Column #304 A Comment about Bellies and Bullseyes…

October 1, 2007
Column 304
A Comment about Bellies and Bullseyes…

If brainwashed middle-class journalists want to pooh-pooh darts because of the bellies, tattoos and beer and not see the skill or dedication or the work ethic, that’s their problem.

— Sid Waddell

There was a lot of CRAP flyin’ about in the run up to the publication of Sid Waddell’s newest book, Bellies and Bulls-eyes – The Outrageous True Story of Darts, and I want to say, right here and now, that what some people were saying was just plain CRAP, or have I already said that?

“Bad cover, bad idea, bad publicity for the sport, bad intention to make money off the backs of the dart players,” posted someone at a popular darts website, echoing the uninformed opinion of many – none of which, at the time the postings were made, had even picked up the damn book. “Oh well,” posted another, “it’s just a… stumble back in our journey to show people how much talent and skill it takes to master this sport…we will prevail.”

What rubbish! What frickin’ rubbish.

I’ve got more than fifty books about darts in my little library – a fair share more than the number of magazines my close personal friend, Dave ‘Boy’ Green, has in his porn collection – and I’m tellin’ you – yes, right here and now, again, as redundantly as I possibly can – go out and buy the book, you damn dummies! It’s the most enjoyable book about our sport that I’ve come across yet (next to mine, of course).

Yes, the title and cover graphics are provocative. Duh! What should Waddell have done, call it The Most Boring-arse Book about Darts ever Written and put a photo of a giant booger on the jacket? Of course not! He’s trying to sell the damn book! Had it been me, I’d have titled it Tungsten and Titties, gotten a couple of Page 3 Girls to pose and made millions.

Seriously, you people must be smokin’ your flights. How can you make such judgments without even reading the thing? And even if you do choose to never crack the book, how can you possibly imply that Waddell, someone who has arguably done more than any one individual ever to promote our sport, is on some sort of nefarious mission to make a buck by trashing it?

Take a look at the quote at the top of this column.

This is what Waddell’s thinks! Read the book!

Yes, between the pages there is a mention or two about drink. There’s a word about Boddington’s, Greene King ale, a crate of Double Diamond, a lot of McEwan’s Export, John Willie Lee’s bitter, Johnny Walker Black, a pint of Strongarm, three or four pints of Bank’s bitter, some brandy, three bottles of Bordolino, and a couple of cases of Heineken – all in the first handful of pages. Possibly this explains why there is a typographical error on page 31.

Yes, there’s a comment or two about the girth of some of the players, like Andy Fordham who tips the scales at 26 stone (364 pounds). Is that a bad thing? If he played nose guard for the Dallas Cowboys he’d be considered a finely-tuned athlete.

Yes, there’s even an old war story about a night when Cliff Lazerenko took careful aim and knocked a one pence coin off of some girl’s breast. Unfortunately there are no photographs of this. Hopefully there will be a second edition.

Oh HORRORS! It’s a fun book.

But it is also an authentic history, true to the way it was and still is in many quarters.

Dart players have a few drinks – so do opera singers and ballroom dancers. So do professional athletes of all types. They just don’t do it on stage in front of the television cameras – and that is something Waddell, whose hobnobbed with the players behind and before the cameras for three decades, is crystal clear about.

He traces his personal involvement in the sport from the pubs in the early 1970s through the sport’s heyday, past the turmoil of the early 1990s, into Parliament, and to the cusp of this year’s upcoming world championship at Alexandra Palace. Through it all he charts the truth and the positive changes that have evolved. But he recognizes, just as all of us who participate in the sport should, that at its root the game has a very human dimension.

Jocky Wilson’s story is as sad as Phil Taylor’s is exhilarating. The human dimension…

Waddell’s own story is one-of-a-kind and surprising in its way – the story of a boy who came from little, dreamed big, worked and studied hard (at Cambridge no less), overcame his insecurities, managed his asthma, still struggles to remember his out shots – and reached the zenith of his profession. As Chris Maume of the Independent puts, Waddell is “arguably the finest commentator in any sport anywhere.” The Daily Mirror’s Alan McKinlay calls it much the same, Waddell is “the only commentator who is a bigger star in his chosen sport than the players themselves.” Waddell as earned such accolades.

Bellies and Bullseyes is damn good writing. Whether you like the way Waddell “pitches” the book for sale, once you open it you can’t possibly dispute the quality of the structure and prose. Period. Full stop.

Whether you agree with Waddell or not, accept his ego or appreciate his self-depreciating humor, there isn’t another color commentator, in darts or any sport of which I am aware, who is able to draw so effortlessly from such a broad range of knowledge to enliven the action for the viewers (particularly viewers uneducated in the sport). I dare say that among those who are so quick to criticize the man, there are more than just a few who, frankly, don’t understand how accurate the comparisons he draws from his knowledge base actually are.

Look at it this way. Whether you like Taylor or Bristow or Lowe personally, it is highly unlikely that you are going to criticize their ability to do amazing things with a dart. And by “you” I am talking about people who actually understand the mechanics and the difficultly of hitting doubles the size of fortune cookie slips under pressure.

The difference I submit is that while taking issue with a message (or the method or style in which it is communicated) is understandable and entirely acceptable, to damn the work of the reporter or the commentator is pretty damn disingenuous – if you don’t have a clue what it is like to stand in their shoes.

Try doing what Waddell does, or reading his book, before you slam his motives, knowledge or professional abilities. He is due the same respect you give professional darters, whose craft you actually understand.

When I listen to Waddell, I often think of Howard Cosell. I’m not sure what Cosell really knew about boxing or football. As with Waddell, people either loved him or loathed him. But everybody tuned in! Cosell was great for boxing and football. And Waddell is great for darts. His ability to effortlessly call upon his knowledge of world history, literature, the Bible and so much more adds color, energy, and interest to his commentary and writing.

I remember watching an (American) football game in college (and I know even less about football than darts – although I do know that it’s pretty tough to catch a pass with a beer in your hand) when Cosell was commentating…

An after touchdown point conversion was blocked by the opposing team. Cosell’s observation was one-of-a-kind: the ball didn’t have the “immediacy of trajectory required to clear the defensive line.”

That’s certainly a more intelligent and visual way of making an observation than the usual: “Hey Bud, da kicker didn’t get da ball over da fat dude with the double zeros on his shirt.” Cosell was interesting, enthusiastic, Harvard educated, humorous, entertaining and, yes, wrong sometimes (some would say often).

Cosell was as over the top for Muhammad Ali as some say Waddell is for Taylor, but he was right. His commentary, whether appreciated or not for its pure knowledge of the sport itself, drew upon facts and history about which most people knew little (and if they took the time to follow up, learned something from) and kept people tuning in week after week.

While there are people out there who think Waddell is a Cosell-like lightweight when it comes to his knowledge of the sport, I submit that most of these people are lightweights when it comes their knowledge of the references he makes to enliven the action, let alone their ability to actually do what he does in front of the cameras. To condemn this decent man’s new book without even reading it on the sole basis of the title and cover graphics is unfair, disrespectful, just plain unadulterated CRAP (in case I haven’t already said so).

In closing I want to say just two more things: 1) read the damn book; it’s GREAT, and 2) my comment about Dave “Boy” Green was a filthy lie. I have no personal knowledge as to the actual size of his porn collection.

From the Field,

Dartoid

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Dartoid
Author of the column that since 1995 has been featured by Bull’s Eye News, the American Darts Organization’s (ADO) Double Eagle and numerous other darts publications and websites around the globe.
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