Harry Heenan (b. 13th May 1936) was a proud Glaswegian darts player who burst on to the scene in the early 1960s.
Harry was born in Glasgow on 13th May 1936 and, according to Derek Brown (author of The Guinness Book of Darts), his darts career began in a Glasgow pub in 1961 when restrictions on playing the game in that city were lifted. (Prior to the Second World War, darts had been banned in Glasgow on the grounds that the game encouraged ‘ne’er do wellism’ and youngsters to drink so by the early 1960s darts was only beginning to find its feet in the city.) In 1961 Harry was working in a bar and quickly took to this ‘new’ pub sport.
Harry came to national prominence when he played in the inaugural Phonogram (later WINMAU) World Masters in 1974. In a close-fought final Harry was eventually beaten 3-2 in legs by England’s Cliff Inglis. Darts World reported that the standard of darts throughout the tournament was ‘in most cases exceptional’ with no less than 234 ‘tons’ being scored. The two men ‘captivated the large audience’ at the West Centre Hotel, London, none of the five legs going to more than twenty darts. Sid Waddell recalled in 2007 that during that final ‘both [players] drank copiously but the standard did not drop. In the end Cliff, the more relaxed throughout, won and the players collapsed into each other’s arms.’ The cover of Darts World (Issue 23, October 1974 shows Harry and Cliff on stage (Harry is in the background looking on) in that tightest of finals.
During the late 1970s Harry had reached the semi-finals of the Sunday Mail Masters, won the Scottish singles in 1971 and was an international player who was ‘known on both sides of the Atlantic for his bubbling personality’. Derek Brown recorded that in 1980 Harry had made his sixth successive summer trip to America. Harry’s successes ‘across the big pond’ included being runner-up to London’s Charlie Ellix in the 1977 Golden Gate Classic.
Darts entrepreneur (and good friend of Harry) Eddie Norman told me, “Ann, his wife and Harry were indeed good friends of mine and ran a pub in Glasgow before immigrating to Spain to run another bar The Glaswegian. Harry played for me in The West of England Darts Organisation and paid his own fare down to Bristol or wherever we were playing in UK. (Can you imagine anyone doing that today?) I used to arrange a few exhibitions for him when he was down for county matches to help cover his expenses. He and his wife Ann travelled extensively overseas with The West of England team including Malta, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, and further afield. He was a great friend of Alan Evans and Leighton Rees.”
According to Eddie, Harry had a great singing voice and apparently Welsh darts star Alan Evans believed that he also had a great voice. Eddie recalled, “Thus these two were regular entertainers when we were on tour, Alan with his Welsh songs and Harry in full Scottish voice.” Eddie described Harry as ‘a wonderful character who represented Scotland very proudly, like all Scots.’ Eddie added, “Harry was a brilliant darts player and a wonderful person.”
Fellow Scot Jamie Harvey told me upon hearing of Harry’s death, “For me my key memory of Harry was when I was given my very first international cap for Scotland against Wales at Glasgow’s Skiandhu Hotel. I woke up early and I was really nervous. I phoned Harry and asked if I could come and see him at his bar in Glasgow, The Glaswegian.
I arrived at 10 a.m. Harry let me in and said “What’s wrong son?” I said, “Harry, look at my hands. I’m shaking. It’s my first cap.” He said nothing, but walked over to the gantry and poured four, maybe five whiskies into one glass. Then Harry said, “Drink that son and you will beat anybody.” After I finished I went to the venue and found that I was drawn last game on against Byron Wozencraft. The match went to seven-a-piece so everything depended on me beating Byron. I won 3-0. Thanks Harry Heenan for making my way on the darts scene. R.I.P.”
In 1972 Harry revealed his philosophy of darts to a Glasgow newspaper which was later featured at http://www.oldglasgowpubs.co.uk/souwester.html; a superb website set up and run under the auspices of Glasgow Public House Historian, John Gorevan. Harry was interviewed at the Sou Wester bar in Bridge Street, Tradeston in the city and told a reporter, “You get a lot more out of darts than you have to put into it; prizes and pleasure in my case. It’s not like football or any of the demanding games. You don’t have to kill yourself training. You don’t have to deprive yourself of anything. You can take a drink and your favourite dish…It really is an enjoyable pastime, inexpensive and rewarding.”
Frank Quinn, the first-ever President of the Scottish Darts Association (SDA) and the first team manager for Scotland, was saddened to receive news of the death of his good friend Harry. Frank recalled the days when the darts teams of the Sou’ Wester and The Glaswegian fought for glory in the Glasgow and District Premier League back in the 1970s. The accompanying photograph of The Glaswegian darts team taken in 1975 shows Harry (extreme right) and Frank, the team Captain (third from the left, playfully strangling Harry’s fellow Scottish International Joe McLaney).
Another top Scottish darts player of the period, Rab Smith, recalled playing with Harry back in 1977. He told me, “I think it was at a pub that Harry owned, The Sou’ Wester. He was one very good player and played for Scotland in 1977.” Rab also remembered Harry’s prowess at throwing his darts flight first and how he scored 180 that way on many occasions. Rab said, “Harry was one of the good guys.”
Three-time Embassy World Professional Darts Champion John Lowe was one of the first to post a blog relating to Harry’s passing. John wrote, “I first met Harry…the pride of Scottish darts…on The Indoor League…he represented Scotland on many occasions. He owned a bar in Glasgow, The Glaswegian, for many years. He was a great boxing fan and wore a pair of golden gloves around his neck. Harry was one of the pioneers of Scottish darts and will be long-remembered. My condolences to his family.”
Scottish darts legend, Harry Heenan died of pneumonia in Magaluf on Tuesday 6th November 2012 aged 76. He is still sadly missed by many, particularly those in his native Scotland. Although Harry gave up the professional game by the early 1980s he certainly left his mark on the sport of darts across the world.
© 2012 & 2019 Patrick Chaplin
(Darts team image provided by the late Frank Quinn © 1975 South Side News. All other images courtesy of the DW/PC Archive.)
(My special thanks to Derek Brown, John Gorevan, Jamie Harvey, John Lowe, Eddie Norman, the late Frank Quinn, Rab Smith, Steve Wadsworth and Ocheboy for their assistance in the preparation of this article.)