Half a century before the British Darts Organisation (BDO) established its formal rules of the sport of darts, men were taking the first tentative steps towards standardisation.
The period between the wars (1918 to 1939) was an exciting time in the development of the sport of darts. Before 1914 there were few organised darts teams or leagues anywhere in England or Wales and none whatsoever in Scotland. What matches there were tended to be friendly matches between teams from pubs near to each other but it was from these small roots that the game expanded after 1918.
Brewery bosses and publicans were under pressure from the Government, temperance societies, religious ‘do-gooders’ and others to provide more in their houses then mere drink. The pub trade was also threatened by the growing number of counter-attractions which included the cinema, greyhound-racing and football. Part of the solution to the problem posed by these threats was seen to be the provision of indoor recreations.
Of all the games provided (which included dominoes and shove ha’penny) the most popular by far proved to be darts. The brewers and the licensees noticed the swift growth in interest in the game and soon began to sponsor darts clubs and darts leagues. A number of leagues were established in London by major breweries the first being the Barclay, Perkins League in December 1924. The leagues grew rapidly after other breweries saw the benefits of the Barclay, Perkins experiment.
So swiftly did the organised game spread that London brewers, licensees and a number of darts organisers around the capital feared the game would suffer ‘attacks from fanatics’ (that is those that would exploit the game for their own purposes). There was also the fear that with a number of different dartboards in use the game was in danger of fragmenting. In early 1925 a group of professional men met in the offices of the Morning Advertiser (the daily newspaper of the licensed trade) to discuss the establishment of an English darts association to take ‘control of the game of darts and of unifying the rules.’
Later that same year the National Darts Association (NDA) was formed from a nucleus of those previously mentioned ‘professional men’. This group compiled a list of key aims which included protecting the game from fanatics, suppressing all forms of gambling, sanctioning and controlling competitions, putting up inter-league cups and prizes, assisting on the social side of the game, establishing county associations and approving equipment, especially dartboards. (Indeed Ted Leggatt the founder of the NODOR company later became President of the NDA.)
Although it failed totally as far as establishing county associations was concerned, the NDA made considerable headway on most of its other aims. One of the key successes in the late 1920s was that the NDA organised and coordinated the News of the World from the inaugural competition in London in the 1927/28 season. It was the NDA rules that were adopted for that competition; rules which have remained basically unchanged since then.
Whilst it was successful in London and the south-east this ‘national’ darts association made little headway in other parts of Britain, especially in the north where the NDA-approved ‘London-trebles’ dartboard was seen by many as ‘the big girls board’ being much larger than, say, the Manchester Board.
By the end of the 1930s the NDA (like so many other similar organisations) suffered from intense in-fighting which effectively took their focus from their main purpose to promote darts across the country.
In a process that would be repeated between the BDO and the emerging World Darts Council (WDC) (later the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) members of the NDA broke away circa 1935/36 to form a separate organisation called the British Darts Council (BDC). The BDC even issued its own formal book of rules. However, unlike the PDC, the BDC faltered. At least two of the BDC Executive hoped to return to the NDA but such a proposal was ruled ‘out of order’ and thus the BDC folded.
Even so, when war broke out in 1939 the NDA had its own problems and it too began to fail. Although it resurfaced albeit briefly after 1945, by then a new organisation All-England Darts Association (AEDA) had been formed who thought they could do a better job.
Sadly this was not the case and both the NDA and the AEDA had folded by 1950.
Darts had to wait until 1954 for the next organisation ruling darts to be formed. This was the National Darts Association of Great Britain (NDAGB) made up of darts organisaers from all over Britain plus the promotional power of The People Sunday newspaper. The NDAGB was to organise darts in its fashion for the next two decades until the juggernaut that was to become the BDO which took absolute control of the game for another two decades.
For a full history of the NDA and the BDC see my book Darts in England 1900-39 – A social history.
(c) Patrick Chaplin 2019