Column #HR47 World Matchplay Preview

Thursday, July 14, 2011
Column HR47
World Matchplay Preview

How many times have you heard “Games are invented for children to play?” Okay, so you’ve never heard it (but play “pretend” or this column is DOA). Now add to that “Sports writes stories that if found in a novel would be unbelievable.” That, boys and girls (and those of you in Thailand who are half of each) is the difference between “games” and “sport.”

A great example of this was the American women’s soccer team game against Brazil this past Sunday. There a “game” turned into “sport.” If written beforehand would anyone have believed that the USA, down 2-1 with time running out, would score to force overtime? No, not even the Old Dart Couch sitting on his couch. Thus a “game” turned into “sport.”

Is darts a game or a sport? Well it’s both and neither. At the local pub playing for pints it’s a game. Played in a local league or by the pro’s it’s a sport with plots, sub-plots, gamesmanship and improbable finishes.

In some ways darts is better than a lot of sports if only because the “referees” can’t dictate the game. Anyone that watched the women’s World Cup game between USA and Brazil saw where a “bad” decision by an official could have altered the end result. Not going to happen in darts. The dart is either in or not. Period. End. Golf, most of the time, shares the same distinction. It’s either in the hole or it’s not. Close counts in neither sport, unlike at drive-in movies on first dates.

Next weekend golf and darts share the spotlight in the UK with The Open in golf and the World Matchplay in darts. The Open will be played at Royal St. George’s Sandwich while the £400,000 World Matchplay will be going on from July 16-24 at the Empress Ballroom, Winter Gardens in Blackpool. What is a Royal St. George’s Sandwich? The ODC is going with either a place in Kent or a watercress-cucumber sandwich served with biscuits and tea.

The Brits are cool in that it’s not called golf’s British Open but The Open. In tennis the Wimbledon Championships is simply The Championship. In keeping with British tradition the Sky Bet Mobile World Matchplay Championship becomes The Matchplay.
We Yanks should embrace this event as it’s the only event on the PDC Tour, and a major yet, that one of our guys actually won. That would be back in 1994 when Larry Butler, who they called The Bald Eagle, bested Dennis Priestley 16-12. Both players are still going “lickety-split” at the upper level of darts.

Priestly would be the runner-up three times in 1995 to Taylor 16-11 and 1996 to Peter Evison 16-14. For his win Butler took back to the USA the princely sum of £10,000. Back then that was real money. The winner this year will bank 10 times that amount or
£100,000. Canadian Bob Sinnaeve almost won the last BDO Matchplay event in 1988 but fell to Eric Bristow 5 sets to1 in the final. Sinnaeve-Butler now team upon the ADO tour, such as it is now, ‘cause like the Old Gray Mare “she ain’t what she use to be.”

TIME OUT

Let’s take a time out here to talk about the American darts tour. While the term “such as it is” may seem a little abrasive it isn’t meant to be. There is no argument but that today’s American darts tour is but a shadow of what it was from the late 1970s thru the early 1990s. It’s way too easy to place the blame game or point fingers – and it would be unfair in any case – for the demise of the American tour. Remember that nothing happens in a vacuum. Okay, “hot and cold” happen in a vacuum but to use the tag from an old joke “how do it know?” The next time a friendly Brit tries to tell you what’s good for American darts suggest that they perform a body function “up a rope.” They mean well. The American scene back in the day was ready to be ripped apart and it was.

Machine darts came in providing revenue for tavern owners that were scrambling for profits. Machine darts meant money to beleaguered bar owners when, in many cases, steel darts meant headaches. Steel darts had set the scene with local heroes and leagues demanding more and more while providing less and less. Bars jumped at the chance to make some money. They actively promoted new players and new leagues. Don’t forget that the machine dart industry came hat in hand to the Grand Poobahs of the sport and were told to perform the “act” mentioned in the paragraph. “We don’t need you,” they were told.

THE WORLD MATCHPLAY 2011

But first a little history. The World Matchplay at one time was an event hosted by the British Darts Organization. From 1984 to 1988 it was the MFI World Matchplay. During play in 1984 John Lowe tossed the first ever televised 9-dart game. For that he collected £102,000. That amount was more than the combined monies paid for winning the 5 BDO Matchplay events. Is that a cheap shot directed at the BDO? Looks like one to me. U no like? Sue.

The greatest names in darts have won the World Matchplay. Bristow (3), Lowe, Anderson and Phil Taylor an amazing 11 times. Those that watch PDC events on either the telly or computer are familiar with the name and face of Rod Harrington. Harrington, besides being a pretty face, was one heck of a dart player. He is in fact is the only player ever to win the World Matchplay back-to-back that wasn’t named Phil Taylor. Harrington took the title in 1998-99 with identical scores of 19-17. In 1998 he beat “Rocket” Ronnie Baxter and then followed that up the next year with a win over Peter “One Dart” Manley. In the Manley match Harrington was actually out scored 86.91 to 85.95. For a complete computer viewing schedule for this year’s event best advice would be to go to www.noca-darts.com .

It’s always good to have some meaningless stats at your fingertips when watching darts to amaze your friends and maybe win a few pints of aiming fluid. Yes, when watching darts, like playing, aiming fluid is not mandatory but a viable option. In 2002, Bob Anderson and Peter Manley met in a scheduled best to 10 first round match. Like “real” majors a win required two clear legs to win. Anderson would move on winning 17-15. Yank Jim Watkins lost 18-16 to Keith Deller in 1994. The format this years calls for best of 19 in round 1 followed by best of 25, then 31, then 33 and the final – best of 35. To no one’s surprise the early betting favorite is Phil Taylor at 11/8. This is a little strange because as Rod Harrington might say “he’s not on the best of form.” Gary Anderson is 11/2, Adrian Lewis 6/1 and James Wade at 9/1. Bet a few “bob” on James Wade.

One name missing from past winners is Dutch great Raymond van Barneveld. He had a chance last year to break Taylor’s two year winning streak but fell in the final 18-12. In losing, “Barney” averaged 100.11 with Taylor posting 105.16. WOW. That wasn’t Taylor’s best performance during this run as in 2008 he beat James Wade 18-9 averaging 109.47 while Wade managed 102.58. Those averages are what separate darts from a “game” and make it a sport “sport.” Pick a winner? No way Jose.

Are there any first round matches of interest? Yea baby. Day one has John Part attempting to take yet another giant step on the comeback against Mark Webster. A win by Part probably puts him in the “quarters” as he’d play either Terry Jenkins or Steve Beaton to advance. A couple of the ODC’s pals, Ronnie Baxter and Denis Ovens, meet in round one. Both have been able to overcome the friendship to have successful darting careers. The winner would then have to beat Simon Whitlock to find their way to the quarters. Whitlock should get by Peter Wright. Both ODC’s pals and Whitlock draw away from the red-hot Gary Anderson in their group.

TALES OF THE OLD DART COACH

Many years ago the Old Dart Coach was sharing a room during the Houston tournament with two “darting ladies.” Names withheld upon threat of death. The venue was an upscale hotel with two beds and a roll away cot. Now darters back in the day didn’t stay at many upscale hotels. The ODC had used a lot of aiming fluid during the day, to no avail, so retired early. As sometimes happens, too much aiming fluid will produce a hunger. The “hungries” hit the ODC like the Super Chief. Having some semblance of his brain working he knew a trip almost nekked down to the restaurant was not on the agenda. Looking around the room he noticed that each bed had been turned down and a rather large chocolate bar had been placed on each pillow. No way would the two darting ladies know that chocolate would be left for a snack before sleep.

He devoured all three bars, immediately falling into the arms of Morpheus in the Land of Nod. He was jolted awake when the two darting ladies, screeching like banshees, with very un-lady-like language, demanded to know “where the hell is our chocolate?”

“Okay, I know you’re not going to believe this but right after I returned to the room this big fairy came into the room…”

“Stop it right there. How was this fairy dressed?”

“Well he was very tall, in a simple black sheath dress, a single string of pearls and was wearing Capezio shoes.”
“Did this fairy say anything?”

“Yes he said he was the Chocolate Fairy. Stole our chocolate and left.”

Now either they believed in a Chocolate Fairy or just resigned themselves to the fact that the ODC was a pretty good liar. The next night the ladies beat the ODC to the room in time to beat the Chocolate Fairy to their bars but not in time to save the ODC’s.

Later during the year the three would again share a room. This time in Denver in a hotel that wanted to be up scale. The ODC retired to the room to find the beds turned down with a chocolate bar on each pillow. The ODC scarfed down the bars. When the two ladies returned they had fire in their eyes when they saw the empty pillows.

“OK Where’s our Chocolate bars? Are you going to tell us that the Chocolate Fairy followed us from Houston, found our rooms, broke in and stole our chocolate?”

“No actually the Chocolate Fairy returned to San Francisco right after Houston. I ate the chocolate.”

A pal of the ODC, JR Smith of Latrobe, PA, emailed the following: “A Muslim kid can’t find his mom in a supermarket. The store attendant says “What does your mom look like? The kid says “Damned if I know…”

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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.
Howie Reed

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