A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE NODOR FOURS FOCUSING ON THE 1959 CHAMPIONS – THE GLOUCESTER ARMS, SURBITON
In its day the national NODOR Fours tournament was to darts teams what the News of the World was to individual players. Unlike the News of the World reports on the NODOR Fours, especially during the 1950s and 1960s were rare indeed.
Research opportunities relating to this amazing team darts tournament were few and far between and when I first started looking into the history of the NODOR Fours only Derek Brown had been able to scratch the surface. The outcomes of his research can be found in full in his book The Guinness Book of Darts (Enfield: Guinness Superlatives Ltd., 1981). However, not even Derek’s research or mine had ever discovered any real stories of the teams that actually took part.
In 2012 all that changed whenI had received an e-mail from Surrey darter Colin Woolman who wrote
My dad captained a team from Surbiton, Surrey to victory called the Gloucester Arms. I recall him telling the story that he had won the trophy but he was not the most informative father about his past.’
It was not until his father (Robert Ernest, b. 1929, d. 2006) had passed away that Colin undertook some research of his own by examining back issues of his local newspaper, the Surrey Comet; research based on what little he remembered his father telling him. Colin said
‘We always knew dad was a good darts player from the stories my mum told us and by the many trophies indoors. People we met would mention him.’
According to Colin his dad always needed a few beers before telling the family of his many darts victories.
‘In the 1950’s dad played a lot of darts; mum said five nights a week! He worked as a milkman for United Dairies (UD) and it was while playing for UD that he won the All London Individual Singles Championship three years running, 1957, 1958 and 1959.’
It was about the time Bob met and played with some of the great darts players of that era, including Tom Barrett, Chris Barker and Bert Norman from the famous Brown Bear darts team. (Colin’s mother always recalled Tom Barrett being ‘a gentleman of darts.’) Colin’s father also played for the Jenny Lind pub in Hampton Hill with Ron Glazier, Alan Glazier’s brother.
Colin’s father also played against the famous London darter Joe Hitchcock, nicknamed ‘The Marathon Marvel’, in an exhibition match. Colin recalled
(Bob is shown on the left in the above photo.)
‘In those days they played a game called ‘Marathon 3001’ and it was in one of those games that dad beat him. Joe called dad back up at the end of night and said to the crowd, “This man was lucky to beat me earlier in the evening and I would like to play him again.” So he did and dad beat the great man again.’
After that Joe became a friend of Colin’s father and he would often accompany Joe and other top players and do some ‘warm ups’ on exhibition nights. In return Joe taught Bob to throw nails and other trick shots.
The NODOR Fours darts tournament began in 1957 as an Essex-only competition, the first winners being the Hare and Hounds from Braintree.
In 1958 London, Surrey and Sussex joined in and the trophy was won by the Old Queen’s Head, Stockwell Road, south west London.
In 1959 the NODOR Fours became an eight-county contest as Hampshire, Staffordshire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire came on board and it was in this year that the Gloucester Arms team made the finals of the tournament and won, beating the Four Ways Inn, Cradley Heath, Staffordshire. The photo here shows Bob with his Gloucester Arms team-mates with some of their numerous trophies.
Clearly a team to be reckoned with!
Colin Woolman recalls that his father had to work on that Saturday morning delivering milk in his ‘horse and cart’ but then,
‘Dad told me he had to get his a*se over to east London [Stratford Town Hall] with the other three lads as quick as he could. His biggest moan was they only managed to get one pint in before they had to play their first game. All the rest of the finalists had been put up by NODOR due to the distances they had to travel.’
Bob told his son Colin how lucky he had been to meet and, as captain, be presented with the cup by former England football captain Billy Wright, CBE. Colin’s mother remembered meeting Billy Wright’s wife Joy (one of the famous 1950s/early 1960s vocal group, The Beverley Sisters). Mum actually had no interest in darts but felt lucky to have ‘a rare night out’.
After 1959 the NODOR Fours competition went from strength to strength. In 1960 the number of county’s entering the tournament doubled to sixteen and in 1961 it became what it remained for many years, a national competition. (The NODOR Fours rules shown here are dated 1961.) That first national tournament involved over 2,100 teams, the organisation of the event being headed, as it had been from the start, by the legendary darts organiser and player, John Ross, of the National Darts Association of Great Britain (NDAGB).
The winners of that inaugural national event were the Cotton Tree Inn, Manchester (a team which included a young, eventually to become equally legendary, Bill Lennard) who beat the Hope Inn, Gloucester in the final.
© 2012-2019 Patrick Chaplin
Images © Colin Woolman. Used with permission.
The original version of this article was published in Dr. Darts’ Newsletter #60, May 2015.