‘THE CHEERFUL GEORDIE’ – DOUG McCARTHY
England International and County Durham county stalwart Doug McCarthy first picked up a dart when he was eight years old. His mother Gertrude and father Stephen gave Doug his first dartboard (made of compressed paper and not full-size) and darts for Christmas that year. That was the beginning of a life-long passion for the sport which has continued to the present day
Doug McCarthy was born in August 1942 in Tow Law, County Durham and still lives less than four miles away in Crook. After leaving school he trained as a master butcher and, being self-employed, it was a trade which allowed him to take time off for darts as he became more involved with the game.
Amazingly, Doug continued to practice at home on the small compressed paper dartboard his parents gave him until he was in his early twenties. He told me, “The smaller target improved my skills and so the larger, standard target looked huge by comparison and was much easier to hit.”
Doug played his first pub darts at the age of sixteen but was not allowed to join a league until he was eighteen. But this did not deter him as he played money matches and honed his skills that way. His role model was a local player named Stan Conway who played for the King’s Head, Crook. “He was a big money player”, said Doug, “Stan was coming to the end of his career when I took up serious darts but I learned a lot from him.” A second darts player who influenced Doug was another local man, Jeff Barrett. “He was the man who taught me to count” said Doug. “Jeff told me ‘If you can’t count; you can’t play darts’.”
Doug’s first league game was playing for the Earl Derby pub near Tow Law around 1960. He played for the same pub for thirteen years and then transferred his allegiance to the King’s Head, Crook. In the 1970s he was selected to play for County Durham and in all Doug played 168 county matches. (He also played one friendly match representing Fife but that, as they say, is another story!) Doug stopped playing county darts in 1986, then resumed for one game only in 1999 and then did not rejoin the team again until 2000 after undergoing treatment for cancer. He then continued to play for County Durham until the beginning of 2007.
In 1977 Doug was selected to play for England and his first match was in Newcastle against Scotland. England beat Scotland 10-5 on the day with Doug recording success over Willy Scott 3-2. He was also only one of five men to record a maximum 180 during the international. In his first ten matches for his country Doug lost only once.
Playing for his country was a major breakthrough for Doug and was part of the reason he joined the professional ranks. Success came quickly and in 1978 he was a member of the Europe Cup winning team (other members being John Lowe, Eric Bristow and Cliff Lazarenko). This was followed by victory (partnering John Lowe) in the Guinness Golden Darts tournament that same year. He joined the lucrative exhibition circuit, taking on sixteen players in an evening at 1001-up. “I loved it”, said Doug, “It was lots of fun. Scotland and Northumberland was really my patch.”
Every darts player has a dream and Doug’s was to win the Embassy World Championship but it was a dream never to be realised. He recalled, “I made the finals about five times during the late 1970s/early 1980s but lost on each occasion”. This included a second round 2-0 defeat in 1979 by the eventual champion, John Lowe.
In the 1985/86 season Doug suffered what he described as ‘a complete slump in form’. He left the professional circuit and returned to the butchery trade. At the time he could not explain why his darts play had disintegrated. Back in 1981 Daily Mirror sportswriter Derek Brown, describing Doug as ‘a cheerful Geordie’, declared that nothing could wipe the smile off of Doug’s face, not even arthritis, which affected Doug’s throwing arm. (Doug is naturally left-handed but throws darts with his right hand.) However, Doug was certain that the arthritis was not the cause of his collapse of form. Much later he realised that the ‘slump’ had coincided with him giving up smoking and he had not, until that time, connected the two!
Derek Brown also mentioned Doug in his book Darts 78 (London: Mirror Books, 1977). In the chapter sub-titled ‘Who chucked darts at his wedding?’ both Doug and his County Durham team-mate John ‘Bonner’ Thompson were mentioned in glowing terms but it was Doug who Brown revealed as ‘a restless dartsman who itches to play whenever he sees a board. He cannot stop and watch.’
Such was Doug’s passion for the sport that he even carried his darts with him on his wedding day. He confessed to Derek Brown, “My darts go everywhere with me and when I married they were in my breast pocket. We had the reception in a pub and when nobody was watching I chucked darts.” Later Sid Waddell in his book Bellies and Bullseyes (London: Ebury Press, 2007) remembered Doug with affection, recalling that Doug was indeed ‘the man who played darts in a pub bar while his wedding reception carried on upstairs.’
Regrets? Doug told me, “I regret having been away from home so much in my professional days.” (Doug has been happily married to his wife Vera for 45 years and has two daughters and four grandchildren.) His other regret is the loss of his scrapbook of cuttings dating back to the start of his career. “All the information about my life in darts was in that scrapbook” said Doug. “The book means so much to me and I would love to have it back but regrettably I cannot remember who I leant it to.” (If anyone knows the whereabouts of the scrapbook please contact me direct by e-mail)
Today, despite his hands ‘creaking a bit’, darts remains a major part of Doug’s life. He is still sponsored by Datadart; an association that has lasted for thirty years. The small, compressed paper dartboard is long gone. For many years Doug has practiced on a ‘Champions Choice’ board, the board with smaller doubles and trebles.
Doug still plays competitive darts, including Super League, most days of the week and occasionally meets up with some of his erstwhile darting pals, including Eric Bristow and John Lowe. Whilst Doug admits (at 66) that “I am past my best playing years” his ambition is “To play darts as long as I can”; the reason being because “I still love it.”
Doug McCarthy’s life has been one committed whole-heartedly to the sport he loves. Long may he continue to toe the oche.
© 2008 Patrick Chaplin
This article was first published in the December 2008 issue of Darts World magazine.
‘ONCE AGAIN Patrick Chaplin’s “Where are they now?” column proved a very enjoyable read.
I just love to hear how the old timers are getting on and the piece on Doug McCarthy was an absorbing piece.
Most darts players are down to earth people and that means that they will fight in adversity ad Doug has proved to be no exception to the rule.
His recover from serious illness is one of the most welcome pieces of news I’ve heard in a long time and the fact that he’s still playing Super League is a testament to the skill and courage of the man.
A highly skilled darts player and a true gentleman is Dougie, many more of them old friend.
And please, Patrick, keep them coming!’
I’ll certainly do my best to oblige!
© Patrick Chaplin 2009