Over 3,000 fans pack into the venue in anticipation of seeing their heroes. They experience the highs and lows of the game just as acutely as the sportsmen themselves. They are desperate to see them win, and bask in their glory or drown their sorrows. The players show skills only acquired after near obsessive levels of training and conditioning, in which they have built both the technical and mental capacity that is required to perform at the highest level in the world. And you’re telling me that darts is still ‘just a pub game’?
This view seems increasingly outdated as the PDC darts juggernaut continues; for many converts such as me, the World Championships are now a vital part of the festive period’s TV watching. Throughout the year the PDC Premier League, which contains the eight top players in the world, attracts 6,000+ fans to every city, despite the obvious drawback that they can’t really see any of the action.
But the atmosphere is one unrivalled in most other sports, and envied by rugby and football fans. Players such as Raymond ‘Barney’ van Barneveld and Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor are worshipped for their skill, and the noise is deafening even at the biggest of venues. It is incredible that the players can even throw amid such a cacophony. The sport has a mesmeric quality that draws you in; its quick speed and rhythmic format makes it one of the easiest sports to watch on TV.
Most of the time you find yourself not watching the board as closely as the players, and critics often underestimate the intense psychology involved in darts. There are no hiding places on a bare stage in front of thousands; in few other sports is a player’s every move under such a microscope.
The crowd is brutal in response to any failures or signs of weakness. All the competitors at the World Championships are capable of winning it, and nearly all can technically hit the smallest of targets with relative ease. But those that rise to the top have the mental strength to maintain their performance under incredible levels of pressure.
If you are a footballer and you take a penalty during a shoot-out, you can mentally collapse and take a poor shot, yet get lucky and score. In darts, luck does not exist. The margins are much smaller, and when the consequences of pressure infect your throw, it is obvious to all. To watch these talents battle with these issues on screen is fascinating to any sports fan. It creates an indescribable drama that makes darts such a gripping game, as the pressure to hit a vital double seems crushing even to the viewer, never mind the player. More and more celebrities are confessing darts as their guilty pleasure, with Stephen Fry making a guest appearance as a commentator this year and Prince William and Harry attending one of the days at the World Championship in 2011.
In many ways, the PDC World Darts Championship and other events do not help themselves in gaining the respect within the sporting world that it deserves. The dancing girls, the drunken antics of the fans, and the garish shirts all add up to people still not taking the sport seriously. But how many male-dominated sports do not have all these issues, even if they are not as evident as they are in darts? And looking beyond all this, fans of any sport should recognise the talent, dedication, and determination that darts demands. So make it a 2013 New Year’s Resolution to flick on the darts every so often. I promise you will not be disappointed.