OK, so metal objects cannot really be described as ‘alive and well’ but the meaning is clear. I have tracked down an important major piece of darts memorabilia – Jim Pike’s London Division 1938/39 News of the World silver trophy – which I had long thought had been melted down or at least hidden away in a loft somewhere never again to see the light of day. It is, I am pleased to say, safe in the possession of his granddaughter Jo Day.
Jim Pike, as most darts fans of a certain age will know, was the Phil Taylor of his day, one of the most proficient and popular darts players of the late 1930s right up until his death from cancer in 1960. Pike excelled in exhibition matches and during the Second World War captained the News of the World Team of Darts Champions; a team that raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for the Red Cross and other war-based charities, more money in fact than any other sport raised for that charity during the period.
In late 1938 the various Area tournaments for that season began and the London Area was always one that dart-playing readers of the News of the World paid particular attention to. The total number of players entered in the 1938/39 London Area competition was 10,500 and by Thursday 4th May 1939 that number had been whittled down to just eight.
Those eight darters included Jim Pike (representing The Windmill, Southwark) and John Ross (representing Crown Athletic), who was later to join Pike in the Team of Darts Champions. A new champion for the London Area was guaranteed as the 1937/38 champion, Jack Pettitt, had been beaten in the earlier Tottenham qualifying rounds. The line-up in 1938/39 also included George Branch who had been the runner-up in the grand News of the WorldLondon (Metropolitan) finals in 1931/32.
Amongst the pundits at the time was Stanley Nelson who told News Chronicle readers that only the previous week he had seen John Ross, who was at that time captain of the London Business Houses darts team, in action against a representative Printers and Allied Trades team. Nelson stated that ‘on his form on that occasion [Ross] should stand an excellent chance of gaining the title.’
Unfortunately for Ross, things did not go his way and it was Pike who progressed through to the London & the South divisional final that was held at the Royal Agricultural Hall on Thursday 11th May 1939. Pike played well and progressed through to the last two but was beaten 2-1 by Marmaduke ‘Duke’ Breckon (Jolly Sailor, Hanworth) in front of a crowd of nearly 17,000.
From an historical point of view to discover that Pike’s London Area cup is still around and in the possession of his extended family is vitally important. To know that such an important relic still exists is so pleasing to record. I discovered that the cup still existed when a family member researching Pike’s life contacted me and asked me for information about his darting exploits. I am assured that the solid silver cup will remain in the family, but I could not resist the temptation to visit the relative and actually see (and hold) Jim Pike’s cup (see photo).As if that is not enough, I have also discovered that the replica News of the World trophy (presented to all finals winners over the years) belonging to the 1931/32 News of the World champion Jack Hood is safely in the hands of the descendents of an old friend of Jack’s who lived in the north of England.
More poignant perhaps is the story of the cup won by Harry Prior from Polebrook, Northants. Prior won the first and only interwar running of the News of the World Midlands Counties Division in the 1938/39 season. Prior played out of the Duke’s Head, Polebrook and earned his place in darts history when he won that inaugural Midland Counties championship by beating H. Ball (Gardens Hotel, Stapenhill, Burton-upon-Trent) 2-0.
At the outbreak of war Harry Prior joined the 6th battalion Durham Light Infantry but, regrettably, was never able to return home to defend his title. He was killed in action on 17th July 1943 during the invasion of Sicily and his body lies with thousands of the fallen in the Catania War Cemetary. (In the photograph, which is published courtesy of Harry’s family, Harry can be seen second from the left.) His Midland Counties cup remains in the hands of a member of his extended family.
However, for every News of the World cup that has been found there are hundreds that have been lost, melted down or damaged beyond repair by family who cared nothing of the history that they represented. That is perhaps not surprising but what will surprise me is if any other similar pieces of pre-WW2 darts history still exist. (Please write and tell me if they do.)
But what of the prestigious News of the World cup itself? Whatever happened to that enormous trophy that was held high in the air in triumph by every winner of the NoW Individual Darts Championship (and was held by the winner’s local pub for a year) until that tournament ceased in the 1990s?
Some believe that it no longer exists and that it, like so many other silver trophies, was melted down for its scrap value. However, the good news is that I can reveal exclusively here that the trophy is safe, securely locked away deep in the bowels of the News of the World archive at Wapping, east London.
Perhaps it is waiting for the day when new life is once again breathed into the most historic darts tournaments of all.
If anyone reading this article has any knowledge of the whereabouts of any other News of the World finalists trophies or of any other famous cups please contact me and let me know that they are ‘alive and well.’
© Patrick Chaplin 2008/9 (Updated 2012)