If ever there was a player born ten to fifteen years too early then I think it has to be Bill Lennard.
William Henry Lennard was born in Manchester in June 1934, started playing in the early fifties and his enormous talent eventually enabled him to leave behind a £37 a week lorry driver’s job and become a professional player.
Bill was a prolific exhibition player, and did many for the armed forces both home and abroad and even held the rank of honorary Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy after one particular visit to one of their nuclear submarines!
He had many early successes under the auspices of the National Darts Association of Great Britain, first coming to national prominence in the Nodor Fours team win in 1961 playing from the Cotton Tree Inn, Great Ancoats Street, Manchester.
The team repeated this win in 1966 and coupled with Ray Hatton, Bill twice won the NDA Men’s Doubles, in 1967 and again in 1975. He also partnered Anne Westwood to the 1972 NDA Mixed Doubles title.
In 1975 he came fourth in the second Phonogram World Masters. He was edged out in the semi-final by Rocky Jones who went on to lose to Alan Evans in an all-Welsh final.
His prize of £100 after defeat to Jack North in the third-place play-off at least had the consolation of the presentation being made by the ‘Penthouse Pets’!
Of his other prestigious wins, none was more meaningful than the darting ‘Holy Grail’, the News of the World Championship in 1976.
Both he and the runner up, Leighton Rees had graced the national finals before, but it was Bill that won through that day in front of some 12,000 roaring fans at Alexandra Palace and live to several millions on ITV’s ‘World of Sport’.
A win over the high-scoring Irishman Seamus O’Brien put him through to a semi-final against Midlander Sid Webb where he survived a match point before crushing the genial Welshman’s dreams in the final. A mini-car was his prize that afternoon!
If you think today’s darting calendar is congested spare a thought for Bill. He had little chance to celebrate his News of the World win on the Saturday as he was on England duty against Wales the very next day!
He rounded off his perfect weekend with a 13 darter finishing on the bull to win his match against Des Owen 3-1.
Indeed Bill organised the local rounds of the News of the World event for many years, winning them more than a dozen times and consequently making several appearances in the Lancashire and Cheshire Divisional Finals.
1976 was surely his most prolific year as he went on to win the Swedish Open Singles and Doubles together with Bill Perry.
Another £1,000 cheque and a second televised win of that year came his way in the Ladbrokes British Matchplay at Great Yarmouth where he survived a great fightback from Alan Glazier’s powerful finishing to hold his nerve in the decider. On his way to the final he had beaten John Lowe and Alan Evans.
His nickname was ‘Mister Consistency’ and this was never more obvious than when he was proudly representing his country.
Bill was one of those players who revelled in the cauldron of International play and usually raised his game to suit. He was judged Man of the Tournament when the Home International was held in Morecambe in 1978 and had been selected to the three man Nations Cup team earlier that year.
He had narrowly missed selection to the first World Cup England team but that wrong was righted in 1979 when he travelled to Las Vegas with Eric Bristow, John Lowe and Tony Brown. No doubt his winning average of 102.5 earlier that year, playing last on against Rocky Jones at Pembroke Dock kept him firmly in the selectors’ focus.
A good showing in Las Vegas saw Bill return home with an overall Team Gold, a Gold in the Fours, Silver in the Doubles with Tony Brown and a quarter-final place in the Singles.
That same year he won the game’s Personality of the Year award for good measure.
Bill narrowly missed out on qualification for the first Embassy World Professional Championship in 1978 but was an ever-present in the next four, making the quarter-finals in 1980.
I think that he would have prospered in events like today’s Premier League Darts. Although he always seemed to have a cheerful smile on his face I’m sure it lulled many a player into a false sense of security as he was one of the fiercest opponents on the oche and he was very much in his element in front of a big crowd in a big occasion.
Many of Bill’s successes came in events with a much shorter format than we are used to now where a mistake was often fatal. It showed immense class to win so many important national titles under those conditions. Imagine how much more he might have won had he been ten to fifteen years younger.
Bill died in August 1996 aged 62.
I am grateful to ‘Kendo Nagasaki’ (the author) and Andy Fairclough of ‘Superstars of Darts’ for allowing me to publish this fascinating tribute to the late, great Bill Lennard which originally appeared on Andy’s website in June 2009.
© Patrick Chaplin 2009 (Updated 2019)