Column #CM35 Adventure Weekend in Minehead
Saturday, March 24, 2018
Adventure Weekend in Minehead
The new darting year started with the great final of the PDC World Championship which Rob Cross was able to win and continued with the BDO World Championship which was not as high class as the PDC counterpart but nevertheless quite entertaining. After that, we had this year’s two PDC Qualifying Schools – one in the UK and one in Europe. As usual most of the new Tour Card holders came from the UK, with two exceptions: Australian Corey Cadby and Canadian Dawson Murschell. The European Q School had a rather mixed outcome – as mixed as the participants.
Following the Q Schools was the first PDC Major of the year – The Masters. I am already struggling to remember what happened there – though I think there were quite a number of upsets as Peter Wright, Rob Cross and Gary Anderson all proved to be out of form. In the end, Michael van Gerwen had no problem defending his title.
Next on the calendar was the start of the Premier League in which only four of last year’s participants are involved plus four debutants and two players who returned have returned – and I have to say up to now it has been a really good and often unpredictable tournament, even though van Gerwen is by now back on top of the table.
Then we had the qualifiers for the UK Open which brought the hotly debated incident between an enraged Adrian Lewis and a stunned Jose Antonio Justicia Perales. I feel Lewis got off rather lightly even should Perales have really have intended to provoke Lewis – which I can’t believe. There is no excuse for Lewis to have gone after Perales!
Otherwise, the UK Open qualifiers were in no way remarkable and didn’t prepare us in any way for the more than unusual tournament which they lead to.
I’ve been several times in Minehead for the UK Open and know it is a rather long and tiring journey even in normal circumstances. So I this year again had decided to stay two nights in Bath and travel from there over to Minehead – only a short train and a little bit longer bus journey…
It was cold in Bath – very cold, unusually cold for Bath. There was a very strong wind, a little bit of ice and snow on the streets and pavements. I couldn’t do much sightseeing and my first activity was it to buy a cap to protect my ears….
On the Thursday before the UK Open would start it got even worse – a red weather alert appeared – something which never before had happened in the UK. Loads of snow and a heavy storm were announced which would make travelling difficult to impossible.
I decided to leave Bath as soon as possible and when I arrived at the train station all trains were already running late even though nothing really had happened so far. It had snowed a little bit and the wind was still very strong but the roads still looked free.
I arrived around 11:00 a.m. at Taunton station from where the buses to Minehead usually leave only to learn that all buses to Minehead were cancelled for the day. Somehow I ended in a taxi together with a young couple who had booked the weekend in Butlins. The road was still clear but the snowfall got stronger and stronger and by the time we arrived in Minehead I had a hard time getting to my bed and breakfast with my luggage from where the taxi driver dropped me. The pavement covered with snow and of course the wind was an opposing wind which hindered my advance. Meanwhile, one could hear everywhere it would be best to stay inside for the rest of the day… so I hurried out to get some food and water to be prepared for the worst and then withdrew into my comfortable, warm room and watched the snow continue to fall outside and listened to the howling wind.
Premier League in Exeter had been cancelled due to the red alert – would the UK Open go on as planned?
My first view the next morning showed that we had around 20 cm (about 8 inches) of snow so far and the wind was still strong. My mobile informed me the tournament had not been cancelled though 11 players had to withdraw – among them some German and Irish players. In Germany many flights to England had been cancelled as the planes would not be able to land. Irish airports had been closed until Sunday due to the storm. But while the PDC announced the tournament would still take place, Butlins announced that they had decided to close the resort which meant there would be a big TV darts event but without a crowd.
So, I took my computer and camera and waded through the snow to Butlins after I bought some more food in an almost empty grocery store. There was almost no traffic on the snowy roads and not many cars in the Butlins’ parking spaces. But some people were around – probably those who had already arrived there on Thursday before the resort closing was announced.
The TV crew, PDC staff and security had all arrived in Minehead as well – most without a problem as like me they had arrived early. It was rather cold in the resort as the heating was not working. Well not only rather cold – more very, very cold – and the PDC had decided not to use the big stage in the big Skyline Pavilion but rather the small stage in Reds – a pub like venue – as the main stage and the Centre Stage for the other boards. It needed a little bit of rescheduling but to be sure it was a sensible decision…
The tournament started, there even was a small crowd in both venues and I started my work taking pictures in the Centre Stage and in Reds. Every time that meant a short walk outside through the snow, wind and cold – not really a tempting endeavor. Reds felt quite comfortable but Centre Stage was absolutely freezing and I didn’t envy the short-sleeved players and officials.
Against the usual rules, some players were even allowed to play in jackets or hoodies. Luckily the matches had a short format – nevertheless many players shivered with cold. It might be the conditions had in the end an influence on the outcome of some of the matches.
Taking pictures was not easy either and the PDC photographer was all the time wrapped up in his shawl and winter jacket. When the evening session started the problem with the heating seemed to be solved and Centre Stage got a little bit warmer – it was now only cold and no longer freezing.
In the first and second rounds some well-known players like Terry Jenkins and Paul Nicholson were in action. Among those who survived the afternoon were Nicholson, Raymond van Barneveld and John Part – who returned for the evening session.
The evening session brought some upsets – reigning champion Peter Wright, Raymond van Barneveld, Simon Whitlock and Dave Chisnall were all eliminated and certainly the biggest upset was world number 1 and favourite to win the UK Open Michael van Gerwen being defeated by his young fellow countryman Jeffrey de Zwaan.
After the last match, I escaped to my well-heated bed and breakfast. It was still snowing and the wind still was very strong. The roads were covered in snow but now the only way for pedestrians to get about without sinking in the snow.
It looked a little bit better on Saturday morning. The temperature had risen and the snow had started to thaw. Underneath the snow now was a lot of water and walking to the venue was a mixture of wading and swimming…
By now, the two venues were well heated, quite comfortable and much warmer than the press room or outside. The number of boards in the Centre Stage had been reduced to three and the crowd was reduced too – well, I didn’t count but there may have been thirty people. As it turned out afterwards, Butlins sent home the remaining few guests on Saturday and didn’t allow any of the players in who still were stuck in Minehead, but out of the tournament.
In the afternoon session, the fourth round of the event was played and I found the time to watch some of the matches over a longer period. Gary Anderson was now the top favourite to win and he had no problem at all with Ricky Evans though he said after the match Evans was too fast for him. Corey Cady played a great tournament and the surprise players John Part, David Pallett and Robert Owen progressed into the last 16 as did the last amateur qualifier still in the event, Paul Hogan.
We saw some more upsets in the last 16 when Ian White and Michael Smith were eliminated alongside Paul Hogan who was to be sure (should one be able to call him that under the circumstances) the crowd favourite. With the draw for the next round the night ended. Only eight players were still in the tournament: Steve West, Gerwyn Price, David Pallett, Robert Owen, John Part, Corey Cadby, Gary Anderson and Rob Cross. Who would have predicted that?
On finals day the sun was shining and the sky was blue! The temperature had risen even more and there was almost no wind! The snow on the main streets was more or less gone as was in fact “the crowd” in the venue. All matches now were played on the Reds’ stage in front of the guests of the players still in the tournament, a few people from the sponsor Coral and some PDC staff and officials. Nevertheless security was still around.
All the quarterfinals were rather one-sided affairs and the afternoon session soon was over. Rob Cross couldn’t keep up with Gary Anderson, Steve West was no match for David Pallett, John Part looked tired and lost to Robert Owen, and Corey Cadby was too much for Gerwyn Price. There was another draw and another break and then the evening session started with the two semi-finals.
The first semi-final began not really high-class but both Gary Anderson and David Pallett improved. Anderson took command and won 11-7 to progress into the final. But Pallett – not even a Tour Card holder – what an amazing tournament he played!
Robert Owen looked a little bit intimidated when the second semi-final started and he found no way to keep up with young Australian Corey Cadby. In the end Owen managed to win three legs – which he celebrated in a brilliant way –but it nevertheless was an entertaining match.
So the UK Open final this year was Gary Anderson vs. Corey Cadby. Anderson at first had some problems with the boisterous young player who was determined to win his first major tournament. But Anderson is not a player to get steamrolled. He dug in and with apparent ease put Cadby in his place.
Anderson won his first UK Open deservedly and Cadby was devastated. In the end one of the top players was the winner after all but the real heroes of the tournament were players like Dave Pallett, Robert Owen, John Part and Paul Hogan.
The venue was deserted when I left it, dismantle work almost complete and all the snow was gone like a nightmare.
What a memorable, strange and nevertheless great tournament it had been! And how lucky I had been to be able to witness it…
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