In my opinion, writes Patrick Chaplin, there is no one in our sport better placed than Sid Waddell to write a history of televised darts over the past thirty years.
Bellies and Bullseyes is not, of course, Sid’s first foray into darts authorship, not by a long chalk. Sid co-wrote The Indoor League with John Meade in 1975 and contributed to and compiled two volumes of The BBC Book of World Darts (1979 and 1983), the latter being edited by Darts World’s Tony Wood. Sid ghosted both Jocky Wilson’s autobiography Jocky – Jocky Wilson’s Own Story (1983) and Phil Taylor’s The Power – My Autobiography (2003) and delighted us with his ribald humour in Bedside Darts (1985). Sid has written copiously on darts for over 30 years in books, programme notes and newspaper articles. His new book is a celebration of those years in which Sid helped in no small measure to make darts on TV what it is today.
A couple of years before Sidney Waddell was born, the BBC had featured darts for the first time on their experimental television service, broadcast from Alexandra Palace (another historical coincidence) to a few wealthy folk in the London area who could afford a television set and were within range of the signal. Of course, there was no hint then of what kind of impact this Geordie lad would eventually have on the world of televised darts. However, it is historically significant that Sid was brought into the world just as darts was experiencing its first major ‘boom.’
Significant too was the fact that, in 1972, an important meeting that eventually led to the launch of The Indoor League took place in Kirkstall Road, Leeds. In 1908, the landlord of The Adelphi Inn, Kirkstall Road, had been summoned to Leeds Magistrates’ Court to prove that darts was not a game of chance, but a game of skill.
Sid was the inspiration behind Yorkshire Television’s Indoor League, a unique TV programme, fronted by Yorkshire cricketing legend, Fred Trueman, which brought pub games to the small screen. They ranged from arm-wrestling and bar billiards, to shove ha’penny (Sid was at one time the reigning Yorkshire shove ha’penny champion) and table skittles – but the programme majored on darts. It was will producing The Indoor League that Sid established a life-long friendship with the legendary Dave Lanning, with whom he still shares the SKY TV commentary box today.
Sid has rubbed shoulders and socialised with all the major dart players of the past three decades and is proud to call many of them his friends. Amongst them was Wales’ Alan Evans. Alan was a darter who Sid knew was one of the best. Sid describes Evans as ‘the cornerstone of the professional game.’ Alan died in his late forties of an alcohol-related illness. I sense that Sid regrets not having the time or opportunity to write Alan’s biography, such was his respect for one of the greatest darts players Wales has ever produced.
I was expecting many things from Sid’s book. His insights into the development of darts on TV from the early seventies onwards are unique and his ever-present wit illuminates the numerous anecdotes. For the majority of the time, he delivers, although one could be forgiven – at times – for wondering if Bellies and Bullseyes is a second volume of The Power, for such is Sid’s admiration of the man whose record on the oche will probably never be surpassed. But, having said that, I believe Sid is correct when he writes that Phil Taylor ‘more than any other individual’ made darts what it is today and, therefore demands to be a significant part of Sid’s story. However, Sid must also take his share of the responsibility. In fact, Jim White of the Guardian went one step further and wrote in 1997 that ‘More than anyone else it was Sid who popularised the game.’
Arguably the man who started it all (post-1970 anyway) was of course Olly Croft. Given all the rhetoric that has been published in Darts World over the years, especially since the split, Sid spends very little time in his book being critical of the BDO and the man at the top. Passing references to ‘the wild arrogance’ and the ‘oppressive attitude’ of the BDO were, I thought, about to lead to a serious dissection of the BDO and its role in the sport, especially since the early 1990s, but they did not. Sid is not a vindictive man. There is no anger in his writing – and that is a measure of the man – although I did feel at times that there was more he wanted to say. With this and the BDO/WDC split, Sid makes his points, validates them and moves on.
Sid started commentating on darts in 1977. Since then he has loved every minute, well, except when he was worrying himself silly about calling the right out-shots. Some see Sid as an ‘incoherent babbling Geordie’ whilst others describe him as ‘a reporter/wordsmith’ who makes ‘Murray Walker sound as though he’s on Prozac’, but the fact is that most people love Sid and his wacky ways – and rightly so in my opinion.
It is Sid’s voice which over the years, has made darts compelling viewing. Sid is the first to admit that darts can sometimes be boring and sees his role as bringing such games to life or, when it’s lively, trying desperately to step back and let the darts do the talking.
I was hoping that Sid might spend a little time talking about women’s darts, but there is nothing, except a passing reference to Gayl King who ‘did not let her sex down’ when she took a set off Graeme Stoddart in the 2001 PDC World Championship. This made me realise that Sid’s major contribution to our sport – which cannot be underestimated – is in relation to the men’s game. I just wish he could have said something – anything – about the girls.
The only real regret I have about this excellent book is that Sid failed to tell me more about Sidney Waddell pre-The Indoor League. I wanted the book to be more autobiographical. I wanted to learn more about the ‘hoarse whisperer,’ the man who back in the 1980s encouraged me to research darts history, which years later resulted in my PhD. I also wanted to know more about his ‘tower of strength’, his wife Irene and his family.
I believe that this son of a Northumberland miner who became a pioneer of modern darts has much more to tell. I very much look forward to reading The Geordie Lip – The Autobiography of a Screaming Banshee which I am sure is already in preparation.
Bellies and Bullseyes is a fascinating, well-structured, readable and at times hilarious history of modern darts. It is published by Ebury Press and is available now from all good bookshops and Amazon.com, in hardback, priced £17.99.
© 2007 Patrick Chaplin