Who Threw The Very First Nine-Darter?
I receive a good number of darts history questions via my website, but one I received in February 2003 from a dart fan in the Netherlands really set me thinking.
The question was:
‘Do you know when the first 9-dart finish was thrown in the history of darts? And I mean ‘In what year?’ I was wondering when that happened.’
The earliest ever recorded anywhere.
The earliest recorded perfect game was achieved by Albert Gamble, a former Cheshire County player, on Monday 18th October 1976 at the Finger Post pub in Stockport during a Robinson’s Brewery Dart League fixture against the Nicholsons Arms.
Albert, a 56-year-old post office engineer, told reporters, “I was sixth man on in a seven-a-side and [each man] played just the one leg of 501. After I hit the two 180s everyone came round and it was the quietest I’d ever thrown in. I got treble 17, then treble 18, to leave myself 36. That last double 18 was the hardest dart of my life.”
Despite being witnessed by two club secretaries, two licensees, the two team captains plus an estimated 80 other people present and being properly recorded on the league score sheet which was signed by officials, the folks at The Guinness Book of Records turned down the application for formal recognition of Albert’s feat. They told him, “Your records are too fragmented.”
Albert won no money for achieving the perfect game, his only reward being his memories of what happened on that October night in 1976. Interestingly, in the following January £50,000 was up for grabs in the British Open for achieving the darting nirvana.
And the next?
Darters had to wait until February 1981 for the next perfect game when Frank Reader, a super league player from Tonbridge, Kent hit a nine-darter, ‘only the second recorded…in the history of the game and the first outside a local league.’
Reader, a 27-year-old panel-beater and sprayer, was playing in the East Grinstead Open Singles (first prize £200). After hitting six consecutive treble 20s Reader recalled, “I didn’t get the shakes or go slow with those last three darts. They all went in so crisp it was as though they had magnets on them.” The final three-dart 141 outshot was achieved by hitting treble 20, treble 15 and double 18. Reader said, “The whole place went berserk. I won the match but lost after that.”
Like Albert Gamble nearly five years before, there was no scheduled reward (financial or otherwise) for Frank and his nine-darter. However, the East Grinstead Round Table, organisers of the event, gave Frank £25 as ‘a gesture’ together with ‘two tickets for a John Lowe darts evening’ plus two return air tickets to Jersey from British Caledonian.
The first nine-darter on ‘live’ television
Phil Taylor (image (c) PDC) became the king of the nine-darter. When he recorded a nine-dart leg of 501 (180, 180, treble 20, treble 19, double 12) in his quarter-final match against England’s Chris Mason in the World Matchplay at the Empress Ballroom, Winter Gardens, Blackpool in August 2002 it was rightly reported in the darts press as being the first-ever nine-darter on live UK television. This was a tremendous and long-awaited achievement for which ‘The Power’ bagged a £100,000 bonus. He then went on to win the title, beating Canada’s John Part, and prize money of £15,000.
However, subsequently, Taylor’s fine achievement seems to have become hailed by some as being the very first nine-darter hit ‘live’ on TV anywhere. To set the record straight this actually happened six months earlier.
It was Sunday 3rd February 2002. The occasion was the Dutch Open; the venue the Koningshof Hotel, Veldhoven, Holland. The final was being fought out by two Englishmen, Steve Coote and Shaun Greatbatch. There are 5,000 spectators and the match was being broadcast live by Dutch TV station SBS6.
Steve Coote had won the first set 3-0 but Shaun was 2-0 up in the second. Shaun started the third leg with back-to-back 180s and the crowd fell silent. He then struck his seventh treble 20, then treble 15 and finally double 18! As referee Steve Nicholas calmly announced ‘Game shot’ the audience went mad and continued to applaud and cheer Shaun for a full five minutes or more. This was the first-ever nine-darter on ‘live’ TV.
After the raucous crowd had calmed down, the game resumed and Shaun went on to take the Dutch Open title 4-2 but by then he had already carved his name forever into the history books and thereafter the Dutch fans in particular dubbed him ‘Nine Dart’.
What Shaun’s reward for this historic achievement?
Shaun said, “I didn’t win any money for hitting the nine-darter, although after the event someone phoned in and offered two thousand Euros.”
‘Old Stoneface’ shows the way
But, of course, it was John Lowe back in 1984 who achieved the first televised nine-darter. Professional darters, darts fans and pundits were eagerly anticipating the first perfect game on television and the bookies favourites were Eric Bristow or Jocky Wilson. They simply didn’t see John Lowe coming up on the rails.
On Friday 13th October 1984 during the quarter-final of the MFI World Matchplay at the Fulcrum Centre, Slough, Unicorn-sponsored John made darting history when he hit the first-ever perfect nine-dart game of 501 in a major tournament on television. Keith Deller, his opponent that day, looked on in appreciation and applauded as the ninth dart, double eighteen, struck home. John, nicknamed ‘Old Stoneface’, even allowed a broad smile to crack his face as he hit the jackpot – £102,000.
His prize money came from two sources; £100,000 from the organisers (who had wisely ensured against the feat being achieved) and £2,000 from the BDO. But it didn’t end there…
John went on to beat Keith Deller 3-1 in sets to win through to the semi-finals. There he whitewashed Bob Anderson 4-0 and went through to meet and beat his old friend Cliff Lazarenko 5-3 in the final. For winning the title John earned another £12,000 but it still wasn’t over. John was then awarded another £1,000 for the highest outshot of 161. This made John’s total prize money for the weekend a massive £115,000; record prize money that would stand for nearly twenty years. No wonder the hotel he was staying at ran out of champagne! John told The Guardian in 2007, “The bill came to £1,100, a lot of money in those days.”
The first nine-darter at the World Championships
The TV viewing darts fans would have to wait another six years before they witnessed another nine-darter on the small screen. It came in the 1990 Embassy World Professional Darts Championship at the Lakeside Country Club, Frimley Green, Surrey and was achieved by the Singapore-born USA darts master Paul Lim in his second round match against the Republic of Ireland’s Jack McKenna. For that Lim received £52,000, twice as much as Phil Taylor would pocket for winning the tournament.
Strangely enough, up to 2012 Lim’s achievement at the Lakeside has never been matched despite a plethora of perfect games in the PDC world championships. Alan ‘Chuck’ Norris came close in the 2012 Lakeside but missed the final double, double 12.
What about the ladies?
As for the ladies, England’s Mandy Solomons hit the first-ever nine-darter recorded as achieved by a woman in 1995 during a Greater London Super League match. Playing for Hackney against West Ham, Mandy, playing against Cathy Fox in the second leg, scored 180, 180 then completed the feat with treble 20, treble nineteen, double 12 game shot.
Who scored the first 180?
The Guinness Book of Records used to include a claim for this but in my research I have not been able to trace the pub in which it was said to have been achieved in the early 1900s or the newspaper in which the event was supposed to have been reported.
Both the first 180 and the first 9-darter will probably never be known. OK, so I might find a report later on which says that 180 was scored by Mr X in a pub in London in 1928 or that Mr Y hit a nine-darter in Holland in 1978, but who’s to say that someone else, in a pub, in a private game, hadn’t hit one a lot earlier?
So, what do we do?
We have to look at what we actually know for sure has happened and qualify it. So, we applaud John Lowe as the first man to achieve a 9-darter on TV (recorded), Paul Lim as the first man to achieve it in the Embassy World Darts Championships and Shaun Greatbatch as the first man to achieve it on ‘live’ TV.
As my research continues I may well find an earlier report than John Lowe’s in 1984 about a nine-darter. That won’t prove that that person scored the first ever 9-darter but it be ‘the earliest known 9-darter.’
© Patrick Chaplin March 2003-2021
How Many Permutations?
I immediately knew who to contact when Phil C. of Cheltenham, England e-mailed me in August 2008 with the question ‘How many possible permutations of a 501 nine-dart finish are there?’
Earlier that year I had been in conversation with Bobby George and he had told me that he had worked out not only the number of combinations for a nine-dart 501 but also the number of possible sequences.
Bobby revealed that there are, according to his calculations, no less than 145 combinations and 3,944 sequences.
(Now watch the mathematicians out there whipping out their pencils and paper and checking out the calcs!)
Thanks to Bobby for the information.
© 2008 Patrick Chaplin (Revisions 2019)
Check out Bobby George’s website at www.bobbygeorge.com