One of the key dangers of the internet for darts fans is that in some cases there is no historical basis for some of the material that appears online about the history of darts (or anything else for that matter). It’s a crazy situation.
Without making any comments about varying stories about the first winner of the News of the World individual darts tournament that Google-ers can find on various sites, let me tell you that what follows is the genuine history of that historic moment.
Of course, whether you believe it or not is up to you but here goes…
By the mid-1920s, darts had become increasingly popular in pubs and clubs, especially throughout the south and south-east of England. By that time the first national darts association had been formed in London and the first official rules of the game, including the standardisation of the dartboard to the ‘trebles’ or ‘London’ board, had been published. Brewers and licensees organised hundreds of inter-pub darts leagues and pub tills began ringing loudly in response to the increased demand for this most traditional of pub recreations.
At that time, the News of the World, always on the lookout for any gimmick that would further increase its incredible readership, turned to darts. Fishing, bowls and racing pigeon competitions had previously been successful, so why not a darts championship?
In August 1927 an announcement was made in the licensing press that the National Darts Association (NDA) and the News of the World were collaborating on a major darts competition focussed on the capital.
Shortly afterwards a report in the News of the World reported that agreement had been reached for the sponsorship of a darts ‘test’ which would ‘endeavour to solve the problem’ of who was ‘the best darts player in the metropolitan police area.’ The newspapers’ sponsorship consisted of the provision of a perpetual challenge cup (variously reported in value ranging from 25 to 100 guineas) with a replica of the cup to be retained by the winner. Runners-up would receive medals.
In September an Executive Committee comprising officers of the NDA, including Edward Leggatt, founder of the NODOR company, and representatives of the News of the World gathered in London to thrash out the rules. By October, the entry forms were ready for distribution with a closing date for applications of 14th November. The sponsors had no idea how many players would enter.
In early December, the organisers announced a ‘splendid entry’ of 1,010 had been achieved for the inaugural News of the World, a report recording that the competition fulfilled ‘a long-standing want’ amongst London’s darts players. The initial rounds commenced in January 1928.
By the end of April 1928 the original entry of over one thousand dart players had been reduced to just eight. The News of the World reported that ‘keen play [was] anticipated’ in the forthcoming final. The fourth round (later called the ‘quarter-finals’), the semi-finals and the final would held at the Holburn Hall, Clerkenwell Road, London E. C., on Wednesday 2nd May 1928, with ‘men on the mark’ at 7.30 p.m.
Of the eight players who made the final, two were strongly fancied. They were B. Haigh from Hayes, Middlesex, playing out of the “Victoria Inn”, Kensington and Sammy Stone representing the New South-West Ham Workingmen’s Club. The predictions were correct as both men ‘sailed through the fourth round and semi-final’ with relative ease.
In his first match, against T. Ilston of the Harlesden Workingmen’s Club, Haigh had needed 108 to win. Haigh ‘surveyed the board deliberately’ before checking out with treble 16, single 20, double top. (That’s the sort of out-shot that darters would be proud of today.) Throughout the finals there were many ‘breaks’ (scores) of over 50, a few of 100 and one ton-forty.
In the Final, ‘some truly wonderful throwing was witnessed’ and there was little in it between Haigh and Stone. However, it was Sammy Stone who triumphed ‘very cleverly’ and received the very first News of the World title amidst rousing cheers from his supporters.
Stone was 49 years old (the same age as Peter ‘Snakebite’ Wright was when he won his first world title in 2019/20), with a wife and nine children. A slater by trade, Stone was employed at Tate’s sugar factory. He had served in the Boer War but had been exempted from the Great War as it was ‘essential that he remain in his employment.’ Stone had been Secretary of the South-West Ham Darts league for the preceding five years and had won eight medals in eight years for dart throwing.
Apart from a brief report in the News of the World, which actually failed to report the actual final score line, the only other announcement of Sammy’s success traced so far appeared in a local paper, the Stratford Express. Comprising a mere twenty-seven words, it simply announced that Sammy was ‘the individual darts champion of the kingdom.’ Well, it was hardly ‘the kingdom’; it was the metropolitan area of London, but it was the beginning.
From 1,010 darters in 1927/28, the entries doubled in the 1928/29 season. In 1935 the competition was expanded to take in the Home Counties, then Wales came on board in 1936, Lancashire in 1937 and then Cheshire, Yorkshire, the Midland Counties and the North of England in 1938. By this time, the estimated entries claimed by the News of the World was in excess of 200,000. In 1947/48 the competition rose from the ashes of the Second World War and was firmly established as the darts title every man (and quite a few women) wanted to win.
If it had not been for the News of the World and officers of the National Darts Association organising that inaugural contest and working-class darts enthusiasts like Sammy Stone stepping up to be tested to find the best darts player in London, this famous and much-lamented darts competition would have been stillborn.
It was only the change in the culture of darts in the 1970s that eventually consigned this marvellous event to the record books; that and the end of the newspaper itself, the last issue of the News of the World being published on 10th July 2011.
© 2007-2020 Patrick Chaplin