When I was made permanent custodian of the former Darts World photographic library by the retiring owner/editor Tony Wood back in 2007, I had no idea how long it would take to categorise each and every photograph. There were hundreds of them.

At the end of that lengthy process only one or two images remained ‘nameless’. Eventually these few were reduced to one: the image you see here of what appears to be a News of the World champion clutching the famous winners’ trophy. But who was he?

The ‘mystery’ player

The mystery remained until seven years later when, in issue #47 of my global Dr. Darts’ Newsletter (April 2014), I asked readers for help. I wrote

He’s clearly a News of the World Divisional winner (probably from the 1970s/1980s and possibly from the Midlands or north of England) but there is no clue either in the photo or on the back of it just who this champion is. Do you know him? … Surely someone must recognise him. Please, put my old mind at rest by telling me who he is.

I didn’t have to wait long. Within two days the ‘mystery darter’ had been recognised.

Bryan Smart - NoW - 1977First up was DDN subscriber Mike C. who wrote

‘Your unknown NOTW player… looks very much like Bryan Smart who was the Lancashire & Cheshire representative in the 1977 finals.’

Mike was good enough to attach a photograph of Bryan that appeared in the News of the World 1977 finals programme (see below) adding, ‘As you can see he is even wearing the same shirt lol.’

(The other person in the photograph is ex-Liverpool and Everton footballer Dave Hickson presenting Bryan with the Divisional winner’s cup.)

Next to contact me was John S. who said, ‘[That] looks like Bryan Smart from Wigan. He never won the News of the World but knowing Brian he probably just had a photo [taken] holding the trophy.’

Ex-England international Doug McCarthy from County Durham rang me to say that he thought the player was Bryan Smart. Doug was very happy when I was able to tell him that he was correct.

The 1977 News of the World programme stated that, at that time, Bryan was a 22-year old player from the Manley Hotel, Ince. The notes added that ‘Bryan should get all the practice he needs as his father is landlord of the hotel.’ Bryan had substantial boots to fill as the previous year’s Lancashire and Cheshire divisional champion, the legendary Bill Lennard, had actually won the title.

Fortunately my copy of the News of the World programme for 1977 includes a list of the results of every match which records that in the first round Bryan beat the Australian champion Hugh Barnsley 2-0. In the next round Bryan came up against Mick Norris the London and Home Counties Divisional Champion. Bryan lost 2-0 to Norris who went on to become the 1977 champion. (This was also the last year that the News of the World darts championship would be held at the Alexandra Palace.)

Three-time Embassy World Professional Darts Champion, John Lowe, told me

“The man in the photo is definitely Bryan Smart. I was at the News of the World final the year he played. That would appear to be how he managed to have his photograph taken with the winner’s trophy.”

John also recalled being drawn against Bryan in the first round of the 1976 WINMAU World Masters. He said

“Bryan travelled with a lot of followers from Wigan. I had drawn him first game at 9.30 in the morning. I was ready for a tough match. I had played Bryan twice for money in the past at that stage and won so I knew he was out for revenge.

Our board was called and I made my way there. Bryan did not show and they called his name again and again. In the end they disqualified him. I found out later that he was practising in his room and told one of his mates to call him when his name came out. That never happened and they lost a large amount of money in bets.”

John went on to win the World Masters title, beating Wales’ Phil Obbard in the final. He told me

“I wonder what the outcome would have been if Bryan had showed that first game? I would like to think still the same but you never know. Fate.”

Bryan was first selected to play for England in 1977. Doug McCarthy told me that the BDO practice back then was for departing England players to be allowed to keep their England jackets but to return the trousers. Bryan being small and of very slight build was allocated the trousers previously worn by Cyril Hayes, a man once described by Derek Brown (author of The Guinness Book of Darts) as the ‘ever-cheerful heavyweight from Taunton.’ (See image.) Courtesy of DW/PC Archive. Used with permission.)

Cyril Hayes

Doug recalled

“The trousers were about twenty-five sizes too big for Bryan. When he put them on Bryan said in his very strong Lancashire accent, “Do you think they’d mind if I tucked t’ shirt in’t my trousers?””

Doug was laughing all the time he was telling me this story; the sight still very fresh in his memory.

Doug also said that, at the height of his career in the late 1970s, Bryan appeared on television in the long-running ITV soap opera Coronation Street.

“You never actually saw him. He threw darts in the Rovers Return pub. It was a story about a darts hustler and of course an actor was seen to throw the darts but it was Bryan’s darts that hit the board. I knew it was him because I recognised his darts.” 

According to John S. from Wigan, Bryan has not thrown a dart for over twenty years but, John informed me in 2014

“He is still alive and often sits in the local legion club picking his horses and occasionally plays a game of snooker. We in Wigan have been trying to get him to make a comeback but he is not interested anymore, which is such a shame because Bryan was probably the best darter Wigan ever produced.”

Despite the fact that Bryan did not win the News of the World in 1977 the fact that he was the Lancashire and Cheshire Divisional Champion that year says so much about his darts skills in a traditionally strong and competitive Division, as do the comments made by those who remember his days as a top darts player.

It is also good for me, as a Darts Historian, to learn as much as I can about those who came so close to winning that much sought-after trophy.

© 2014 & 2020 Patrick Chaplin

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