Sunday, 3 November 2013

Latest News

Following the bad-tempered quarter finals in Edinburgh, James Wade denies making a special effort to get the crowd on his side before the semis:

The Masters - Quarter Finals

In one of the iconic scenes from Pulp Fiction, 'Royale with cheese', Vincent Vega, having recently returned from Amsterdam, explains to his partner Jules what Europe is like:

Vincent: "But you know what the funniest thing about Europe is?"

Jules: "What?"

Vincent: "It's the little differences. A lotta the same shit we got here, they got there, but there they're a little different."


I was reminded of this exchange when, for the first time in a while, watching darts on ITV instead of Sky; it wasn't worse, just strangely different - Mason and Warriner-Little instead of Mardle and Harrington, for example; no John McDonald giving it six-nowt to announce the players; different signature tune.

Lordy though, when you saw the line-up for the Quarters you knew why they called it the Masters - Taylor, Lewis, Wade, Whitlock, MVG, RVB, Thornton and Newton. If you were asked to draw up an eight man strong Fantasy Darts team (now there's an idea...) that's probably a good approximation of what it would look like. 

Some might say that Newton is the odd one out in that dream team, but I think that would be unfair; Newton IS a terrific player, he just hasn't yet displayed that exciting, explosive genius that routinely, or even occasionally, wins major titles. If MVG were a drag racer - fantastic in a sprint under the right conditions - Newton would be a Transit van - solid, reliable, lacking in fire works, but you can't deny it gets the basic job done time after time. Last night proved that if the Warrior needs to develop the explosive sprint capability, Mighty Mike still needs to work on reliably going the distance.

All the drama last night was in the first and last matches, as both Thornton and Newton were swiftly and brutally dealt with by the Stoke posse. It was not that Thornton, especially, or Newton really did anything wrong. In any other context their performances would have been fine, but against Taylor and Lewis in that sort of mood "fine" was about as effective as threatening Ronnie Kray with a cocktail stick. Lewis didn't even miss a dart at a double until around the 8th leg, making ton plus checkouts look ludicrously easy; Newton stood toe-to-toe with Taylor for the first couple of legs, but the rest of the match resembled Rocky Balboa's first fight with Clubber Lang. Despite the unfortunate imagery conjured up by a commentator's announcement that Taylor and Newton were "about to get it on", both matches were throroughly enjoyable master classes.

The final match of the evening took place with the knowledge that, seemingly for the first time since Woolly Mammoth roamed, Raymond van Barneveld was no longer the Dutch no. 1. As van Gerwen sailed to a 4-1 lead, one could be forgiven for thinking that the reason why was all too obvious. Barneveld, like Taylor, however, is just too good and too experienced to ever be written off. Van Gerwen swiftly began to go off the boil (again showing a problem with consistency which, if he's ever going to be "the next Phil Taylor" he's going to have to address) under relentless pressure from Barney. 

It should have been 3-2 at the break, but Barney slipped up and MVG pounced. It was as if MVG had spilled Barney's pint on a Friday night out in Newcastle: Barney came back out after the break and in a superb, 180-riddled (6 all told) display went from 4-1 down to 8-5 victor. Incredibly, at one point when Barney wanted 120 to check out, instead of shanghai twenties he managed to hit two trebles by mistake (I have trouble doing it deliberately) and bust the score. I was expecting that sort of mistake to have disastrous effects on Barney's morale, but showing tremendous bottle he stepped up the very next leg and made the 120 check out. RVB v. Lewis tonight has cracking potential.

Most dramatic of all was the first match of the evening, a tight, edgy and crowd-fuelled affair between regular rivals Simon Whitlock and James Wade. Wade spent as much of the match fighting the crowd as he did Whitlock, and it did seem to have an effect on his performance for a while. That said, when he missed 3 darts at double ten, even with the crowd booing and cheering each one they were three brilliant darts and he was just the wrong side of the wire each time. Wade was clearly rattled at times, and did react; was he right to? Lots has been said about this. Ultimately, it's always best to let your darts do the talking - Lewis, despite playing the local favourite, got barely a boo. Then again, whilst a hostile and rowdy crowd is part of the excitement of the game, there is a major difference between a hostile crowd and a few trouble-makers standing right at the foot of the stage screaming abuse to deliberately distract you from barely 20 feet away, and a few people were ejected by security.

Wade did react, but you cannot deny the man has bottle; firstly, he stayed on stage during the break, which is a pretty defiant gesture, then he began a truly classy fightback from 7-4 down back to 7 all. Whitlock had his chances but failed to take them, missing match darts at 7-5. Wade, however, kept his nerve magnificently; having survived match darts again in the 15th and deciding leg, he stepped straight up and with incredible hutzpah threw in 25-16-Bull to take a well-deserved 8-7 victory. 

Whitlock stormed off stage without a backward glance, whilst Wade smiled and waved after him. Did Wade celebrate too excessively when that Bull went in? Not in my humble opinion, after what he'd been through with the crowd and fighting his way back to get there. It was a bit more than usual, but hardly excessive. There's been bad blood and rivalry between these two for a while, which all adds to the drama - it's a sporting contest, not a hippy love-in, after all - but Whitlock's reaction, after he'd had the crowd on his side all match, looked frankly ungracious.

Anyhoo, looking forward to tonight :o) You'd have to say a Taylor-Lewis final is statistically the most likely  outcome, but with these four players anything can happen. 

Oh, and performance of the evening, for me, went to the dancing man in the red hat who could just be seen being wrestled off the stage after RVB v. MVG :o)

Friday, 25 October 2013

Pre-Masters, Post-Grand Prix

Having been away so long, and now coming back to blogging, I feel a bit like the woman who presented "Watch with Mother" - So children, what have we learned?

One thing we have learned for god-damned sure, as if it were a lesson we should ever have forgotten, is not to write off Phil Taylor.

It's at least a year or so since I wrote a proper blog post; during that year Michael van Gerwen has in particular shown us what a frankly phenomenal talent he can be. Remember a few years back when he was a promising youngster who hadn't lived up to expectations? We've seen for sure, over the last couple of years, that Michael van Gerwen's talent is little short of staggering.

But...

There's always a "but", and in sport that's good - it's that "but" which makes life exciting. Anyone who witnessed Dave Chisnall take van Gerwen down in the quarter finals of the World Grand Prix will have realised that MVG is not the only player with a frankly phenomenal level of talent. Chizzy lost in the final, but we know what he's capable of. We knew that when he moved over from the BDO he was capable of playing a darts match which is simply sublime; he's also capable of making a right cock-up, but let's face it which of us is not?

Adrian Lewis has not been having a good time of it lately, but we know what he can do when he's on form; it is simply magnificent.

Taylor is still showing the brilliant consistency that has taken him to the top; will he retire any time soon? He has said when he's 55, and that's fair enough, but while he's still winning tournaments why quit?

One good show in the Grand Prix was Justin Pipe; it's always good to see a floor player come through and create a shock. Others it would be cracking to see do well: Dennis Ovens (I've a soft-spot for him; he was playing pro darts when Taylor was making khazi handles), Brendan Dolan (first and only man to do a nine-darter in a double start match; obviously a tremendously capable player); Wayne Jones (I'd love to see the Wanderer do well).

Next tournament is the Masters on November 1st; I'll be watching and writing.

Happy throwing until then :o)

Monday, 8 July 2013

Gone Scholarin'

Okay, so, over the last year the more astute amongst you may have noticed that this blog has seen less use than the Duchess of Cambridge's Pill packet.

This is because I have more or less run out of time in, and money with, which to complete my PhD, and so have been working like a blue arsed fly to get it all done, meaning that I have been unable to spend enough time working on this blog.

However, fear not, all those who enjoy funny photos, humorous articles and general darts writing, for in about a month I shall have submitted my PhD, will be unemployed, and will therefore have all the time in the world to resume writing this blog from my bedsit before the bailiffs come for my laptop.

Top notch job by Adie Lewis in the European Championship last night :o)

See you all soon!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Should Darts be in the Olympics? (2)

In the run-up to London 2012, the issue of why darts is not an Olympic sport, and whether or not it should be, is doing the rounds once again.

Back in 2010 I put up a lengthy post on this question, and fisked an article arguing against darts' inclusion from Tom McNab, a former British Athletics Head Coach.  

Those who, like Mr McNab, argue that darts should not be in the Olympics because it is not a 'proper' sport always fall down because they can never logically explain why darts should be excluded but cue sports, or sports like Chess and Bridge, should not. Their arguments too often boil down to an irrational dislike of darts, dart players and darts fans.

"Sports must be physical" they say. "What about Chess and Bridge?" you reply. "Ah, but those require mental exertion," they counter, thereby revealing their bizarre belief that darts could be played brilliantly by someone in a coma.

Some people think darts is a joke; a pub pass-time that any fool can be great at with a little practice and enough lager. They don't bother to play darts themselves, or watch the professionals, to get an idea of just how difficult it actually is, and nor would they, because if they did it might challenge their prejudice. The closest they will ever get to watching and understanding darts is that infamous Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch from the early 80s.

I'm not sure having darts recognised as an Olympic sport - it would almost certainly not make it into the actual Olympic program, even if it was recognised - would do much to change those people's perceptions, which are not rational to start with. It would, however, bring recognition and opportunity to those who make a living from this sport, which is certainly to be welcomed.

We fans don't need the IOC, or anyone else, to tell us that darts is a proper sport; we know that already. We do, however, feel an acute sense of injustice when a sport which requires enormous levels of focus, dedication and physical skill can be written off as a mere pub game. Olympic recognition would be a big help in remedying that injustice.

For more information on the latest campaign for Olympic recognition go to:  http://www.dartsunderground.com/group/johnlowe

Monday, 11 June 2012

UK Open - Finals

Ok - and be honest now - how many of you picked Robert Thornton to win the UK Open? I didn't. The commentators didn't - they thought, as most of us did, that the likely result was Taylor v. Chisnall, with Taylor to win.

Whilst Thornton winning is, overall, a surprise result, Taylor losing in the final - to whoever - is much less so. We've seen the same phenomenon before over the last year or so; Taylor seems to be in great form, master of all he surveys, blitzes the semi-final - and then, when he gets into the final, we realise he's peaked too early, and he's just not throwing with the same confidence or authority as he did in earlier rounds. How often, for example, do we see Phil Taylor miss 3 darts at double sixteen, get another chance, and then miss another 3 at double eight? Such an event is the darting equivalent of the recent transit of Venus. It can't be nerves; this man has been in more major finals than Katie Price has had possible husbands.

The UK Open is gruelling, particularly for those who start at the preliminary round, and counter-intuitively the relatively short matches don't help. In a short format match, the whole kit and kaboodle can turn on a couple of legs; the matches themselves are shorter, but also more intense, because your opponent can run away from you very quickly and very easily, and once you get behind there's a mountain to climb. Conversely, even when you're in front you can't relax, because all it takes is a break of throw against you and your opponent is suddenly looming large in the rear view mirror.

A long series of short-format matches is, for my money, more of a test of darting stamina than a series of long-format, multi-set matches, and Robert Thornton, like a champion long-distance runner, managed to keep enough in the tanks to power him through the final sprint. For Taylor, however, the signs were there in the semi-final; against Denis Ovens he looked invincible, but the question was always going to be whether he could keep it up in the final. When at his absolute best, the answer is a definite yes, but the more vulnerable Power of the last year or so has been more likely to fall at the final hurdle.

Ok, so at the start few of us would have picked Robert Thornton to win. But then, how many of us would have picked Denis Ovens to beat Paul Nicholson? Or John Jukes to beat Steve Beaton? Or Arron Monk to beat Kevin Painter? That's the great thing about the UK Open, and hats off to Robert Thornton for an absolutely terrific performance.

Oh, and what was going on with that scuffle during the final? It looked to me like some bloke tried to rush the stage; I was hoping to find some explanation of it on the PDC site this morning (since, thanks to my girlfriend wanting to watch 'William at 30' I was watching the final on my laptop with the volume down - humph!), but answers came there none.

Congratulations to Robert Thornton, and thanks to all the players for a terrific tournament :o)

Looking forward to the World Matchplay :o)

Friday, 8 June 2012

Latest News - UK Open

Former World Champion Steve Beaton denies any embarrassment at losing to a qualifier in the preliminary round:


And at the post-match conference, a journalist regrets asking Co Stompe how he feels after losing 4-0 in ten minutes: