering throughout.

World Championship Darts – Alexandra Palace (n1)

Friday 18th December 2009

Finally, a chance to see Darts right on my doorstop. Well ok it’s less than a 10 minute train journey, so it’s as close to my doorstep as I could ever hope.

It’s the start of crazy weather season and the UK is now covered in snow. But it’s Friday and the opening night of the darts which also includes World Number 1, Phil Taylor on the bill. Unlike the set-up at Wembley, the tables at Alexandra Palace are much closer together.

There was an interesting match-up in the opening game between the inconsistent Wayne Mardle (No. 17) and the German qualifier Jyhan Artut. Mardle failed to show up once again and was completely outclassed by his lower ranked opponent. Artut going through to the next round with an impressive 3-0 victory.

Next came the preliminary match between Denmark’s Per Laarson and Philippine’s Christian Perez. In an interesting encounter, Perez managed to hold out for a 4-3 victory, meaning he’d be back for a 1st round match against Robert Thornton at the end of the night.

The third match of the night was also going to be the match of the night. Both on paper and on the oche, Dennis Priestly (No. 9) vs Kevin McDine was going to be special. The game had it all. Great comebacks, superb outshots and high scoring averages. McDine finally managed to come through this tight affair, with a 3-2 victory.

Now it’s time for the man almost everyone had come to see, Phil Taylor (No. 1). As usual, the noise was deafening as Taylor walked to the stage. In the end, it was a pretty routine affair, winning 3-0 with a 100+ average, which is the minimum we seem to expect from Taylor nowadays.

The final match had Scotland’s Robert Thornton up against Perez who had qualified earlier. In a drab affair, the world No. 16 finally came out on top with a 3-1 victory.

A fun night at the darts and it’s always an honour to see the Darts Master at his sublime best. The rest is just a bonus.