Column #195 Andy Fairclough – Master of Horror (and Darts)
October 1, 2005
Andy Fairclough – Master of Horror (and Darts)
In September 2003 I wrote a column called the Top Ten Darts Websites in the World. In hindsight, I owe a several thousand apologies.
As I don’t read, write or speak in any language but English, for me to have suggested that my list, however constructed, contained any sort of reasonable selection from among all the possibilities, was absurd. Therefore, to the developers of all the fine darts websites out there written in any of the 6,911 known living languages other then English, I am sorry for the oversight.
There is however, one designer to whom I do NOT owe an apology (but to whom I probably will, once this column is complete). His name is Andy Fairclough. His friends call him Andy Boy. He is the bloke behind the extraordinary Superstars of Darts website. If you are not familiar with it, skip reading this and click here: http://www.superdarts.resourcez.com.
Once you spend some time at Fairclough’s site you’ll see why I now rank it as the Best Darts Website in the World. Bar none! The reason I do not owe Fairclough an apology, yet, is because Superstars of Darts did not exist the last time I wrote a review such as this. It did not come online until February 2004. I doubt few familiar with the site will argue that its rise to the top in 18 month’s time has been anything short of meteoric.
Superstars of Darts is not a fancy place. It doesn’t need to be. Like a pretty girl with a drop dead body, Superstars has got the goods and knows it. Fairclough doesn’t need to dress the joint up with flashy graphics to attract suitors and keep them interested. The body gets the job done just fine. Word of mouth brings ’em clicking to his door.
The foundation of Superstars – what pulled me in initially – is Fairclough’s electronic newsletter, which he publishes monthly and then archives at his site. Two recent issues have included interviews with the Professional Darts Corporation’s (PDC) Barry Hearn and the British Darts Organization’s (BDO) Olly Croft. Unlike others operating in the darts ether these days, Fairclough does his own research and writing. He doesn’t plagiarize the work of others and pass it off as his own.
In addition to Fairclough’s interviews and own insightful monthly editorials, popular staples of the newsletter include a column called On the Road with musings from Lionel Sams as he travels about the tournament circuit and a one-of-a-kind, no-holds-barred commentary called Talking Point by an anonymous somebody well-placed within the upper echelons of world class darts.
The site features a news page, billed as the “most frequently updated darts news page anywhere,” that tracks everything from breaking stories at the top of the darting scene to obscure goings-on in far-flung venues. Somehow Fairclough seems to find the story. If you want to know what happened yesterday at the world championships or in Kampala, Uganda this is the place to find it.
Oh, there’s a whole lot of other stuff going on at Fairclough’s site – an accounting of tournament winners, video clips, and links to players and other websites. There’s even a way to help sponsor a struggling player by registering with e-bay.
But the most fascinating (and surely the most frequented) area of Superstars has to be Fairclough’s forums. There are very active forums hosted by several of the world’s top professionals – Dave Whitcombe, Ronnie Baxter, Chris Mason, Peter Evison, Tony Eccles, Barry Jouannet, Robbie Green, Adrian Lewis, and Stephen Bunting – but far and away the busiest area of the site is the Off the Oche general darts discussion forum, moderated by Fairclough himself. Here you can have an uninhibited exchange of ideas about serious darts stuff with people with screen names the likes of Baz, Erdogan Camelback, Bouncer, Kababking, Maude, Rat, and the Mob (Nino, Luca, Virgil, and Lucky). You will never be disappointed, unless your name is Hearn or Croft – information appears here before the head honchos know about it themselves. The site is THE watering hole for many of the top names in the sport, particularly within the PDC.
As the months passed, the whole thing became more and more of a curiosity to me. I just couldn’t fathom how an average bloke like Fairclough (who basically knew nobody and, until just a few years ago, hadn’t even thrown a competitive a dart) could, seemingly overnight, accomplish so much – attract such constant and stellar participation at what, really, is a relatively simple website. So I asked around and quickly discovered the answer. An inside source named Doc, who is apparently a close personal friend of someone named Darterz, an American no less, confided that “Darterz taught Andy Boy everything he knows.”
Nah. That’s a lie. What I really did was pop an e-mail to Andy Boy and ask him.
It turns out that Superstars is NOT Fairclough’s first (or most successful, yet) foray onto the Internet Highway. Some years ago, he followed his passion for horror fiction and created a website called Masters of Terror, which he subsequently reinvented as Horror World. In doing so, his philosophy was simple: to “set up a site where fans and horror writers could intermingle happily.” His goal with Superstars was no less complicated: to establish a friendly venue where darts fanatics could ask questions and exchange ideas with their heroes. “I wanted to give rabid darts fans a place to congregate,” says Fairclough. “I wanted to provide them a home.”
Suffice it to say Fairclough was wildly successful with his horror websites. Authors the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz surfed by periodically. The most famous regular participant was probably Graham Masterson, author of The Manitou (among others) which found its way to the big screen in 1978, starring Tony Curtis, Burgess Meredith, Susan Strasberg, and Stella Stevens. In 1999, Fairclough was honored and “humbled” for his efforts with a Bram Stoker Award nomination from the Horror Writer’s Association.
His interest in horror fiction waning and having taken the site farther than he’d ever imagined he might, Fairclough passed the baton to others (free of charge). The farthest thing from his mind was setting up another website, certainly one such as Superstars has become.
Born in Windsor (in sight of the castle), darts was not a big deal in Fairclough’s early life. While he admits to throwing a bit with his “mum, dad, and sister as a child with the big old brass darts with wooden stems and feather flights,” competitive darts is something that he did not embrace for years. He now throws Superleague and can hold his own.
Over the years however (he’s now 38 years of age), darts – professional darts – always held a fascination for Fairclough. He has early memories of watching from his father’s electrical goods store as Eric Bristow performed on television in the late 1970s – and his interest grew from there. In subsequent years, as many of his favorite players bolted the BDO, Fairclough followed by subscribing to Sky & Sky Sports in 2001.
He is a football fan (no real revelation there – Manchester United is his team) but many of his admirers, who peg him as a mild-mannered, level-headed techie (in real life he makes his living as a business planning manager) will be surprised that in the late 1980s and early 1990s Fairclough was a “full-fledged glam rocker.” He sported “long peroxide blond hair, backcombed and hair-sprayed to the sky, and wore all the gear.” These days his favorite musician is still Marilyn Manson. His hero is Paul Stanley of Kiss. As Andy Boy puts it, “…old glam rockers never die, they just lose their lipstick.”
Naturally, I pressed Fairclough for the real names behind the mysterious screen names that frequent Superstars. Typically steady, he would only reveal that some of them are in the PDC’s top 32. “One of the fun things about running the website,” said Fairclough, “is that I know who everyone is. It’s one of the few pleasures I allow myself. But my lips are sealed. I would never reveal anyone’s personal details or betray their confidence.” He does however, exude appreciation to Caroline Sams, who he gives great credit as a “roving ambassador and promoter” for his website.
I asked him who he looked up to in darts, particularly now that he’s gotten to know many of the top professionsals, and he quickly listed several: Roland Scholten (“because he’s taller then me”); Phil Taylor (“not because of what he’s achieved but because he’s an absolute perfectionist”); John Part (“always seems the quintessential professional – has the dignity, skill, and common sense to be an example to all”); Andy Fordham (“just because he seems like a very nice bloke”); Chris Mason, Wayne Mardle, and Mark Dudbridge (because “they have that little bit of ‘extra’ magical talent that is a joy to watch”); and players like Lionel Sams, Colin Lloyd, and Tony Eccles (“just because of the sheer hard work and effort they put into pursuing their careers”).
Today Fairclough lives in Workingham, Berkshire with his wife, a 10-year-old son, one cat and two fighting Chinese dwarf hamsters. “I didn’t train them to fight,” says Andy Boy, “they just seem to enjoy it.” If he didn’t live where he does and was stranded on a remote island instead he’d chose either Ken Dodd to share his time with (“because he’d make me laugh forever”) or Mena Suvari (“but she wouldn’t make me laugh!”).
Fairclough continues to toil away at his day job but, along with investing tremendous effort in Superstars, manages to get out for a curry, “copious quantities of Ale” (Wadworth 6X, Landlord, Jenning’s Cumberland Ale or Sneak Lifter, Theakson’s Old Peculier and a drop of Belhaven Best”) and Superleague. Although he’s mellowed with age, he sheepishly admits to there being an inverse relationship between darts, drink and the now usually quiet Andy Boy. “After a few bevvies my usual quiet nature goes out the window and the over excitable and exuberant Andy of old comes back to the fore. It’s a dirty job but somebody has to do it.”
Turning back to Superstars, I asked Fairclough about his plans for the future of the site. He was guarded. “My goal is to keep going. That’s the beauty of the Internet. If you get an idea – and I have several – you can turn it into reality within a very short period of time.”
So I tried to pull him out with a different approach. I asked him what he’d do with a million dollars. “A million dollars ain’t worth much,” he replied, “but make it pounds and it’s a deal. I would instantly retire from my job, do Superstars of Darts full time and, maybe, go on the PDC circuit for a year for a laugh.”
I tried another tact. “What would you do with 10 minutes on television?” Noting that darts still is not taken as seriously in the UK as many outside the country think it is, Fairclough responded, “I’d grab a handful of dart players and put on an exhibition to show people what they are missing.”
And so there you have it. Whatever the future holds for Andy Fairclough, at the end of the day there is one constant that the rest of us can rely on. Andy Boy’s passion for darts knows no bounds. For all that has come and gone at Superstars of Darts in the past 18 months, tomorrow is certain to be even better.
From the Field,
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