Jocky Wilson . . . What an athlete!*

Some of the best conversations I have these days seem to be when I’m in a taxi. Not the ‘you’ll never guess who I just had in the back of my cab, guv’ conversations, but the ones you get when you’ve got 15 minutes to kill, which I reckon is about all it takes these days to put the world to rights, eke out your frustrations with the government, or share your excitement about small dogs. Or, as was the case last week, discuss the wonders of the professional darts circuit.

So, I’m in this taxi at some ungodly hour and we’re talking about this and that, and out of nowhere, the driver says:
‘I was in Wigan all last week’
Well, that’s not a line I’m going to leave hanging around like a dropped handkerchief, so I asked what he was doing there. And it transpired that he’d not only been battling against 360 other hopefuls to get a licence to play professional darts, but he’d come 21st, with only 20 qualifying. Which must have been pretty gutting.
‘That must’ve been pretty gutting’, I said, always keeping one step behind the narrative.
And gutting is about what it was, by all accounts, as there’s money to be made on the circuit, but you need a licence to take part, which makes a lot of sense if you think about it.

And I don’t have a massive interest in darts, but naturally enough I started to ask about the culture around the sport, and, predictably enough, the drinking. Time was when Jocky Wilson, Eric Bristow et al would be lining up the lagers on the TV, but that doesn’t seem to happen these days. So, I asked, had darts cleaned up its act?
Far from it, I learnt, it’s just that the drinking goes on in the dressing room, and, by all accounts, quite enthusiastically.  Surely it must affect your accuracy of throwing, I suggested, but apparently it’s a balance between being completely off your tree and not allowing to your hand to shake, which is the thing that must be avoided at all costs.

All of which makes me quite enthusiastic to catch a bit more darts action, if I can be reasonably sure that the people throwing quite sharp implements might be doing so while reasonably trollied.

Fast forward to a reasonably unpleasant run last weekend, only really lightened by the wonderful Danny Baker podcast, in which the equally wonderful javelin superstar Fatima Whitbread was interviewed. Like many other people about my age, shape and size, I find myself nicely in tune with Mr Baker, and he asked the question that I would definitely ask FW, in the unlikely event that I found myself in a lift with her:

‘Are you any good at darts?’

And, it transpires, she is, and had appeared as a special guest on ‘Bullseye’ where she scored a triple twenty in the final. And it took three people to remove the dart from the board afterwards, boom boom.

Anyway, this kind of got me to thinking that the stars are aligning fairly beautifully if we could but take a few brave steps towards a new kind of sport. Here’s my thinking:

1. Lets face it, the common interest in track and field these days is largely track, and possibly a bit of jumping now and again
2. Which leaves a marketing challenge for the throwers
3. Darts seems to have something of an unfair monopoly on the idea of playing sport while three sheets to the wind
4. The Commonwealth games are heading this year to Glasgow, a city where you’d hope would enjoy a nice regular overlap of sporting endeavour and serious drinking.

You’re probably one step ahead of me here already, but what if we introduced javelin, shot, discus and hammer events which combined throwing expertise with light alcoholic poisoning? I’d be more than happy to stump up the entrance fee to see whether accuracy was improved with half a dozen vodkas down the hatch….and I’d probably not mind particularly if it wasn’t.

For added entertainment we could simply replace the volunteer judges with an ever rotating string of national pariahs. The heats could feature Lib-dem politicians who abstained in the student grant vote, the semi finals could have a selection of News International journalists, and for the grand final, what better set of judges/targets than your favourite misogynistic TV and radio personalities from the late 1970s?  And if they proved a bit nippy on their feet, we could have all the throws at once, or introduce blindfolds, or both.

Well, it’s just an idea, and it might need a bit of shaping on the marketing front, but I’m offering it to all bidders here and now, and I can’t help feeling that now that it’s out in the open, that without it our athletics viewing this summer will be disappointingly tedious and sober.

*Just one of the quotable quotes from the fabulous Sid Waddell. Others include:

“He may practice 12 hours a day, but he’s not shy of the burger van!”

“Darts players are probably a lot fitter than most footballers in overall body strength.”

“Steve Beaton – The Adonis of darts, what poise, what elegance – a true roman gladiator with plenty of hair wax.”

“The atmosphere is so tense, if Elvis walked in ,with a portion of chips….. you could hear the vinegar sizzle on them”

“Cliff Lazarenko’s jumping up and down like a gorilla saying “give me back my banana!”

“Bristow reasons . . . Bristow quickens … Aaah, Bristow.”

“It’s just like taking a sausage from a boy in a wheelchair.”

“That was like throwing three pickled onions into a thimble!”

“He’s about as predictable as a wasp on speed”

“It’s like trying to pin down a kangaroo on a trampoline”

“That’s the greatest comeback since Lazarus.”

“Under that heart of stone beat muscles of pure flint.”

“There hasn’t been this much excitement since the Romans fed the Christians to the Lions.”

“John Lowe is striding out like Alexander the Great conquering the Persians”

“Keith Deller’s not just an underdog, he’s an underpuppy!”

“When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer….Bristow’s only 27.”

“If we’d had Phil Taylor at Hastings against the Normans, they’d have gone home.”

“He’s like D’Artagnan at the scissor factory.”

“I can only sum that up in one word – world-class darts”

“They’re showing Shakespeare’s Othello over on BBC1 but if you want real drama tonight, get down here to Jollies, Stoke-on-Trent”

“Tell Mrs Dellar not to bother putting the chips on, because Keith won’t be home for his tea tonight”

“That’s quality with a capital K.”

“If you had to throw a knife at your wife in a circus, you’d want to throw it like that.”

“Circus Tavern packed — even a garter snake smothered in Vaseline couldn’t slide in here.”

and of course:

“There’s only one word for that – magic darts!”