Column #312 The “Golden Girl”

January 3, 2008
Column 312
The “Golden Girl”

I don’t know Trina Gulliver but if we ever meet she’ll probably punch me in the head and knock me out (something she once did in school to a lad who slagged her off) after she reads the first few paragraphs of this!

I’ve just flipped the final page of Gulliver’s 309-page manuscript, co-authored by Doctor of Darts Patrick Chaplin. Scheduled to be released by John Blake Publishing of London in just days to coincide with Gulliver’s quest for an unprecedented eighth world championship at Lakeside, “The Golden Girl – The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Ever Ladies’ Darts Player” offers something for all darts enthusiasts, particularly any female who aspires to darts greatness, and randy males.

For members of the male persuasion, of which I include myself (even though my wife painted one of my toenails red over the holiday), the book is full of distractions. But this is a good thing. Managing distractions is just as important when reading about darts as it is while trying to keep ‘em straight.

In the “Golden Girl” the distractions begin early and just keep coming. There’s the part about the “Orgasm” Gulliver had at the World Cup in Perth. There’s the part about when she dropped her pants in front of Kevin Painter and Martin Fitzmaurice. There are her intimations that she longs to snog rugby star Jonny Wilkinson. And most distracting of all, there’s the part where she exclaims “My God. Yes! Yes! Yes!” after a particularly significant occasion.

So to all you male darts people out there who may think that plunking down cash for a book about our sport written by a woman is beneath you I encourage you to go out and buy it now. I guarantee you’ll have no problem “keepin’ it straight” while turning the pages.

Seriously, this book is a must-read for anyone of any gender and any darts skill level. Moreover, the trials and tribulations and the determination and perseverance that led, and sometimes haunted, Gulliver’s journey to the apex of her profession hold a lesson for all of us, inside and outside the sport of darts.

Success did not come easily for the Golden Girl. Her womanizing father left home early in her life and married her mother’s best friend, leaving her mother alone to raise her and her four siblings. Always a tomboy, she struggled at school, excelling only in sport. As a young girl she was most proficient at rounders ball and netball which, being an American, I had never heard of before. A friend has explained that both are highly skilled activities that basically involve a “bunch of young girls running around in short skirts.” Judging from the photos in the book I can fully appreciate why Gulliver’s skills were so appreciated.

She met the love of her life, Paul “Gully” Gulliver, as a teenager. He was a physical specimen (a rugby player) who turned on more than the tomboy in her. But at the age of nineteen, after they had moved in together, Gully mysteriously contracted Gillian Barre Syndrome (a form of Multiple Sclerosis) and was bedridden for two years. It was during this period that Gulliver began to focus on darts, largely as a mental respite. This was also when she first began to imagine what it might be like to make darts her full time occupation.

By trade Gulliver was a carpenter and joiner. In keeping with her tomboy grounding and because she liked handling wood (no pun intended) she earned her degree in this male dominated profession. For a while she worked for others, then for herself – and for a year or so she even lectured at a college to women’s carpentry and joinery classes (which she credits as helping to build the self-confidence that would become so important to her darts career).

It was in 1986 that Gulliver became convinced she really could make it with her darts and someday become world champion. From a very young age she always strived to be the best at whatever she took on – and not just among the ranks of her own gender. Not once did she doubt she could compete on an equal level with the men, not in the workplace and certainly not in the male-dominated world of darts. This later confidence was reinforced during the 1986-1987 darts season when she was accepted for membership on a men’s Superleague team in the Warwickshire Men’s League, and won her first four matches.

Like virtually all darts players, male and female, who aspire to make a go of it among the professional ranks, Gulliver struggled financially. As she began to hit the tournament circuit, without a sponsor, she quickly depleted most of her and Gully’s savings – and the savings of her supportive mother. Yet she plodded on – recognizing that even though the payouts were ridiculously small for the ladies compared to the men – she had no alternative. If she were to achieve her goal of being the world’s best she had no option but to attend as many tournaments as possible to earn precious ranking points.

Gulliver sent hundreds of letters to prospective sponsors but received the courtesy of only the rare reply and those were negative. Investing in ladies’ darts was simply a non-starter for anyone in the business sector. Were it not for the intervention of fate it is likely that Gulliver’s career would have ended before it hit its amazing stride.

Fate came in the name of Graham Reeves of Reeves Boatbuilders. A casual conversation at a darts-related function led to an unexpected offer by Reeves to cover Gulliver’s expenses for the Swiss Open in 1997 and this quickly evolved into a twelve month deal. “It was a life-changing moment,” recalls Gulliver, and indeed it was. Within a year of the financial pressure being lifted she was firmly installed as the number one lady darts player in the world. Reeves Boatbuilders is still one of Gulliver’s key sponsors.

Success, I suppose, breeds support – and other sponsors began to fall into line. Car Consultants of Ufton gave her a BMW 318 Tourer (and then a Mitsubishi Carisma and a Nissan Primera). Then came McCourt Meats in Cambridgeshire and others.

It was in 1998 that the WINMAU Dartboard Company came calling and this partnership continues as strong as ever. And so does Gulliver… now with seven world titles and countless other victories to her name.

Of course “Golden Girl” recounts much of the darts action along the road Gulliver has traveled – the wins, the losses, the battles and disappointments. But the book is much more than a blow-by-blow remembrance of matches played. “Golden Girl” is a story about overcoming adversity in a world and sport stacked against women and about one woman who has managed to beat the odds.

Throughout Gulliver’s success at the line her husband Gully seldom, if ever, watched her play. Although he attended tournaments, oddly he was unable to watch her compete – he would always remain in the car park until play was complete and someone brought word to him of the result. It’s not surprising that in 2005 Gulliver was divorced and in 2006, during the low point of her life, she made the even more difficult decision to seek counseling.

Yes, counseling. That’s just the kind of book this is – completely open and honest. Gulliver bares all (including, after a jump into a swimming pool at Peter Manley’s and Crissy Howat’s engagement party, the usually well hidden red rose tattoo she treated herself to after being named captain of the England Ladies Team in 2007). She holds nothing back.

Except once… at least a little bit.

In perhaps the only understated comment in the book Gulliver recalls her feelings after the British Darts Organization (BDO) announced in September 2000 that for the first time ever they would include a Woman’s World Darts Championship as an integral part of the 2001 Embassy World Darts Championship at Lakeside. “I couldn’t help,” she writes, “but feel that the world championship might not have happened for us – well, not as soon anyway – unless the PDC had made their announcement and forced the BDO’s hand.”

Really?

This statement walks a fine line between careful diplomacy and just plain nutty prognosticating and I sense the Doctor of Darts’ steady influence. But respectfully I submit that “would not have happened” would have been the more accurate declaration.

As many people are aware (and which Gulliver also relates), sometime after the 2000 Embassy finals she and other top lady darts players were approached by the Professional Darts Corporation’s (PDC) Tournament Director Tommy Cox with a board approved proposal that one of them, to be determined by a knockout competition, be given a guaranteed place at the Skol World Darts Championship.

The concept was that the eight top ranked women at the time would battle it out for the 32nd place in the Skol lineup. Gulliver provisionally accepted the offer to participate but due to BDO loyalties, asked to first run it by the powers that be (and still are).

Suffice it to say the “BDO were not happy.” Rumors swirled that participating players would be harshly dealt with, something BDO head honcho Olly Croft later confirmed, saying that any player who participated would be stripped of their BDO/WDF ranking points.

Then, as has since become predictable, in September 2000 the BDO reacted to the PDC’s move by announcing plans for the 2001 Woman’s World Darts Championship at Lakeside.

Would the BDO have done so had the PDC not acted first?

Of course not!

The BDO has done little in years that wasn’t in response and spiteful of the PDC. The organization is today a classic example of Founder’s Syndrome and the time has long passed for the leadership to step down. They are an albatross around the neck of progress.

Not surprisingly, as Skol approached most of the top ranked ladies who concluded the risk wasn’t worth the glory. Only two remained: America’s Stacy Bromberg (who eventually saw the light) and Gayl King from Canada. The rest is history…

King competed and in doing so became the first woman ever to play in the finals of a world championship tournament previously open to men only. She took the first set before falling 3-1 to Graeme Stoddart (ranked 29th in the world at the time).

When I came upon this section of “Golden Girl” I admit it – I briefly scratched my head. Why, I wondered, is Gulliver, who is so forthcoming in sharing details of her private life and her deepest feelings in every other respect, so meticulously careful when referring to the BDO – particularly in light of her confirmation that for years top women darts players appealed to the BDO elite to stage a world championship for the ladies, without result?

Ah ha! Silly me…

I needn’t have pondered – for just pages later my question was answered, and the answer was obvious: However it came to pass, the ladies got what they wanted and deserved and to poke the BDO in the eye, then or now, for Gulliver is to risk all that she’s struggled to achieve.

Moreover they knew what they were getting. The BDO offered a carrot with the stick. Almost incongruously Gulliver adds that only now can she “reveal” that when she discussed with the BDO their threat to sanction ladies who participated in the knockout for Skol she was asked how the ladies would react to the prospect of a Woman’s World Darts Championship at Lakeside in conjunction with the men’s tournament.

As clear as it is that Gulliver believes with all her heart she can compete on the PDC’s oche with the best male darts players in the world (and probably dreams about doing so), to even approach publicly contemplating the prospect is to risk the wrath of the BDO. Their wrath, if acted upon, could jeopardize all that Gulliver has worked her life to earn – the prestigious captaincy of the England Ladies Team and her world title.

So what’s next for the Gulliver?

At the top of the list of course, and imminent, is the defense of her world championship title.

As there are those who dismiss the value of the title because of the limited number of women permitted to compete and the short format, she will continue to push for more women to be included and a lengthening of the format – as well as for a fairer share of the prize money. (For her 2007 victory she cashed a check for less than one-tenth the £70,000 award Martin Adams took home as the men’s champion.)

As one of the founder’s of the Ladies Darts Association (LDA) established to “promote, stimulate and improve the sport of darts nationally, internationally and worldwide for all women participating in darts,” she’ll continue her lifelong pursuit of a world where in darts and in life women are given a fair chance.

But still the question remains: will “Golden Girl” Trina Gulliver someday make the big switch? Will she opt to prove she can do what she has for so long believed she can do: compete with and regularly beat the best of the best in the world, the men?

Time will tell. If history is knowledge… if the road Gulliver has traveled thus far in life is any indication, I think it is clear that she wants to. Whether she does is another story and one which I and many others hope will be the subject of her next book.

Finally a personal note to Trina…

Trina, if you read this and we ever do meet and you’re able to refrain from punching me out – I have a proposition for you (and it’s far better than the one Tommy Cox offered): If you show me your rose tattoo I’ll show you my red toenail. And, I’ll arrange for you to snog Jonny Wilkinson.

Is it a deal?

Best of luck at Lakeside.

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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