It’s that time of year when suddenly big men in loud shirts throwing pointy things are all over the TV. Darts. The classic pub game that has become the UK’s major contribution to Europe.
The best known form of the game uses the ‘clock’ board. The board is divided into 20 sections each with a treble half way from the out side and a double around the edge. Hitting these segments doubles or trebles the score for that individual dart. In the center is an outer bulls eye worth 25 and an inner worth 50, and counting a double.
The players start with 501 on the board and their score after three darts in subtracted until they reach exactly zero. Players must finish by hitting a double.
This standard form of the game became the standard only in the 1920s when a darts craze saw the introduction of a national championship. The News of the World Individual Darts Championship which ran intermittently from 1927 to 1947 then every year until 1990 with a one year revival in 1995.
Before then there were many variations depending on region.
In London the main game played was ‘Fives’ also known as ‘East End’ in this game The board has fewer, larger segments, all numbered either 5, 10, 15 or 20, with narrower trebles and doubles. Players play down from 505 rather than 501. Players also stand further from the board. Sadly Fives is dying out, it may have already died. A shame that none of the trendy bars around Hoxton and Soreditch have adopted it.
A variation on the London Fives board is Ipswich Fives this has larger trebles and doubles the same as on a clock board.
The Yorkshire board is the same as the standard clock board but has no trebles and no outer bull. The distance the player stands away from the board can vary from pub to pub, but Yorkshire darts is healthy with more than one league.
There are many other regional variations. However most of them are dying out. This seems slightly odd as mainstream darts is having a revival.
Part of this is due to ‘soft tip darts’ this game uses a board with the standard lay out, but one designed to be used with nylon tipped darts rather than steel points. These boards are often electronic and can be programmed with a variety of games.
After its heyday in the 1980s Darts went into a decline. Partly this was due to a split that resulted in two governing bodies and rival championships. The split was caused by television rights and now a reunion is unlikely.
The image of darts also suffered. Darts players were seen as overweight older men who drank and smoked while playing. At the time this image was partly correct. Players could smoke and drink during matches till 1990.
It was the Dutch who changed that image. The game is incredibly popular in the Netherlands, spearheaded by the success of former postman Raymond van Barneveld, now a five time world champion. However darts is spreading throughout Europe. Many of these new players are young fit men, and record numbers of women.
A lot of these new players from outside the UK and the Low Countries start with soft tip darts. The top professionals do play in both traditional and soft tip tournaments. The latter is huge in Japan and Korea.
Darts is a part of British heritage, and like Football, Rugby and Cricket, it is a game we gave the world. But it’s not all Beer and Bellies any more.