Patrick Chaplin: Players Past & Present

An Interview with Steve 'The Original' Brown

‘Steve with ‘Dr. Darts’ at the 2008 World Masters’ and the photo credit ‘Chippix International’‘Steve with ‘Dr. Darts’ at the 2008 World Masters’ and the photo credit (Photo: Moppix)

Introductory Note:

Charis Mutschler of the top German website www.darts1.de interviewed Steve Brown just before the World Cup in Charlotte, North Carolina , USA in 2009 and this upfront and honest interview first appeared on that website. I am grateful to Charis for allowing me to reproduce the interview here.

I have known Steve Brown (whose late father Ken was a well-known and well-respected Surrey and London county darts player and England international) for some years and am pleased to be able to publish this revealing interview about one of the top ex-pat darts players.

Patrick Chaplin

The Interview

Charis:

Steve, you started to play league when you were 13, at which age did you start to play darts??

Steve:

When I was about 10 years old. My dad had been playing darts locally for years, and was on crutches after a serious motorcycle accident. With his sporting activities now somewhat limited, he took darts a little more seriously, and finally hung a board at home. From there, it was an easy choice...

Would you say it gives you an advantage to start young?

Absolutely. However, the main advantage for me was the fact that from the start, I was learning from those around me – and I don't mean just my dad.

What was the first tournament you did play in?

I can't really recall what my first “real” tournament was, but it was quite possibly the Surrey Open. I did compete in the men's singles at a holiday camp when I was 13 – and won. It was pretty much a little fun event for the holidaymakers, along with putting, lawn bowls, and snooker. It was 301 SIDO, and I played really well in the final. I won the first leg in 10 darts, and then clinched the title with a double bull finish.

Did you ever take a break playing darts?

Not as such. I did take almost three weeks off back in 1980, when I came to Florida on vacation, and I'll admit it set me back a little.

As your father played darts as well it probably was only consistent you started to play– is this starting young in a dart playing surrounding one of the advantages the UK players have compared with the players from the US?

Of course. As I said, it was a lot better for me, not just learning from my dad, but from the experienced players around me. My first local league team (when I was 13) included three England players.

What other advantages have the UK players?

I'm sick of hearing that the British are so much better than the Americans, because honestly, I don't feel that there is that great a difference. The big differences are attitude and experience, which can give them a distinct advantage. Even with local leagues in the UK, the players are there primarily to play darts. Sure, they may want to have fun and have a few drinks, but NOT at the expense of the darts.

And is playing darts still as wide spread in the UK as it was when you were a child or has it changed?

Having been away for all these years, that's not really an easy question to answer. Truthfully, from what little I see and hear, I would say “no”. One of the main reasons is that we have lost so many of the good old English pubs. They've either turned into wine bars and other yuppie hangouts – minus the dartboards, of course – or they have simply been demolished in order to make way for housing and supermarkets.

When did you move to the US?

Seventeen years ago.

And what was the situation of the sport of darts there and then?

Well, we had a lot more major tournaments then, but overall, there weren't as many events as there are now. As always, things go in cycles; some areas flourish, while others struggle. The main problem is that the North Americans are generally isolated from the rest of the world; they don't get too many opportunities to compete with and against the top players, certainly not over a longer format, anyway.

Has it changed in the meantime?

Definitely, with the change in the attitude of many newer players being one of the main problems. In the old days, players were willing to put time, effort, and money, into improving their game. Not so much these days, though. It's almost like a lot of players don't want to play unless they can really get something out of it, i.e. money, or at least the glory of a win. Sure, nobody likes losing, but we all have to learn to lose before we can learn to win. Also, although we still have the players, we seem to have less people willing to put the time and effort to organize things than there were back then.

What is your idea what one could do in other countries to make darts as popular as in the UK or the Netherlands?

The main things, I feel, are that we need to get darts accepted as a spectator sport, and that we need to get the youths playing. Also, we need to get rid of the, “Oh no, that's dangerous!” mentality of the American public.

How would you assess the American dart players compared to the British or Dutch dart players?

We'll find that out at the World Cup! Seriously though, we have the quality, but they just need the experience.

As you are now working for the ADO – what are the problems the ADO has to fight?

Honestly? Ignorance, ego, and prejudice – from both inside and outside the sport. Bet you're sorry you asked that, now!

And what do you think the ADO could and should do for the sport?

We know what we want to do, but with limited resources it's not as easy as people think. What many don't realize is that we are not actually an organizing body as such. While we do stage National Championships etc, we are more of a sanctioning body. As the USA's recognized governing body, we also try to get everybody pulling together. There are a lot of things that could be improved, but everybody needs to do their bit, instead of relying on everyone else.

Has the ADO some kind of youth support program?

We do have a youth program, but it's very difficult trying to get it to work over here. With some of the local liquor laws, plus the attitude of some adults who don't allow youth in leagues because “I don't want to get beaten by a kid!”, it's tough. It is generally regarded as an “adult” sport in the US. Yeah, you can race motorcycles at 5 or 6 years of age, but we sit here and tell a 20-year old – who may be married with kids, own his own business, and can go and fight and DIE for his country – that he's not old enough to play league darts? Give me a break

This year the World Cup is played in the US – what kind of preparation has the ADO to do?

In short, a lot! Venues, sponsorship, volunteers, concessions, banquets, transportation etc.

Is there anything the WDF does for a World Cup or is it all in the hands of the organising country?

The WDF will actually run the event, but the hosting nation has to ensure that they have all the necessary tools to do so.

I´ve read the UK will not be able to organise the next World Cup because of the financial crisis – how expensive is it to organise it?

I know the kind of expense involved in hosting it here, but I'm sure that changes drastically from nation to nation, depending on the economy, availability of facilities etc.

How many countries will take part?

At the moment, we think probably 35 or 36. Some want to compete, but are having visa problems.

Who for you are the favourites?

England are always the favourites, but on home soil, I think that we could spring a surprise or two. I certainly hope so!

Are you in any way involved in the preparations?

I have been so far, and obviously, my knowledge of such events will come in useful when we get to Charlotte. However, being on the team, I have managed to avoid the menial tasks!

Do you like the double and team competitions as well or do you prefer Singles 501?

I love it all, and I do love being part of a team.

And do you prefer Cricket or 501?

I would have to say cricket. Strategy is a very important part of the game, and having the very analytical mind that I do is a great benefit. Plus, I don't need to hit a double!

This year you for the ninth time have qualified for the Winmau World Masters – how difficult is it for players outside the UK and the Netherlands to qualify for the BDO majors?

As far as the usual national “representatives” in the World Masters, the opportunities are pretty much the same, although the costs for the national governing bodies are much greater. Also, as far as the individual tournament champions who receive the invitations ONLY, the expenses involved are often prohibitive. With the Lakeside World Championship, it's a lot more difficult to get up in the rankings; we simply don't have the amount of ranked events that the Europeans do. Having said that, we in the US are in a better position than we have ever been, with six ranked tournaments. Even though I could have done with a few points in Connecticut last month, there is still a chance for me to get to Lakeside via the rankings.

And how do you qualify? Is it through the ranking or are there special qualifications?

With the World Championship, it's pretty much done through the rankings. There is a qualifying event the day before the Masters, where four or five players will get a spot at Lakeside. There will be a place for the World Masters Champion (should he not already have qualified), and perhaps a couple of “wild cards”, but other than that, it's all down to ranking.

You´ve played the PDC as well but in the end decided for you the WDF would be the better way. What where the reasons for this decision and do you think it was the right decision?

Money – and time. Obviously, the rewards are now in the PDC, but so too are the expenses, particularly if you don't live in Europe. I know that's where the majority of the players are, but I feel that the PDC Rankings are too heavily weighted toward the Europeans. That's where the time also comes into it. If North Americans have any designs on a place in the rankings, they have play a bunch of European events. As most Americans have to work for a living, that's a problem, as many only get 10-15 days vacation a year.

Some others – for example Larry Butler – decided to try a come back after the PDC offered more opportunities in the USA. Do you think those American PDC tournaments really are a chance?

It is a chance, but not a great one. We do have the North American Order of Merit, which is by far the best opportunity. However, that will never be enough to keep a player in the PDC Rankings. Look at Gary Mawson last year; he did well in the North American events (not well enough though), he played in several European events, and he made the final of the UK Open. That was a fantastic achievement, but I'm very disillusioned at the fact that, despite all that, Gary couldn't secure a place in a 64-man World Championship.

And do they help darts in the USA?

Sure they do. They provide Americans with the best opportunities to compete against the world's best, and over a longer format also. I just wish more Americans would jump at that opportunity. That may sound hypocritical, but I've been around a long time, and spent many years in the PDC, and it's not as if I need them for the experience. For the up-and-coming players over her, they do need them; it's the only way they can get that experience.

What for you are the biggest differences between the PDC and the WDF?

The money – obviously – but also the professional manner in which the PDC majors are staged. Of course, that is a direct result of the money. Like it or not, the BDO/WDF system has developed into something of a feeder for the PDC, but there is still a lot of quality in their events.

What was your greatest success in the BDO and what was it in the PDC?

Unfortunately, I haven't won too many BDO events over the years. Winning the Houston Open this year was my first since the North American Open in 1989. Therefore, the North American Open wins in '88 and '89 have to be the best. However, I have won a few WDF tournaments in that time. It was very satisfying to win the Swiss Open in 1990 and 1991, but the biggest financially was the 1989 International Challenge of Champions in New York – that was $10,000! PDC-wise, I'd have to say third place in the 1994 World Championship.

If you'd like to include them, I have had what I consider to be successes outside of individual tournament wins. In 1991, I spent much of the year as WDF #1 before being overtaken by Rod Harrington. I am also the highest-ranked American in the history of the PDC (#4 in 1994) and the only American to receive a Top 8 seeding in the PDC World Championship (#8 in 1999)

And would you say it´s true what one can often hear that the PDC players are better then the BDO players?

If you took the top 50 of each, one would have to say that the PDC is better. However, I still don;t think that there is as much of a gulf as some would have you believe.

Could you imagine an organisation close to the PDC like the PDC Europe in Germany or the DPA in Australia could be founded in the USA and work successfully?

Obviously, it could, but I think it would be unlikely, definitely in the foreseeable future. I feel that we would need a few more opportunities for players here than we currently have, and I really don't see that happening any time soon.

Would there be enough potential of American dartplayers around?

Undoubtedly; no question about it.

What do you think could the American players do to be really able to compete?

As I said earlier, they just need the experience, but out of necessity (basically, the size of the country), tournaments here have to be set up very differently from those in Europe.

Do you think the idea you´ve to be either PDC or WDF is a problem for the dartscene?

In Europe, I don't think it's that much of a problem, as whichever side of the fence one is on, there will usually be plenty of opportunities. Fortunately, it's not usually a problem here either, as we have no bans – or ineligibility – in the US. I think it only becomes a problem when one is put into a no-win situation, as one of our players was last year. He was forced to either join the PDPA – and lose a World Cup spot – or not join, and give up the money he had earned at a Player's Championship.

Is for you darts a sport?

Most definitely. I consider myself to be a “Professional Sportsman”, and I don't think that the terms “sportsman” and “athlete” are always interchangeable. The closest parallels to darts are archery and shooting – both legitimate, Olympic sports. Sure, darts isn't that strenuous, but nor are a lot of other sports. If one wants to be really pedantic, saying that sports should be necessarily athletic, then that would leave only a handful of true sports, such as soccer, tennis, swimming, running etc.

The fact that we are reliant on pure skill and precision, nerves of steel, and – at the competitive level – a certain amount of physical effort and stamina (both physical and mental), that should make it a sport. Plus, darts is a pursuit that requires “training” (practice) in order to attain a level of excellence, so that should confirm it. For those who feel it is just a game, the same as cards, chess, or Scrabble (two of which rely on far more luck than darts), is there a similar physical output? Is there a similar level of co-ordination and manual dexterity involved?

And can you imagine darts in the Olympics?

Yes – and no! Obviously, I would love to see it, but honestly, I think it would be a struggle. One of the problems is that an Olympic Gold Medal should be the ultimate prize in sport, but with the kind of money available now, I really don't think that a lot of players would think of it as such. I know I would, though.

And what do you think about alcohol and darts – do they just belong inseparable together or is a pro sport where the top players drink alcohol during the tournaments just not really a pro sport?

I don't believe that alcohol does belong at the professional level, and it's largely the fact that the two are so intertwined that we have to face such prejudice, particularly in the US. A small amount of alcohol can certainly be considered a “performance-enhancing substance”, so why should it be permissible in professional competition?

What is it that fascinates you most in darts?

I don't know if it's fascination, or just pure love and affection! I enjoy the physical action of throwing darts, I thrive on competition, and I love the people.

Are you a dart Pro or have you got another profession as well?

Darts is my job, as it has been for 19 years now.

You´ve got quite a lot of hobbies – is darts just another hobby or is it more important for you?

As my living, it is far more important, but it is also extremely stressful. I feel that I need some kind of balance, and my hobbies provide a release for me. Honestly, although I've done well in the sport, I know that I could have perhaps done better had I put a little more into it. However, I like to have a life outside of darts, and that keeps me from getting stale. I enjoy playing darts, and want to keep it that way.

Do you still practice?

Certainly not like I used to, and in fact, I rarely pick up a dart between tournaments. When one is playing as much as I do, combined with all the driving, when I get home, I just want to relax.

And what and how much do you practice?

I play a small variety of games, but I always keep the figures. That way, I can set myself goals, and make practice much more competitive. I also spend quite a bit of time practicing without my glasses. My eyes are really bad, so it helps me to trust my mechanics rather than focusing visually.

Do you do something for your fitness?

Okay, I'm overweight, but generally, I take pretty good care of myself. I don't smoke, I don't drink, and I don't eat much junk food. I also try to not short myself on sleep, as getting older has started to take its toll on me.

Do you feel getting older has an influence on your darts?

Getting older influences everything! Although I really don't feel that I am “ancient”, I am enjoying my role as one of the more experienced players out there. Some of these youngsters coming through these days scare me – they are so good – but my experience will often see me through against them.

Do you still set yourself goals and want to get better?

My main goal is to keep competing at the top level for as long as I possibly can, and yes, I do want to get better!

Is for you a player like Phil Taylor more a phenomenon or is he only more dedicated, exclusive interested and occupied with darts and works much harder then all other players?

I've never believed that anyone is truly a “natural”, and that success – or at least continued success – is largely a result of hard work and dedication. Yes, Phil works hard, but so do many others. You have to remember that no matter what sphere in which you are involved, there will always be some individuals that succeed more than others, and the real key to Phil's success is his confidence.

Do you believe he´s right when he thinks the other pro´s are too lazy, something Tony Eccles by the way at least for himself did confirm?

In many cases, he is right, but as I said, there will always be those who are better – or worse – than others. There is far more to it than just the quantity of practice. I think it happens in all sports that some individuals just get comfortable, even complacent, instead of constantly pushing themselves.

© 2009 Charis Mutschler and www.darts1.de

Additional material © 2009 Patrick Chaplin

Photo credit: Chippix International

NOTE:

For some years Steve’s nickname was ‘Brownie’ but this had to be changed when another Steve Brown appeared on the pro circuit. ‘Our’ Steve now calls himself Steve ‘The Original’ Brown and you can find out more about the player by visiting his website www.browniedarts.com.