Darts fans. They are among us.
Everybody’s into darts, it turns out, or at least these darts. I tell my mother I’m going to the William Hill World Championship, preparing myself for twenty minutes of, ‘so this *darts* is a… game, you say?’, and she reveals a misspent youth in the pubs of Kensington, trebling up a storm. I brag about my newly-booked darts plans at a Christmas party and it turns out half the people there have the same plans – if not for the exact same date: the William Hill World Championship runs across December, with a brief cameo in January for the final rounds.
So it’s popular, which if I hadn’t learned ahead of the day, I would’ve figured out pretty fast on the way to the quarterfinals. At the Goose Wood Green pub, where we meet, big groups of guys in matching novelty suits have already gathered, watching the Wade vs Wright quarterfinals warm-up on television.
I’m very much a layperson here, so I can’t be held responsible for violations of dress code. I knew there’d be fancy dress, but I wasn’t prepared for how much. The pub was just the tip of the costumed iceberg of Alexandra Palace when there’s darts in the house. And despite extensive darts experience, Jethro doesn’t have a dartboard costume, or a dart costume, or any sort of costume. We’re a jeans-and-shirted blight on the arena and the Fan Village, where it’s an ocean of people in darts-themed fancy dress. And people dressed as hot dogs, people dressed as superheroes, one dude dressed as a dog biscuit, which even with my more limited darts experience I know isn’t a strictly on-theme thing.
Five days beyond Christmas and it’s still got a festive feel. And a festival feel – if I’m being honest, when you bring together the cheering, the costumes and the general goodwill, you could shove almost any sport onto the stage and it’d be amazing. The burger stalls in the Fan Village and the free beer and big foam hands at the Hospitality tables are a bonus.
Beyond that, the matches themselves are good ones to watch as a novice. The personalities involved are big – literally – and colourful – also literally. The afternoon session starts with Wade vs Wright – you know, ‘The Machine’ Wade, ‘Snakebite’ Wright, with his multi-coloured mohawk – the pair drawing level and ahead of each other over and over till Wright finishes on a 134 checkout. The stats for Anderson vs Chisnall make up for the total lack of mohawk, with Chisnall losing the game but equalling the world-record for 180s hit by a player – which for a layperson, you know is a big deal by the amount of music coming over the speakers and the amount of dancing going on in the audience.
The sound of the darts hitting the board comes over the mic like a heartbeat into the arena. Everybody cheers at almost every shot. When there’s a 180 scored, the crowd goes wild. We bring in chicken and waffle burgers from the Fan Village. We totally don’t take advantage of the open bar to the degree the corporate hospitality table behind us are doing – and fyi to any of my future employers, this’d make for a great work Christmas party – but we do our best. And Jethro says instructive and occasionally poetic things about the match, only 60% of which are stolen from Sid Waddell – the late and beloved Voice of Darts, in whose honour the Championship’s trophy is named.
It’s a good day. My darts education’s come along in leaps and bounds from the roughly zero it started the day at, but the main thing I’ve learned is that you don’t actually have to know anything about darts for this to be a great thing to do. And when everybody in the tiered seats gets to their feet and thunders ‘Stand up… if you love the darts’, over and over again?
We stand up, obviously. Because come on.
The William Hill World Darts Championship takes place from December to January each year at Alexandra Palace, and tickets are on sale to the general public from the summer.
Tickets this year started at £41 for the tiered seats and £51 for table seats. For tickets and further details visit the Professional Darts Corporation site.