Although the title sounds like an Agatha Christie novel, this is not a murder mystery but a book describing Justin Irwin’s ‘journey into the heart of dartness’.
Many darts fans will remember Justin’s quest which began in a blaze of national publicity in early 2005 when he resigned from a highly paid director’s post at the charity ChildLine to pursue a dream. He announced that he was giving it all up in order to focus on becoming a world darts champion within one year. (He had apparently considered and discounted football and cricket and even rejected archery ‘because he lacked the space at his home’.)
Predictably the world of darts turned on Justin. According to at least one newspaper, the 2004 Embassy World Champion, Andy “The Viking” Fordham called him ‘barmy’ and was quoted as saying, “This bloke must be having a laugh, he’s got no hope of doing it.” BDO supremo Olly Croft said that he thought Justin was too old (at 35) to take up the sport saying, “He should have started years ago.”
Most of the darts fraternity found Justin’s task objectionable, all it seemed except Paul Seigel of ‘Dartoid’s World’ who called him ‘a man with guts’ and admired the man’s courage for living his dream. Dartoid ended his article by saying that ‘we should extend our hand and wish him nothing but the best of luck.’ What ‘Dartoid’ actually thinks of the book will be revealed on his website, but I know for sure that Paul will not take kindly to Justin calling him ‘a Englishman’!
Justin did not start entirely from scratch. He had played darts before and indeed still does. He thoroughly enjoys a game with friends even though his dream of stepping up on the world championship stage was never realised – well except when he played A Leg with Bobby George at the 2006 Lakeside World Championships. Murder on the Darts Board chronicles Justin’s journey to nowhere. At times I wondered what the hell he was up to; such was the number of disappointments he faced on the oche. Many other people would have given up. Many more would never have taken that first step. Such was Justin’s determination to succeed that I think it blinded him to what was actually needed from him to achieve his goal. (It certainly wasn’t copious amounts of Guinness.)
Lionel Sams seems to have been the only professional darts player that Justin actually spent any length of time with. Whilst Lionel was able to give Justin the benefit of his experience and at times keep him focused on his impossible quest, I gained the impression that the majority of other darters had little or nothing to do with him. True, they respected him on the oche, but then, apart from one or two decent games, Justin was only there to be knocked down.
However, Justin does include some excellent observations of the darts circuit and the characters who travel it. I have watched thousands of hours of darts on TV and until I read Murder on the Darts Board and was informed by Justin that Ted ‘The Count’ Hankey apparently always mouths a certain four-letter word of self-criticism whenever he misses a crucial shot. I shall certainly be looking out for it next time.
But you have to admire the man. He kept to his task and completed his year in serious darts. Although early in the book he corrects what he says were a number of untrue statements and quotes that the media bandied around about him in the early part on 2005, the damage had already been done. The majority of darter’s minds will recall only a man who thought he was good enough to become a world champion and to achieve it in twelve months. Whether or not they will buy his book to find out the real story I do not know.
If they don’t purchase Murder on the Darts Board then they will have missed an unusual read. In fact it is difficult to work out just which audience is being targeted by the book. On the one hand it is a brave adventure story of one man (and his loyal girlfriend Emma) fighting against the odds (and nights in freezing caravans) to prove a point; a story in which there is no happy ending. On the other it is not what I expected it would be. With a title of Murder on the Darts Board and a sub-title ‘One man’s journey to the heart of dartness’, I was expecting a vicious exposé of the coarse underbelly of darts but it turned out to be more of a diary of hard work, of trials and tribulations and frustration, all of which came to nothing.
Although totally committed to his task, and latterly gaining a publishing contract which surely spurred him on, there is nothing dangerous about Justin’s book. It is as if he wanted to prove something to the world of darts (and to himself) but did not really want to upset anyone – anyone at all. Justin really lives throughout Murder on the Darts Board on the periphery of the sport and despite the title was never really murdered on the dartboard although many darters must have looked at what Justin was hoping to achieve in early 2005 and called it potential sporting suicide.
There will, of course, be a good number of darts players and those enthralled by the sport (and sport in general) who will read Justin’s book just to find out how badly he suffered along the way. Many will surely smile and say, “I told you so.”
It took courage to enter the world of darts on a wing and a prayer and even more courage to publish his experiences. For this alone I recommend people read his book and make their own judgment. But can you really criticise Justin for trying to live his dream?
Murder on the Darts Board was published by Portico Books in January at £9.99 and is available from all good bookshops and Amazon.com.
Justin’s book is available from 7th January 2007
Additional information ‘Murder On The Darts Board’ is published by Portico Books RRP £9.99 Paperback
Justin’s website click here.
Many thanks for the review Patrick – some interesting observations, none of which I would strongly disagree with!
The question of audience is an interesting one. The book is aimed at anyone who likes darts – so that must include people with little or no knowledge of the game. This may mean some disappointment for those who already know all about chalking, history, the split, etc – these pages become somewhat irrelevant. And, although it hadn’t occurred to me before, I think you are right that I didn’t want to upset anyone (although there was some harsher stuff which the lawyers took out!). Thanks for the recommendation, however.
By the way, I will be updating my website with a darts related article roughly monthly. This too will be aimed at the occasional/new darts fan, but I hope will be of interest to those who know the game well.
All the best
Justin Irwin www.justinirwin.com
‘MURDER ON THE DARTS BOARD’ review David King Darts501.com
Justin Irwin’s background is far from the normal dart player we see on the World Stages of Darts and he was conscious that he may not fit into the darts community. However, Justin found very quickly that dart fans and players couldn’t give two hoots about what people did for a living as long as he could play. Yes, headlines good or bad always raise the profile of the game one way or another and the Times apparently quoted Justin saying “I’ll be World Champion” and with only a 12 month quest to fulfil his boyhood dream this was a tall order. Needless to say this brought a raised eyebrow to many in the sport and I must admit I myself thought he was nuts!
Justin, with out any experience what so ever, wanted to fulfil a childhood dream of becoming a sports man: a darts player. Justin’s darts experience at this point was playing a few legs of darts in a pub with a few friends and watching World Darts Championship. To my surprise Justin hadn’t even played pub league darts or seen the format of organised darts events. He hadn’t come across a dart sharpener or know how to turn a board to give it even wear. Hitting a one-eighty was not a regular occurrence and in fact a thirty dart leg would have seemed good at this stage. Therefore his decision to give up a well paid and respected job to pursue his dream without any experience into professional darts seemed even more bizarre.
Justin felt he had the skill and with enough practise he would be able to hit a 180 and wanted to see how good he could get in a year. His aim was to try and qualify for the World Championships!
Justin thought by giving himself the time to practise that he could build what he calls his muscle memory. Steady girls, he means his throwing action. That’s why we don’t use the word toss in darts. But it seems his muscle memory had a touch of amnesia when it came to playing competition matches. Joining a couple of pub league teams gives Justin much needed competition practise and from there he then pursues and attends a number of competitions held all over the Country.
After five chapters of Murder on the Darts Board I was still unsure who the book was aimed at: Dart players, his friends, ex colleagues or his mother? Was this book about extending his 15 minutes of fame, trying reluctantly to put the record straight on the misquoted headlines or cynically another dream to write a book?
The book contains too much padding and if you really don’t know how many segments are in a dartboard then I suggest you count them. A large portion of the book covers areas of the game that have been written about time and time again but in this case with no new angle. As a regular darts player I found overall the book a bit nauseating and patronising to read. The strong points however in my view have to be given to Lionel and Caroline Sams who seem to have take Justin under their wing and help him with his dream. They show despite misquotes which boarder on the point of arrogance, the hand of friendship is always extended in our wonderful sport of darts.
David King – January 2008
© 2008 Patrick Chaplin