Darts Historian Patrick Chaplin scours the country for some of the top names of the past. “Where are they now and what are they doing?”
Whether they knew it or not, a great number of dart players during the 1970s owed the skills they learned to Don Coutts.
In the 1970s Don, from Christchurch, Dorset, who was a proficient and successful dart player in his own right, wrote a series of articles for Darts World under the pseudonym ‘Ajax’ called ‘Play Better Darts’. Such was the success of the series that it was more or less immediately packaged into a booklet which was published by World Magazines. However, there was much more to Don than darts tuition.
Don admits that darts held little interest for him up until the time he was 30 years old. Then, in the late 1950s, whilst working as a Factory Convenor and Shop Steward in the Tool Room at De Havilland’s in Christchurch he was asked by the work force to arrange some recreational diversions at lunch times. Don responded with shove ha’penny, chess and darts.
Originally thinking that darts was ‘a stupid game’, Don was soon converted. He joined the works darts team which soon reached the Christchurch League finals. By the early 1960s, Don was the Christchurch Darts League Singles Champion and had entered his first major tournament, the News of the World, for the first time. In 1968 he won the Home Guard League Singles title at nearby Boscombe and was challenging for the News of the World Area Finals. By 1969/70 Don was again challenging strongly for the News of the World Area title.
In 1972/73 Don, by then living in Crawley, Surrey, was a senior member of Sussex County and went along as an ‘interested party’ to the early meetings of the BDO. In 1973 Don set up the Sussex Inter-Town League (which was destined to become the Sussex County Super League). In 1975 Don became Chairman of the Sussex NDAGB, BDO and Super League and hoped to bring some cohesion to darts organisation at a time when the NDAGB and the BDO appeared to be meeting but achieving little. Don told me, “The meetings were getting nowhere. Yes, there were some genuine attempts being made to do something, but when the interested parties made attempted to work together, nothing came of it.” Don put the problems squarely in the NDAGB camp which in his opinion were ‘hidebound…lacked tight organisation and had little funds.’
By 1977 Don was playing for no less than four super league teams – Sussex, Hampshire, Surrey and London and travelling 250 miles per week from his home in Crawley to play darts. That same year he won the Danish Pairs with his friend Charlie Ellix, came third in the Danish Singles, won the Bognor Open, was runner-up in the Sussex Coral championship and was a member of the only Sussex team to win the NDAGB National Team competition – the Charcoal Burner, Crawley. (Other team members were Ron Clarke, Ian Holland, Larry Kavanagh, Dave Page and Don Smith). In the early 1980s Don won the Sussex preliminaries for the Embassy but journeyed to Jollees where he was knocked out in the first round by Jocky Wilson.
The end of Don’s top level darting career came a little earlier than he had expected when in 1987 he tripped up some steps and hurt himself so severely that he lost his place in the Sussex Super League.
Now a widower – his beloved wife Cath died in 1997 – Don is living in retirement back in Christchurch. He still plays darts very occasionally for the local British Legion Club but the earlier injury and the onset of arthritis mean that he does not play as much as he would have liked. But he keeps busy – “I do voluntary driving work for a local Macmillan day centre and collect Toby jugs and beer steins.” He also makes his own wine and occasionally dabbles on the stock market.
Sitting supping a coffee with him I asked Don the eternal question “Who is the greatest darts player of all time?” Don replied modestly, “Not Eric Bristow because I’ve beaten him so many times.” No instead he plumped for two players – John Lowe and Charlie Ellix – and a third, Bobby George who Don described as “the best exhibition player I have ever seen.”
Don once had a dream of compiling a Wisden-style ‘Dictionary of Darts’. Well Don, perhaps when you’re not making wine, playing darts, polishing your Toby jugs…
© 2005 Patrick Chaplin
Sadly Don never began his darts Wisden. He died in May 2007.
The June 2007 issue of Darts World magazine featured an obituary by Sussex County’s Barry Moody which is reproduced here by permission.
It is with great sadness that we announce the recent passing of Don Coutts.
I met Don when he moved to Crawley in the early 1970s and worked with him to form, firstly, the Inter-Town League followed soon after by the county Super League, which is still going full strength today.
He was one of the founding members of the Sussex Darts Organisation and a regular in the ‘A’ team over more than ten years.
He will be remembered for the many top class tournaments he organised at the Gatwick Manor in Crawley, where players from across the country, including Somerset’s Peter Spurdle and Sue Brazell, plus a very young Eric Bristow, made their marks.
Don was a member of Crawley’s Charcoal Burner team which won the NDAGB’s “The People” Cup in Manchester in the late 1970s, and a regular contributor to Darts World.
A minute’s silence was held at Three Bridges Football Club by members of the Crawley Friday League, and we as an organisation offer our sincere condolences to Don’s family in their sad loss.
© Patrick Chaplin 2007