Column #HR46 Happy Independence Day – even to you POMS!

Friday, July 1, 2011
Column HR46
Happy Independence Day – even to you POMS!

As those of us in the Colonies prepare to celebrate Independence Day, that’s the 4th of July for you folks from public schools, it’s a time of retrospect, to look back and remember. Some older folks may even recite the opening lines from the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem of 1860 entitled The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. “Listen my children and you shall hear… of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.” To younger folks the poem might be new as in today’s schools they don’t bother much with such “insidious mundane nuances” – subjects such as history, reading and writing. Those same “zipper snappers” would probably also be surprised that nowhere in the Declaration of Independence are found the words “Mom and Dad… I’m moving out.” The Declaration of Independence does contain, “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary” and “We hold these truths to be self-evident”. The words themselves are credited to Thomas Jefferson. No time and space here to explain who Thomas Jefferson was.

It’s very doubtful that when a group of darts players joined together to form the World Darts Players Association there was the same degree of elegance of language, actions or even the revolutionary fervor found in Revere, Longfellow or Jefferson. Still for that hardy group of darters the decision to take the first step to cut ties with the “Grand Poobah’s” of the sport must have been for some a heart-rending experience. From Jefferson’s words and Revere’s actions after more than 200-plus years has sprung the United States of America. From the band of darters evolved the PDC. The latter seems to be working better right now thanks to Barry Hearn. Maybe the USA could hire Hearn to take control and have Tommy Cox as it’s “country director”. Always go with what works.

At the initial meeting it was Eric Bristow, Maureen Flowers, Bob Anderson, Keith Deller, Linda Batten (Now Dr. Batten), Richie Gardner, Dave Whitcombe, Cliff Lazarenko, Leighton Rees, Jockey Wilson, Mike Gregory, Steve Brennan and Australia’s Terry O’Dea that got things rolling. Missing from that first meeting was the big name in darts, John Lowe. For the second meeting of the group Lowe, who requested the meeting, added his name along with America’s Jerry Umberger, Danny Valleto and Rick “The Hammer” Ney. Bob Sinnaeve and Avtar Gill from Canada joined in along with Russell Stewart from Aussie, Nicky Virachkul from Thailand, Paul Lim from Singapore and Mr. Stefan Lord of Sweden. Just a guess, but that meeting probably took place during the Embassy which probably frosted the “door chimes off old Mr. O. Croft.” There were two top players missing as neither Bobby George or Alan Glazier made appearances. George was rewarded by BDO Grand Poobah Olly Croft with a spot in what was to become a “talent depleted” Embassy World Championships far past his “use date”. Mike Gregory would cut and run from the player’s organization to also be rewarded by the BDO’s Olly Croft.

While this group, called the World Professional Dart Players Association, had some power it didn’t have enough, darn little money, few tournaments nor a television outlet so the darting scene was unsettled. Then came a re-organization with 15 “new” professionals joining the nucleus. Mike Gregory re-joined along with Dennis Priestly, Rod Harrington, Kevin Spiolek, Chrissie John’s, Jaime Harvey, Peter Evison, Alan Warriner and one Phillip Douglas Taylor. This group also included Tommy Cox and Dick Allix, the top two managers of the day. One idea at the time was to get paid for “county games” which went nowhere. The only result was the “professional players” no longer played county matches. The end result of that is that today’s county matches are not the draw they use to be. During this period the “association” had limited TV which provided almost no direct revenue. Then came the lawsuit instituted by Olly Croft and the BDO which resulted in a name change to the PDC.

The Old Dart Coach had some experience with lawsuits as he was sued by the ADO. In the end that lawsuit proved nothing except the ODC ended up with a lot less money and the other sides “member” lawyer got stiffed. When Barry Hearn joined the PDC the party began and the rest is now history. The ODC now moans, “Where was Barry Hearn when I needed him?”

Professional players in North America provided support and one, Larry Butler, copped one of the first “Professional Championships”. Canada’s John Part went on to stardom with the PDC but he first was a BDO and WDF “star” in much the same manner as Raymond van Barneveld later on. Both served as poster boy for a couple of years for the BDO/WDF. North American players mainly provided support. There were no county games. Big money tournaments, save two, were put on by local organizations which refused entry to no one. That’s not to say that there haven’t been and aren’t attempts to form a meaningful professional players organization or leagues.

The latest is Major League Darts, the brainchild and promoted by one Brian Jackson. Their $20,000 Canadian Challenge takes place July 8-10 in Calgary with a pair of 501 singles playing a modified format – modified in that it’s played “modified round robin” with best of 11 knockout rounds and a best of 15 finals. A $100.00 entry fee per singles event eliminates the “weak,” though not the silly or stupid. The success of the tournament will need a lot of the latter to be financially viable. Reportedly Major League Darts held their first event in the San Francisco Bay Area May 13-15.

On April 18, 1775 at 10 PM when Paul Revere rode through town on a small chestnut mare named Brown Betty yelling “The British are coming!” no one knew or guessed where his actions would lead. It’s probably true also of the professional dart players who first joined together. They might never have dreamed of 35 plus Championships Tour events each year with a prize fund of £70,000 major events covered on TV from start to finish, a Premier League that sold out venues or becoming the second most popular TV sport in England. Just recently Gary Anderson entered the Dutch Darts Trophy tour events in Nuland, Holland. He won both Saturday and Sunday for a nifty £12,000. Who would have thunk it 10 years ago? Barry Hearn.

Like the nation itself, foreigners became a part of the American darting scene. Lenny Heard came from the “Motha Country” representing the USA in both the World Cup (1979, Las Vegas) and Pacific Cup (1986, Auckland). This was American’s first Pacific Cup win making up for lousy coaching by The Old Dart Coach in 1984 in Hawaii when he foiled the attempts by Jerry Umberger, Nicky Virachkul, Kathy Karpowich and Jo-Ann Anderson to win the gold. At one point during the event the ODC sent for a brown paper bag. He labeled it “Sack of Outs.” It almost worked but fell one “out” short. A missed double 12 did them in. Two years later, with the ODC working on persona non-grata status, Kathy Karpowich hit double 12 for a Pacific Cup win in Auckland, New Zealand.

The ODC’s role in this win was insuring that the bar guarantee was met along with a rolling on the floor like an idiot (a part he plays well) fight with a pal from Aussie. He also informed Paul Lim (then playing for Singapore) that Aussie Russell Stewart described playing Lim the following day “is like picking flowers.” To which Lim replied “plicking flowers? I’ll show him plicking flowers.”

Lim won while Stewart fumed and America smiled. The ODC had struck again. Also watching the event was actor Jack Palance who while sitting next to the ODC admired his “real Rolex from Thailand.” “That watch real?” “No. Real made in Thailand.” “I’ll give you $50.00 bucks for it.” “It’s a fake.” “I don’t care, every time I get a real Rolex someone on the set steals it.” Over the years the ODC would sell other “Real made in Thailand fake Rolexes” to the late actor. One American team member rewarded the ODC with one of their gold medals, probably for his work at the bar.

Another import was the Thai Cowboy Nicky Virachkul. He won the singles at the World Cup in Las Vegas in 1979 for America and was a fixture on the international scene operating out of various locations in the USA. Nicky retired from international competition and moved back to Thailand where he sadly passed away in 1999. One of his last dart tournaments was the Thailand Open held in Pattaya Beach. Nicky entered the doubles with a “cousin.” When he lost in an early round to the ODC and his partner Nicky quipped, “Good thing I retired.” Another Thai, Manop, traveled to the USA to compete. He did so with flair, flash and a heck of a lot of ability. At one time he was the top “American” player before scampering back to the Land of Smiles where for a time he became a monk.

An argument can be made that the best “import” ever was Singapore’s Paul Lim or Leong Hwa, if you please. Paul was and is a professional darts player in every sense of the word. There is little doubt that had he not gone into the “business side” of darts he would be right up there with the best in the PDC. A number of years ago he joined the soft point industry where he’s currently based in Hong Kong for a company called Dartslive Asia. They’re running a soft-tip tournament at the I Darts Club in Hong Kong. The tournament has 8 qualifying rounds and a final. John Part, sponsored by COSMO, won round three so will be back for the final. First prize is 100,000 Hong Kong Dollars which is $12,836 and meaningless 81 cents USD. Interesting format: best of 5 with 701-cricket-701-cricket-choice. The ODC likes “choice” as in “he wins.” Not going to happen.

The ODC was musing, which some might call the doddering of an old coot, of 4th of July’s past. One in particular came back to his increasing useless fading mind. The ODC on this particular 4th of July found himself at a bar sharing a pint of lager with the late Barry Twomlow. Always the “wise-ass” the ODC asked, “Barry I guess the 4th of July is a big holiday in England?” “One of the biggest.” “So you celebrate losing a colony?” “No we celebrity getting rid of the likes of you.”

Happy Fourth of July to all… yes even the POMS.

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Howie Reed
The one and only Howie Reed (the Old Dart Coach) goes back decades with the legends of our sport - he knows where the skeletons are buried. Just ask any of the ADO and WDF old-timers! His widely popular column, Toeing the Oche, is a must-read.

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