RON CHURCH – ‘THE LEANING TOWER OF SHOREDITCH’

Ron Church, runner-up in the 1973 News of the World individual darts tournament, was a popular London darter, played for London ‘B’ during the 1976/77 season and won the British Open Pairs with Bob Cowap (another Greater London Super League player) in 1975 beating Peter Chapman and Alan Glazier in the final. He was always a darts force to be reckoned with.

However, Ron was best known for his appearance in the News of the World in 1973 where he eventually lost in the final to Ivor Hodgkinson (the Midland Counties Divisional champion); a match many said Ron should have won as victory was within his grasp.

The programme for the finals day read:

Ron Church being awarded the Divisional Trophy

One of the most colourful characters at the Palace today, should be cockney Ron Church of the Royal Alfred, Shoreditch, London. A 32-year-old married man with four children living in Southwark, Ron delighted a great crowd at Battersea with a tremendous exhibition. He has been blowing glass and glazing glass in his work long enough to dazzle the opposition on the board. He’s lost only one leg on his long, hard road to the grand finals.

‘Battersea’ refers to Battersea Town Hall where Ron became London and Home Counties Divisional Champion which qualified him for the final. The image, above, extracted from the programme (copy in my private collection), shows Ron being presented with his Divisional trophy by Alderman Mrs. Jean Standing, J. P., The Worshipful Mayor of Wandsworth.

In the Grand Finals held at Alexandra Palace on Saturday 28th April 1973 Ron was given a bye in the first round, then met Denby Parkin (the Western Counties Divisional champion) in the quarter finals. Ron beat Parkin 2-1. He then played the Lancashire and Cheshire Divisional champion, Roy Baker, in the semi-finals. (Baker had beaten the Swedish champion Orvar Svensson 2-0 in the previous round.) Ron came out the victor 2-1.

He then met Ivor Hodgkinson in the final. Hodgkinson had seen off the strong challenge of Wales’ champion Tony Ridler 2-1 in the quarter finals and had despatched the Eastern Counties representative, Ken Batchelor, 2-0 in the semi-final.

In his book The Guinness Book of Darts (1981) Derek Brown wrote of that final:

The Londoner Ron Church and (Ivor) Hodgkinson worked their way to the final. Church, all 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m) of him, leaned like the Tower of Pisa at the hockey. After he had lost, he must have felt like jumping off it. At one-all he led Hodgkinson by 140 after two throws each. Then he twice bust his score to let Hodgkinson, and all credit to him, to win on double nine after he had recovered with three successive hundreds.

The late, great Sid Waddell, in his book Bellies and Bullseyes (2007), recalled Ron playing in the second series of television’s The Indoor League. Sid recalled:

On another board a snaggle-toothed Cockney giant slurped beer at an alarming rate and pounded the doubles. He was Ron Church, ‘The Leaning Tower of Shoreditch’, and was clad in a holey cardigan that was new during the Great Fire of London…he won a match with a flourish then cut through the crowd like a scythe to get more ale.’

Ron considered this ‘holey cardigan’ as ‘lucky,’ thus he always wore it when playing darts. Ron’s son Bob told me “[Dad] wore his lucky jumper [for the News of the World final] which my mother at the time did not want him to wear due to the fact that he was going to appear on TV and it had a big hole in it on his right elbow.”

Ron Church with Fred Pontin

Ron and his cardigan/jumper were indeed recorded by London Weekend Television and the match shown on ITV’s World of Sport. Unfortunately, as we now know, the cardigan turned out not to be as much of a lucky talisman as Ron expected.

In this image Ron is shown being presented with his runners-up cup by Fred Pontin, owner of Pontins and Pontinental Holidays, one of the sponsors of the event.

In addition to the cup Ron received ‘a transistor radio, and a 2-week Pontinental Holiday For Two.’

Ron Church, who had been ill for some time, died peacefully on 22nd May 2014 at the age of 73.

(My grateful thanks to Bobby and Marie George for informing me of Ron’s passing. Thanks too to Bob Church.)

© 2014 Patrick Chaplin

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