In January 2021 ex-pat darts player Len Heard celebrated his 79th birthday. Immediately I can hear you saying “Len who?” I’ll let darts journalist Steve Chapman explain.
Leonard Heard (pictured below with his signature pipe) was born in Plymouth, Devon here in the UK on January 18, 1942. (Photo below: PC/DW Archive. Used with permission.) A former plumber and apprentice coppersmith in Devonport Dockyard, he played darts for the Sydenham Arms (later the Clipper) for three years under the tenancy of Jim Luckie and it’s fair to say that he did not set the world alight, playing in the Courage PB Darts League.
However, he did win the Devon County individual championship in 1970. Len won it again the following year and qualified for the South West regional finals of the News of the World tournament before losing in the area final.
Heard emigrated to the USA in 1973, making his home in San Diego, California, where he still lives today, and where he met and married his second wife, Gail, who was born in Massachusetts, but grew up in California. It was through darts that Len and Gail met. Len had a pub at the time and Gail used to play league darts there. They got to know each other and the rest, as they say, is history.
But he did not start playing again in his new homeland straight away.
It was a couple years after his arrival when, after work on a very hot day, that his workmates suggested they go for a beer and the bar, in Coronado, had a dartboard. (Coronado, for the record, is a Californian resort city on a peninsula in San Diego Bay.)
Len was working as a plumber for a large mechanical engineering firm but still managed to rise from relative obscurity to a career high world ranking of No.10 in arguably his best years, 1980 and 1981.
January 1, 1976, saw the birth of the American Darts Organization (ADO) which began with 30 clubs and a membership of 7,500 players. Today the ADO boasts a membership of around 250 clubs, representing more than 50,000 members. It was also in 1976 that Heard won the Far West Shoot Out in Laguna Beach, in his adopted sunshine state of California and the same year, with fellow Californian Ross Hamilton, won the Santa Monica doubles title.
In 1977 Len claimed the St Patrick Day singles title, a $30,000 plus tournament organised each spring by the Greater San Diego Darting Association and followed it up the following year when beating English International Tony Brown in the final of the Santa Monica Open. He was runner-up in the 1979 North American Open, losing to Eric Bristow, the last year that the competition was held on board the Queen Mary.
In the World Cup of that year, Heard was a valued member of the four-man USA team which also consisted of Conrad Daniels, Nicky Virachkul and Jerry Umberger. The quartet won the most singles points, 49, against England’s 24, but below par performances in the pairs and fours meant that they had to settle for second spot behind winners England whose team consisted of John Lowe, Eric Bristow, Tony Brown and Bill Lennard.
Following his success in the World Cup, Heard won a sponsorship deal with Accudart and the “Lenny Heard Signature Dart” was created for general sale. They came in two weights of 20 and 23 grams.
Heard went one better than his runner-up the previous year when he won the 1980 North American Open defeating Canadian Fred Boyce who hailed from British Columbia. That tournament was held for the first time in Las Vegas at the Sahara Hotel. Over 1700 players competed from 35 states and 12 countries; all the action taking place on no fewer than 85 playing boards.
Len’s success in the North American Open, arguably his finest achievement, brought him invitations into the World Professional Championships, the Guinness Golden Darts and the Nations Cup.
On the international scene, the United States never seemed to achieve their potential but there was little doubt that in 1979 and 1980, their stock had risen.
In the Nations Cup of 1980, Heard, partnered with Conrad Daniels and Nicky Virachkul, was part of the three-man USA team who made it through to the final, and the trio gave a very good account of themselves only losing 5-3 to the English trio of John Lowe, Eric Bristow and Tony Brown, who had also claimed the title the previous year.
Heard represented the USA in the 1980 Embassy World Professional Darts Championships at Jollees, Stoke, under the auspices of the British Darts Organisation (BDO) but lost 2-0 to England International Dave Whitcombe. He represented his adopted country again in the 1981 BDO World Darts Championship where he lost in the first round 2-0 to fellow American Jerry Umberger.
Heard qualified for the World Masters in 1980, contested at the Wembley Conference Centre and reached the last 32. The event was won by John Lowe when he defeated Scotsman Rab Smith in the final.
He was also the American representative in the World Masters of 1982 at the Rainbow Suite, London, but was ousted by Jocky Wilson who went on to make the final, where he was beaten by Dave Whitcombe.
The WDF Asia-Pacific Cup is a competition held every two years and in 1986, Len was a member of the USA team that emerged as overall champions when the competition was held in Auckland, New Zealand. His team mates were Tony Payne, Kathy Hopkins and Kathy Karpovitch. (The image shown here is of the front cover of the November/December 1986 Bull’s Eye News (Vol. VI, Issue VI) featuring Len and within celebrating America’s victory in the Pacific Cup.
Heard picked up valuable points when winning through to the final of the men’s singles, only to be defeated by Paul Lim, who was then representing his native Singapore before competing for the USA in 1988, after he settled in San Bernadino, California. The team title came down to the ladies’ singles final between Karpowich and Rani Gill.
If the Canadian had won it, the title would have gone to Canada, but the 24-year-old American won the best of seven leg final 4-2 and the USA were crowned as team champions.
Heard represented the USA in the 1990 News of the World finals, one of 20 players taking part in what was to become the penultimate time that the world-famous tournament was competed for.
There were seven players from England and one each from Wales, Finland, Belgium, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Holland, Russia, Canada and the USA.
Held at the London Arena, on Sunday June 3, most of the overseas competitors were of an unknown quantity for the London audience but it was soon clear that they were not to be dismissed lightly.
Len Heard was given a bye in round one, before going on to defeat Knud Nilsen, the Norwegian representative, in round two, aided by a maximum score. In the best of three legs of 501 tie, Heard came from a leg down to level in 15 darts before clinching the winning leg with an outshot of 107.
Now into the quarter-finals, Heard met Steve Hudson, the Yorkshire divisional champion but went down 2-0. Hudson went on to make the final where he eventually lost to Swindon’s Paul Cook.
The popular tournament was suspended after the 1990 final but resurrected for the last time in 1997 when it was won by Phil Taylor.
The most noteworthy annual darts event organised by the Sacramento Valley Darts Association is the Camellia Classic, which draws top players from throughout the western United States with a guaranteed total prize fund of $20,000. Heard had the distinction of winning this Classic on January 1st, 1991 and this was the last year that he travelled far and wide, playing in tournaments. However, he continued with league darts, then in 1999, played in the San Diego Open in his home town of Powey, and clinched the title when defeating John Cramer in the final.
In an interview that Heard gave in 1989, on how he first became involved with the sport of darts he said,
“Back in my early 20s, I got my tail kicked every day, and every game you played over there cost you a beer, a pint. For the first six months, it cost me a fortune to play. In England, there’s a pub on every corner. There’s nothing else to do, especially when it’s raining, which is all the time. Everything revolves around darts there.”
Now retired, the former President of the North American Professional Darts Players Association likes to get in some serious fishing once or twice a year and travels to Mexico for the privilege. His golf had to stop after major surgery on his shoulder and sadly he now suffers with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) which prevents Len from most forms of exercise.
From the comfort of his armchair, Len still likes to follow English football through the Premier League and also watches Spain’s La Liga.
© 2017 Steve Chapman (Additional material by PC)
LEN HEARD – FEEDBACK
When the above article was published in my Dr. Darts’ Newsletter (DDN) issue #95 a good amount of feedback was received and published in #96.
Subscriber Owen Walters wrote:
Just like to say “Thank You” for another cracking DDN. Nice to read about players from the past like Len Heard, who I had no knowledge of before your article. Keep up the good work.
(The above image is from the 1990 News of the World Grand Finals programme (the year when both a men’s and ladies’ final were held) showing both Len and the USA Ladies’ representative Julie Buffington.)
Patrick Corrigan e-mailed to say
Hello Patrick, Great reporting on Darts history again. I really enjoyed the article regarding Len Heard, especially as I am originally from Plymouth.
And from the USA Jerry Feather wrote
One of your best Patrick! Len Heard was a great player and a gentleman!
(c) 2021 Patrick Chaplin