Column #HR74 Sid Waddell – Darts Treasure
Monday, August 20, 2012
Sid Waddell – Darts Treasure
In almost every study conducted by the ITSMY Research Group Dinah Washington’s recording of “What a Difference a Day Makes” comes out on top. While the Washington tune speaks of love it could just as well be about sports or life or the recent Olympics in London. At the Olympics you’re a hero one day – the sun is shining and the next it’s pouring down rain and you’re being fitted for goat horns.
That was the pre-written introduction to this edition of Toeing the Oche.
Then everything changed… on Saturday, August 11, Sid Waddell succumbed to cancer the day after his 72nd birthday.
For darters in England (and all across the world) the sunshine and joy of the Olympics turned cloudy with sadness. The words “unbelievable,” “amazing” and “incredible” are tossed around today as casually as a lady flips her hair behind her ear. Those words could all be used to describe Waddell. Waddell may have used those words but it would only have been for shock effect. When he spoke viewers either ran for the computer to discern what he said or remained ignorant.
Being darters the latter is a distinct possibility.
Sports columnist Art Spander once wrote, “The English use words the way the Italians use pasta.” Had Spander been writing this piece he would have written, “Sid Waddell uses words like the Italians use pasta.” Words were the foundation of his being. Waddell used big words and historical quotes not to show off what he knew – and what you didn’t – but to accurately describe what he saw. And he saw it all.
Born the son of a miner he obtained a scholarship to Cambridge’s St. John’s College where he played rugby. During those playing days one can imagine that he raised “trash talking” to a very high level. When injured he turned to darts, starting the inter-college darts competition. In 1961, his darts team lost in the final to a team of trainee vicars. “Oh the shame of it.” Sid spent some time in academia and then folk singing as part of a duo called Gravyboatman. Chad and Jeremy they weren’t.
Old timers remember the Indoor League of the 1970’s. The TV show on Yorkshire TV was produced by Waddell and included pub games such as table football, shove ha’penny, bar billiards, pool, skittles and thanks to Sid… darts. Yank Connie Daniels won the event in 1975. From there Sid went on to calling darts on TV until cancer took over last year. He was the gold standard on TV with those working with him vying for the Silver. His style while much admired will never be copied.
It was a Saturday evening in January 1987. The scene was an off-the-lobby meeting room at the Hilton Hotel in Bracknell, England. After an 8-year absence Mr. John Lowe won the Embassy World Championship besting his old nemesis Eric Bristow 6-4. To borrow from the Robert Servoce classic “The Shooting of Dan McGrew,” a “bunch of the boys were whooping it up in a Hilton meeting room.” Among the boys were the aforementioned Mr. Lowe, the late Barry Twomlow, Bob Anderson, and Sid Waddell. The “not yet” ODC crashed the party as he has want to do. The bubbly flowed freely, consumed mostly from the Embassy Championship Cup or just plain paper cups. When the champagne disappeared at the hands of the thirsty celebrants Rémy Martin proved an adequate replacement. Paper cups in a pinch make a splendid snifter.
Late in the festivities some celebrants moved from chairs down onto the floor. The “not yet” ODC found himself sitting cross-legged Indian style face-to-face with Sid Waddell. What wisdom would Waddell share with the neophyte darts person? Would he slip in…
With a twinkle in his eye he got very serious and said,“Great night.”
That said it all.
The passing of Waddell cast a pall over the victory of Phil Taylor at the Betfair World Matchplay. For Taylor it was his 5th Matchplay title in a row and 13th overall. The story of this year’s event was a reality series played out live on TV. It had it all. Great play and unexplainable collapses. Taylor played with new Unicorns and performed very “un-Taylor-like.” Tossing marketing to the wind – sorry about that Unicorn – he went back to his old standbys, opening a can of “WA” to the tune of 16-11 against Andy Hamilton with a average of 105.50. The resurgence of Ronnie Baxter was big. He lost in the semi finals to Taylor. That was a boost not only to Baxter but also to the ODC – a validation that he can still coach.
Even the £100,000 added to Taylor’s bank account was secondary to the passing of Waddell. Sid had written what is probably the definitive book on Taylor, of course with Taylor’s name on the cover.
He was the voice of darts on the BBC, joining them in 1976. He was there for the first Embassy in 1978, hanging in till 1994. His last call on the BBC was the renamed Embassy which became the BDO World Final. Canada’s John Part beat Bobby George. Since that win John Part has twice reigned as PDC World Champion. Part also won the first stop on the new PDC North American Tour in Chicago beating Darin Young 6-1.
Sid moved his kip and his warp speed mental skills to Sky Sports where he became the voice of the PDC. Diagnosed with cancer in September 2011, Waddell was absent from the airwaves except for a few Premier League matches in 2012. At various times Waddell would step away from darts to add to his always impressive resume of accomplishments. In 1993 on Tyne Tees Television he had a program called Waddell’s World. He played a butler to the posh Tweeddale family, a caravanner and on the dole. A “caravanner?” He lived in a trailer. Had to be one hell of an actor because no one would ever consider Waddell “trailer trash.”
At one time, 1999, he was the “Voice of the Balls” on the BBC calling numbers for the National Lottery. He got the sack for being “too Geordie.” Jimmy Smallwood of the BBC writes, “His linguistic capabilities captured the attention and affection of the viewing public, his tongue-twisting extended metaphors helping to attract a new audience for his great sporting passion: darts.”
Waddell explained himself best. Would that surprise anyone? Waddell said he was “…a mouth-messing, tongue-twisting, brow-furrowing, brain-addling commentator of depth, colour, insight, cross-cultural, cross-pollination, and complexity.” Got it.
One of Waddell’s favorite subjects was Eric Bristow who ruled once somewhat as Taylor does today. He called Bristow “different gravy.” Waddell once used timing and simplicity to describe Bristow as he was lining up a game
shot in an important match, “Bristow reasons; Bristow quickens; aaaaah Bristow!” During the Bristow years Waddell reasoned, “When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer… Bristow’s only 27.”
A popular darting star during the same period was Big Cliff Lazarenko who was really big. Sid made fun of his fitness program with“Cliff Lazarenko’s idea of exercise is a firm press on a soda siphon.”
On Phil Taylor he spoke volumes: “If we’d had Phil Taylor
at Hastings against the Normans, they’d have gone home.”
On Taylor’s prowess with a dart: “William Tell could take an apple off your head, Taylor could take out a processed pea.”
Waddell loved darts. He especially loved a great match: “We couldn’t have more excitement if Elvis walked in and asked for a chip sandwich. The darts can leave you all shook up.”
He also offered advice for darters: “As Freud said to Jung in Vienna, you can psych up too much for a darts match.”
He tweeted shortly before his death: “After 236 days of chemo for my problem, bits of hair falling out… mind, will save a fortune on shampoo, and it will grow back!”
Sid Waddell was more than just a darts announcer. He was the darts announcer.
PDC Chairman Barry Hearn said: “Sid was the Voice of Darts and we wouldn’t be where we are today without him. He was wonderful to listen to, with his university education he was tremendously intelligent and whether it was Greek mythology or Marxism he always found a way of pulling a quote out relating to a darts match.”
Sid Waddell was a dart treasure. The twinkle in his eye was complimented with a personality that brightened even the darkest day. Linguistically he commanded attention as he wove a narrative that was always unexpected, mostly riveting, with the enthusiasm that only appears when one is doing what they love.
Chances are at this moment Sid is sharing a beverage at the ultimate pub with Jocky Wilson, Leighton Reis, Alan Evans and Barry Twomlow. And without a doubt to the side of the bar Dinah Washington is singing “What a Difference a Day Makes.”