IT WAS ALL DOWN TO A BROKEN LEG
If Steve Brennan had not broken his leg playing football, the chances are we would never have seen him play darts on the world stage or captain his country, Northern Ireland.
Whilst recuperating from his injury, Steve, then in his mid-twenties, decided to hobble down to his local pub, the “Butcher’s Arms”, in Knodishall, Suffolk for a drink. He told me, “I was so bored at home. I had to spend fourteen weeks in plaster and I desperately needed to get out of the house.” He decided to play a game of darts and discovered that he was ‘not bad’. That was to be the start of a successful career in darts which spanned, approximately, the decade 1978-88.
After a few weeks playing in the pub, Steve joined a local darts league and played for “The Royal Standard” in Leiston. However, as his darts improved, he felt that there was not enough competition and, even after that short period of time, he knew he wanted to play for his county. In order to do that he had to attract the attention of the man Steve called “Suffolk’s Mr. Darts”, Rolly Bright. To achieve that Steve joined the Woodbridge Super League and in his first year won the singles title and was then selected to play for Suffolk in the 1979/80 season. “Even back in those days”, said Steve, “you had to have a 27+ dart average.” Despite an initial minor setback, Steve eventually made the Suffolk County squad and would then go on to play for a few seasons for London before returning once again to his home county.
At the time Steve took up darts he was working in the asphalt industry but, following a successful period on the darts circuit, decided to become a full-time professional. Steve told me, “I talked to my wife Lynn about going professional. We had two young children and so we had to decide what was best, not just for me but for the family.” The decision made, Steve went professional under the management of Dick Allix. He told me, “I was suddenly faced with not having to get up at six in the morning! Working in the asphalt industry is a mucky business with long hours and little reward so I was really looking forward to going on the road.”
Steve traveled up and down the country playing quality darts and winning tournaments but it soon took its toll. “My darts declined”, Steve told me, “I found I was leaving all my best darts at home on the practice board. I was just not performing, so I decided to go back to work.” He parted company with Dick Allix and for a while managed his own affairs until he linked up with top lady darter Linda Batten (now Dr. Linda Duffy) who became his new manager.
Steve returned to the asphalt business, but this time in the non-mucky part of the industry, supervision. Shortly afterwards he and a friend named Dennis Rogers started up their own company. It grew quickly and soon they were employing ten men. This work became incredibly busy, so much so that one day Dennis asked Steve “How long are you going to carry on playing darts?” Steve agreed that Dennis was right. While building up his own business, Steve had carried on playing darts and chasing ranking points but the time had now come to focus on one thing. He could not do both. The business won and in the late 1980s, Steve gave up professional darts even though he was still in the world’s top ten.
But Steve had achieved a great deal in a relatively short time. In the early 1980s, he had been selected to play for his country, Northern Ireland. He was eligible because his father, Pat, was born in Londonderry. In 1985 Steve captained Northern Ireland in the World Cup in Brisbane (other members of the NI men’s squad being Freddie McMullan, David Keery and Ray Farrell (Steve describes fireman Ray as ‘a fabulous darts player’) and the ladies were Kathleen Lynch and Marilyn Beattie). Both NI teams ended out of the medals but during the tournament Steve achieved what he described as his ‘best game ever’, beating John Lowe in the men’s singles. He said, “That gave me a lot of satisfaction.”
But Steve is probably best remembered by darts fans for his appearance at Jollees in the 1982 Embassy World Professional Darts Championship finals. He told me, “I was drawn against Eric Bristow in the first round and I was expecting to be hammered.” Steve was wrong and shocked the fans and ‘The Crafty Cockney’ when he beat Eric 2-0. Darts World described Eric’s defeat as a ‘surprise departure’ but then Steve went on to put Dave Whitcombe out of the competition in his next match. He finally fell to Sweden’s Stefan Lord in the quarterfinal. (Steve still regards Eric as the ‘ultimate showman’.)
Steve now lives in Hull with his partner Debbie and, although he has not thrown a serious dart for some years, he still takes an active interest in the sport and describes the standard of darts today as ‘absolutely incredible, absolutely immense’ and reckons the PDC events to be ‘the most watchable sport on TV’.
I asked Steve how he thought he might fare against the players of today and he replied, “I’d have the white flag up pretty quick!” He is also of the opinion that the PDC events are ‘bringing the pub back into darts’ by which he means the continuous noise at major events reminds him of the clamour he used to play against in the local leagues. Whether that is actually a good thing, each one of us would have to decide.
Having captained his country, played numerous county matches for Suffolk and London and played in the finals of four Embassy World Championships, Steve Brennan has earned his place in darts history. When asked how he would like to be remembered, Steve said, “I know I never set the world alight, but I would like to be remembered as a friendly, easy-going guy, who enjoyed his darts and made a lot of friends all over the world.” Steve added that this interview might even tempt him back to the dartboard.
©2008 Patrick Chaplin