On Sunday 21st November my wife Maureen and I went to the Circus Tavern, Purfleet, about 35 miles away from our home in Essex, to witness the match between the PDC World Champion, Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor and the BDO’s World Champion, Andy ‘The Viking’ Fordham.
If you believed the hype then this was going to be the greatest darts match of all time. However, I was cautious. After all that’s what they’d said about the Taylor v Barneveld ‘Head-to-Head’ at Wembley Conference Centre in 1999 and that turned out to be a rout. OK, so that was a timed match, but even so the phrase ‘waste of money’ kept rolling around my head on the way home. If it hadn’t been for the Trina Gulliver/Frances Hoenslaar match, I might even have demanded my money back.
So, rather apprehensively, we entered the Circus Tavern and queued up with the rest of the darts aficionados waiting to be allocated our – rather expensive I thought – seats near the stage.
The Circus Tavern really does have an exciting atmosphere and the fans were well warmed up and lubricated and cheering and singing “THERE ONLY ONNNNNNNNNNNNNE [insert name of favoured dartsman]!” quite early on. Then it was show time.
First up was ‘The Legends’ match between Eric ‘The Crafty Cockney’ Bristow and ‘Old Stoneface’ himself, the great, immortal John Lowe. I really expected a lot from this match and was sadly let down by both players.
John was really wide of the mark for most of the match and was drubbed six legs to one. He never got going and I was really disappointed. Eric didn’t fare much better although a subsequent report stated that the Crafty One ‘won with an average of around 86.’ I’m sure the statisticians were right. It just didn’t seem like that to me.
Next up was the local Essex boy, Wayne ‘Hawaii 501’ Mardle against ‘The Tripod’, Holland’s Roland Scholten. To Wayne – good as he was – it was more of a show than a match and to Roland – good, steady, Roland – it was more of a match than a show. Wayne took and held the lead for ages and even took time out to invite the audience to applaud him even more than they already were when he shot out in a leg or hit a big score. Wayne was miles ahead and it looked as though the match was his. He was at cruising altitude and then one of his engines failed. Roland rallied and came home the winner six legs to five.
Then came the moment for ‘The Showdown.’ Word about the Circus Tavern was that Taylor was basically going to have Fordham for breakfast or rather in this case for evening meal. Earlier in the week Eric Bristow had been quoted as saying the only way Andy was going to stop Phil was ‘with a baseball bat.’ I was hoping and praying that Andy had prepared himself sufficiently to give Phil a good game; to make a match of it and not be an also ran. Andy didn’t let his fans down. They had come across the river in their hundreds and even now I can still hear the bloke who sat behind me shouting “THERE’S ONLY ONNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNE ANDY FORDHAM!” into my right ear for what seemed to be every moment of the match.
Although Andy took a bit of time to play his finest darts – he lost the first set 3-0 – he eventually traded legs with Phil and was certainly no pushover. This was truly the Clash of the Titans and the crowd loved it. However, by 11.15 p.m., it was clear to me that, at 4-2 in sets and 2-1 in legs, it was to be ‘The Power’s night and with things to do early in the morning we decided to call it a night. As we left the venue, our eyes streaming with the effects of smoke, Maureen said to me, “Andy looks absolutely shattered. He looked worn out half an hour ago, but up there now he looks ill.” We stepped out of the Circus Tavern and into the silent car park, climbed into our car and drove home.
On the way home we discussed each of the matches and when we eventually parked and went indoors a little after midnight I switched on the kettle and then the TV. Over a cup of coffee and a large brandy – my first alcoholic beverage of the day – we sat and watched part of a movie and then I switched to Ceefax. It reported that Andy Fordham had retired. What? It had happened on our way home! The Darts Historian had missed out on a moment of darts history!
There were some cruel reports in the newspapers the following week, mainly about Andy’s size and level of fitness but there was also at least one that took the opportunity to put down the sport of darts. The Daily Mail condemned Andy as ‘the only man in sporting history forced to quit because he was too fat to keep fighting’ and asked “How much longer will the Nanny State allow a sport played by obese men in front of beer-sozzled crowds?”
What set out to be a sporting masterpiece appeared to have imploded on itself. The sport of darts, unfortunately, is the worse for it. We can all try to ignore such reports from newspapers where reporters only cover darts when they have something nasty or destructive to say but the trouble is that such criticisms tend to stick long term and the good reports fade away. Remember, ‘Not the Nine O’clock News’ only ever did one darts sketch yet we all remember it.
So it’s time for reparation.
But who’s going to respond to these sad acts who deny our sport any dignity because they know nothing about it? Fortunately it is the other members of the press who understand the game who fly the flag for darts. (They know who they are.) Generally men and women who watch and play darts don’t have the time or, perhaps more accurately, the inclination to write and complain about those journalists who would pull our sport apart. (Are there no fat archers or pistol-shooters?)
But what about the players?
OK, so Phil and Andy, and especially the latter, are big lads, but they are not the standard figure of today’s dartsmen – I know I’m preaching to the converted here – but they are the best. They are both BIG World Champions and by that, they and the sport are being judged. So, what needs to happen now is for both Phil and Andy to look at themselves, to look inward and then outward across the sport of darts and decide to do something to right the terrible wrong that the sport of darts suffered on the night of 21st November.
And changing the venue won’t help.
What we’re looking at here is a change of mindset across the sport of darts so that when biased, classist journalists denigrate our sport for whatever reason there is someone on the spot to field the arguments and challenge the suppositions.
Stepping down from my soapbox, I look to the future and hope that Andy and Phil will be able to play another head-to-head. The fans would love it. However, time passes quickly and the Lakeside World Championships and the PDC World Championships are a short distance away and both could produce new champions.
But has the moment been lost?
I don’t think so. I sincerely believe that ‘The Showdown’ generated, and its outcomes will continue to generate, sufficient interest in a re-match. Whether or not Barry Hearn is convinced is another matter. I don’t know but I sincerely hope he will bring us another ‘Showdown’ between these two fabulous exponents of our sport. If not then, one way or another, these two greats of darts will find a way to play each other again – but perhaps not for £100,000.
‘The Showdown’ was billed as the greatest darts match on earth. It fulfilled its promise and the fans deserve a re-match. Next time I’ll make no assumptions and will stay to the end – as long as I don’t have to sit in front of that bloke singing “THERE’S ONLY ONNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNE ANDY FORDHAM!” all night.
©2004 Patrick Chaplin