In 2008 University of Sheffield student Katie Durose, 21, approached me for information and advice in relation to two papers she was preparing as part of her BA (Hons) degree course in Journalism. As a result of her hard work Katie, from Winsford, Cheshire, received a 2.1 degree.
Following her success, I asked Katie (pictured) if she would agree to her two papers being published on this website. Katie agreed. So, many congratulations to Katie on her success and my thanks to her for giving me her permission to reproduce her work. The first paper ‘Superstars of the Oche’ follows and there is a link to her second paper below.
SUPERSTARS OF THE OCHE
Just off the main road in a backstreet community centre in Hull a quiet revolution is stirring.
As the darts players of the future line up, waiting silently for their turn to toe the oche, founder and former darts pro John ‘JJ’ Gibbs is revelling in the success of the country’s first darts “School of Excellence.”
Each Saturday afternoon the youngsters, aged from five to 21, hammer the half-dozen dartboards with an array of treble 20s and double top finishes. The order of the day is sandwiches and squash and the only fumes and fug they will gasp is the lingering dry ice.
“They’re assassins with smiles,” says JJ, who has already produced a handful of world class youth champions. Take Jake Patrick. He won the under-16 mixed individuals at the age of 13 – and TeeJay ‘The Tornado’ Beetham. He reached the finals of the under-18 youth championship when he was just eight.
And let’s not forget Tommy the ‘Machine Gun’. “When he first joined the school” says JJ who learnt his game juggling a pint and fag in one hand and his darts in the other, “he was wrapped round his mum’s ankles. Five weeks later he was a different child.” The latest addition to the school is three-year-old Nathan Bradley (pictured right), tipped to be a future world champion by the age of 15. (Image copyright the Bradley family and used with permission)
What started in Hull three and a half years ago has become a nationwide template. Last year kids from Wolverhampton were invited to improve their skills in the area’s first darts academy. And in Hampshire, The Petersfield School of Darts is now well and truly on its way to producing the crème de la crème of sporting professionals. It seems everyone is keen to jump on the band wagon, with schools no exception; teachers up and down the country are bidding to incorporate darts into the classroom to sharpen numeracy skills.
According to JJ, all his students are at the top of their class in maths. “It doesn’t matter what level the kids were achieving at school before hand. I can say to Tommy, give us 90 and without even thinking he’ll shout, ‘Treble eighteen –double eighteen’. “I’ll say, ‘Give me another’, and I’ll get ‘Double tops, bull.’”
JJ’s approach is as regimented as Phil Taylor’s liver and onion oatcake diet in the build-up to a big tournament. “I run a strict regime at the centre. I won’t allow any shouting. Life is about other people’s thoughts and it is slowly absorbing into them. I’ve only had to expel one boy and that was for bullying.”
The kids all have uniforms, too. However, we are not talking grey socks and blazers. Instead, professional black and white darts shirts, with their names and those of sponsors stitched on the sleeves.
“I get mothers coming up to me saying they’ve just bought young Johnny the latest Phil Taylor shirt” says JJ, “I say that’s fine, but they can’t wear it to come here, I tell them. I like everyone to be on an equal level. I like to think that my way is the right way” says JJ, lighting a cigarette. “I only have to look at them and they stop what they’re doing. If I told them I was going to walk on water they would probably believe me.” JJ’s motto is simple: “It’s like anything in life. You only get out of it what you put in.” That’s a tall order for those aspiring to the levels seen in the Professional Darts Corporation in recent years.
If darts hasn’t already undergone a renaissance with Phil Taylor’s 14th world title, then this surely is it. In 2003, darts was recognised as a sport (the BDO got round that one by calculating the distance walked, 16 miles, by England captain Martin Adams during the World Professional Championship up and down the oche). It has bid to be a sport in the 2012 Olympic Games and kids here want the fast track to stardom – and the ever growing amount of prize money.
In JJ’s day it was very different. The pub circuits were the only way to get on in the game and you were lucky if you could earn enough to give up your day job. JJ was a carpenter by trade. Phil Taylor had the glamorous job of making toilet handles in Stoke-on-Trent’s grimy pot banks and Dennis Priestley was a coal merchant.
“These children – they want to be professionals and I am training them to be athletes,” says JJ, taking another long, hard pull on his cigarette. “Darts is very popular again, especially in Hull. But there are not a lot of people playing,’’ he adds. There is no doubt the game is at odds with itself. The number of teams playing in UK pub leagues is dwindling. But in February a record 8,000 fans packed out the new Liverpool Echo Arena for Sky’s touring Premier League darts tournament– ironic since this was a city where the game was banned in pubs because it “incited drunkenness.”
Last year 120,000 headstrong fans attended Professional Darts Corporation events. But for JJ the new wave of darts fans are nothing short of “orchestrated hooligans – lager louts who don’t even play the game.”
He is confident that schools like his are the future of the game. In Holland, a similar system has seen the rise of players like 18-year-old Michael Van Gerwen and 24-year-old Jelle Klaasen (darts suddenly became quite cool when Klaasen introduced a lip piercing to the stage on his way to winning the 2006 BDO world championship). “The Dutch have got it right,” JJ declares. “I mean, they may not be as advanced as us in their technique but the sport there is funded by the government. All I get back from the Government here is a letter without a postage stamp – if you know what I mean. “I’ve got thirteen meetings coming up so we can get funding for new boards, light bulbs and darts. You have to be seen to be going through the procedure, otherwise you get nothing.”
JJ plans to open a further three schools and start the first-ever darts scholarship, whereby students will attend college three days a week and spend the rest of the time training. “The majority of the kids are from one-parent families, it’s quite a deprived area but darts gives them a sense of purpose.
“I will never be able to give back to darts what darts has given me – but I’ll try.”
© 2009 Katie Durose
Additional text copyright Patrick Chaplin 2009 and 2012
To read Katie’s other paper ‘Calling time on our great British pub games’ click here