You might think that to win a World Championship six times in succession in any sport would bring accolades from around the planet, a never ending stream of potential sponsors to your door, agents scrambling over themselves for a piece of the action and more media hype than you could shake a stick at. So it might, but that’s certainly not the case in a good number of women’s sports and definitely not the case in terms of women’s darts.
When world ranked ladies’ number one darts player Trina Gulliver lifted the Lakeside Ladies’ World Championship trophy at the Lakeside Complex, Frimley Green , Surrey in January 2006 she reinforced her place as the most phenomenal women’s darts player of all time. Yet, with the exception of The Independent, which published a full-page interview with Trina before her final against Holland’s top lady darter Francis Hoenselaar, none of the tabloid or quality press made mention of Trina or magnificent achievement. Darts World reported Trina as saying of her success, “Winning five world titles was a milestone and you begin to wonder whether you can really win six. I am really chuffed to bits.”
Trina, 36, from Southam in Warwickshire has been playing darts since she was a young girl and joined the Warwickshire County Youth side at the age of 14. At the age of 18 she was selected for the Senior B team and within one season progressed to the ‘A’ team and has been representing them ever since, national and international commitments permitting. Although Trina readily admits that she hated school, she did learn enough and was sufficiently focussed to know what she wanted to do before she left education. Trina told me, “I wanted to be a carpenter. I was no good at academic classes like maths and science but I was good at craft and towards the end of my schooling I went on Work Experience at a local builder’s yard and learned the trade.”
That was the mid-1980s, when the feminist movement was strong. “I wasn’t aware of all of that really” said Trina “It was just that I knew what I wanted to do. If I’d have been a ‘burn your bra’ kind of a girl I would never have survived. Things were tough enough as they were; working with loads of lads who saw my presence there as a bit of a novelty and I think also a threat, but I achieved my goal. I qualified when I was eighteen and eventually set myself up in business as a carpenter/joiner.” Perhaps it was this success, so early in her life, in a competitive man’s world that strengthened her resolve to become a darts champion; to become a champion in a sport dominated by men.
“I held my first dart when I was two, at the pub my mum and dad ran at the time in Southam” said Trina, “but I really became committed to a future in the game when I began having success in the Warwickshire County A side and winning a few trophies.” Once she had a few major trophies under her belt Trina was determined to move on from the joinery business and become a full-time professional darts player. She went in search of sponsors. “They won’t come looking for you and that’s a fact.” Trina told me. “I wrote hundreds of letters, hundreds of letters. Most didn’t even give me the courtesy of a reply and those that did were all ‘Sorry no’ letters.”
Trina was determined to reach the top in her chosen sport and so funded herself to travel to darts tournaments across Europe in search of valuable ranking points. Her first major win was the Swiss Open in 1997. Although she won, the prize money was small and barely covered her expenses. Trina desperately needed a sponsor. At the end of her first year pursuing ranking points Trina found herself ranked number ten in the world. Then a chance conversation in a pub with a local boat builder set her on the path to success. An interview with the owners of Reeves Boatbuilders secured funding for all of Trina’s travelling and accommodation expenses to competitions. “That was one of the most important days of my life.” said Trina. “The owner, Graham Reeves asked me where I hoped to be in a year’s time. I told him “Ladies’ Number One.” He said ‘Right then’ and that was it; my first sponsor and the company has been behind me ever since. I am so grateful to them.”
True to her word within twelve months Trina became the world’s number one womens’ dart player and has remained there ever since. As she won more titles other sponsors, including the prestigious WINMAU Dartboard Company, came on board. “But even so it’s been terribly hard work” said Trina. “Men’s darts seem to have always been the main focus for television and thus they attract the sponsors but the ladies’ matches don’t get a look in; well except for a few minutes of TV during January.” This means that prize money is lower in the ladies’ game too. Trina won £6,000 for winning the Ladies’ World Championship this year whilst the young 21-year old Dutchman Jelle Klaasen pocketed ten times as much (£60,000) for winning the Men’s.
But without the TV exposure how can ladies’ darts progress? What can be done to raise the profile? “There have been suggestions” said Trina, “that the top women are allowed to play in the Men’s event, but that’s not what we want. Me and a number of other professional women dart players fought hard and long to establish our own event and we prefer it that way. No, there needs to be a new approach to ladies’ darts not some form of reintegration with the men.”
And what about the people who criticise women’s top flight darts as being boring and involving ‘the same faces’ at every major event? Trina reacts “That’s not so. I admit that I have been in and won every Embassy/Lakeside World Championship since it started and that Francis [Hoenselaar] has met me in the Final four times out of six but we don’t clean up every title all year. But in any event, what if we did win everything? You only ever get out as much as you put in to anything. The top ladies practice hard and work hard to obtain sponsorship and travel thousands of miles a year to maintain our rankings and should reap the rewards. It’s up to others to work as hard as we do and put up a formal challenge. There is a lot of talent out there. Phil Taylor wins all the prestigious men’s trophies with the Professional Darts Corporation and that’s because he approaches darts in a professional way; treats it as a job. We top ladies do the same; work just as hard but for smaller rewards.” As for ‘boring’ Trina fired back “In my semi-final in the Lakeside I averaged over 90 per three darts which was more than most of the men were achieving.” And if you combine the ladies county averages with the men’s, you’ll find Trina way up there in the top ten. “Boring?” said Trina, “I don’t think so.”
Recently the organisers of one of the top Dutch events, the World Darts Trophy dropped a bombshell by announcing that it is abandoning the women’s event – up until then one of the top money prizes in women’s darts – and replace it with a youth championship. Trina said, “This will have a devastating effect on women’s darts. The ladies were good enough to be included when the event began four years ago, since which time there have been four different ladies champions. No official reason has been given to us, but it really has come at the worst possible time. And anyway, I thought we were all living in times of equality!”
Perhaps the answer lays in the future promotion of the ladies’ game as a distinctly separate and ‘new’ area of sport to the darts played by the men. The men still suffer from the ‘fag hanging out of face, fat bellied, lager-swilling lout’ syndrome which has haunted the game since the 1970s, an image created in part by the players themselves and partly by the press, which the sport has singularly failed to shake off. “The women’s game has never had that problem.” said Trina, who herself has a model figure and who has occasionally stepped up on to the cat-walk. “I believe ladies darts needs to be reviewed and reinvented. We need a new and original approach to the sport. I can’t tell you what that is but I know it will need to involve top-rate marketing people. They deliver the format and obtain the sponsorship for competitions and we – the professional lady darters – will deliver the goods.”
Such progress would certainly be a fitting reward for the immense amount of work and dedication that professional lady darters such as Trina have put into the sport in recent years.
© 2006 Patrick Chaplin
For more information about Trina visit her website at www.trina-gulliver.com
‘Darts Historian Patrick Chaplin with Trina and two other top ladies,
Clare Bywater and Francisca Hoenselaar, WINMAU World Masters 2005’. Photo by Moppix
Added 23rd January 2007
Winmau’s TRINA GULLIVER is in seventh heaven after being crowned BDO Darts Lakeside World Professional Women’s Champion for an incredible seventh time.
It means that she remains unbeaten on the famous Lakeside darts stage since the first Women’s World Championship was played in 2001 and has only lost 3 Sets at ‘the home of World Darts’.
She can also boast a unique double, because when Martin Adams was crowned 2007 BDO Lakeside World Darts Professional Men’s Champion, it meant that for the first time in the 30 year history of the BDO World Pro, the Men’s and Women’s England Captains are reigning BDO Lakeside World Darts Champions.
© Patrick Chaplin 2007