Earlier this year, Oxford University Darts Club (OUDC) travelled to Rileys sports bar in Victoria to win the London and South East regional qualifier, gaining themselves a place in the national university cup finals. OUDC emerged victorious beating championship contenders LSE, as well as old rivals King’s College University. OUDC then went on to play Exeter in the semi-finals in Lancaster, who were formidable opponents given their track record in the competition. Oxford, however, made easy work of them; winning 12-1 in a best of 13 match (the last 5 legs played out of enjoyment). This gained Oxford a place in the final against York, who had beaten reigning champions Lancaster during their qualifying rounds.
York began the match in a similar vein to their semi-final against Newcastle – that is, by taking the lead in the opening leg. Oxford drew level to make it one all, with an impressive display that involved high scoring by both sides but more clinical finishing by OUDC. The two teams remained at loggerheads, with Rajiv Gogna and Scott England giving performances that would rival the best darts players in the country. However, York managed to pull ahead to 3-2 before Oxford came into their own during the singles matches, surging to victory with a final score of 7-4, leaving a devastated York to concede the last two games.
OUDC captain and current singles and doubles cuppers champion, Jonathon Turnbull, said of his opponents: “York were by far the hardest competitors I have faced in my two years at Oxford. I don’t think we would have beaten them last year: the fact we did today is testament to our improvement as a team”. Lee Stothert, OUDC president, remarked after hitting the two double eights that won the match “I thought we could be on the wrong end of a comeback so I felt a massive amount of relief when I hit the double to win it”.
Victory in the UniCup signifies the extent of progress made by Oxford in the last few years with its relationship to darts, both within the university and nationally. But it’s a relationship that has not always been so healthy. Some might recall the embarrassment of the 2005 televised varsity match, which saw one leg of darts lasting half an hour. A recording of this match is now somewhat of a viral video, with over 26,000 views on YouTube, simply because of the dire standard of play. Oxford’s reputation after this game led to a temporary decline in the amount, and quality, of darts played at the institution. But recently this has begun to change.
By 2011, darts saw a record level of participation that has continued to remain high, with 300 players competing in the inter-collegiate league each week, representing 25 teams that enter the college darts league. Furthermore, funding secured last year from darts equipment supplier, Winmau, and local restaurant, ‘The Big Bang’, has meant OUDC has been able to subsidise playing costs and travel that has resulted in an explosion of popularity and publicity for university darts.
So why has darts suddenly got so popular in the university?
A large part of its success is due to its sociability and associated culture, which makes the sport very accessible, and that also takes advantage of the collegiate atmosphere. This has created a buzzing and competitive darting community as exemplified by the rivalry between Worcester College and Wadham College, whose constant competition for collegiate dominance has led to a number of exciting derby matches. But another reason for its growing popularity is the current level of talent that has kept prof icient players in practice, as well as inspiring those who have previously dabbled in the sport to improve. These factors have produced a skilled team, demonstrated by the UniCup victory, which has now set precedence for aspiring college darts players. The future is looking bright for OUDC with Captain Jonathon Turnbull remarking “The increase in popularity is genuinely noticeable, with increasingly larger turn outs at trials, and greater enthusiasm at matches.
Outstanding performances from longstanding members, as well as freshers, demonstrate the strength and depth of OUDC”. Coming up for OUDC is the annual cuppers tournaments in Trinity. Anyone interested in participating is encouraged to get in contact with their college captain, or alternatively a member of OUDC