Column #CM96 The Inaugural BDO World Championship Final

Monday, December 21, 2020
Column CM96
The Inaugural BDO World Championship Final

The final is not always the best match of a tournament – but there have been some World Championship finals which must rank among the best matches in the history of darts. Among them, the inaugural BDO World Championship (which took place in 1978) had a noteworthy final, and a couple of other matches, which I’d submit are among the best ever –  and this is not only because they occurred at the first World Championship tournament.

This first World Championship of the BDO didn’t take place in the cultivated atmosphere of the Lakeside Country Club in Frimley Green but rather in the Heart of the Midlands Club in Nottingham. It was not played, as in later years, in January but rather from February 6-10.  It was organised by the BDO which had been founded five years before and it was televised on BBC.  Sid Waddell was the commentator, as in all BDO World Championships until the split in darts 1993.

At the time, the prize money of £3,000 for the winner was quite decent. The runner-up got £1,700 and even the players who didn’t survive the first round got £250 for participating.  This first World Championship had a leg format, not sets, and the format of the final was best of 21 legs.

The sponsor was Imperial Tobacco and as the company produced a brand of cigarettes named Embassy, the World Championship was known as the Embassy.  Imperial Tobacco sponsored the Snooker World Championship as well.  For the Darts World Championship Imperial Tobacco was for 25 years the main sponsor until the English Government forbid tobacco companies to sponsor sport events.

The tournament was not just called the World Championship – international qualifiers really played in it. There were 16 participants in the event.  The Englishmen – Eric Bristow, Alan Glazier, Tony Brown and John Lowe – were seeded 1-4.  Americans Conrad Daniels and Nicky Virachkul were seeds 5 and 6.  Canadian Hilliyard Rossiter was seeded seventh.   Seeded 8 and 9 were the two Welsh players, Alan Evans and Leighton Rees, while the Australians Barry Atkinsons and Tim Brown were the number 10 and 11 seeds. Seeds 12 and 13 were Scotsmen Rab Smith and Bobby Semple.  Seeds 14 and 15 were Swedes Stefan Lord and Kenth Ohlsson and the 16 seed was Irishman Patrick Clifford.  One can well say that everybody of distinction in the world of darts at that time took part in this first BDO World Championship.

In the first World Championship there was a big first round upset – number 1 seed Eric Bristow was eliminated by American Conrad Daniels – and I can imagine Daniels for many years chuckled at that result.

A player who by his own admission felt comfortable in the tournament from the start was Welshman Leighton Rees – at that time a really big gun in British darts.  Rees defeated Australian Barry Atkinson first round.  He won 6-0 and threw a 15-darter, a 19-darter, an 18-darter, another 15-darter, a 12-darter and a 17-darter – and the 12-darter could have been an 10- or even a 9-darter had Rees not just scratched the wire of the triple 20 with some of his darts.

In the quarterfinals Rees met his Welsh countryman and great friend Alan Evans.  As Rees described it was probably the best match ever between the two.  There were 42 scores over 100, six 180s and the very first 10-darter (137, 180, 180, 4) on TV.  In addition, Evans threw a 160-finish and Rees a 161-finish.

Rees won the match 6-3 but admitted Evans could have won the match too.  He felt he had never before seen Evans play so well and lose nevertheless.  Rees was especially happy about his 10-darter and that he hit the double two.  It looks as that was not his favourite double!

Of course the averages of the match are known as well.  Rees had an average of 97.50; Evans averaged 94.86.  Even by today’s standards it was a really good match and far better than the other quarterfinals of the tournament.  In fact, those two averages were by far the highest of the tournament.

In the semi finals Rees competed against American Nicky Virachkul and Virachkul stormed into a 3-0 lead.  Rees wrote that he was glad about the long format of best of 15 legs as this gave him a chance to get back into the match when he was behind.  And to be sure – Rees won the following five legs.  But Virachkul didn’t give in and levelled at 6.  And 7.  Rees dug deep in the deciding leg.  He threw a 180, followed by a 123 and won it with a 13-darter.  Only then did he turn around and realize the reward for the win was an encounter with John Lowe in the final.

The interest of the media was huge and at home in Wales all hell had broken lose.  As Rees wrote, he was not so much interested in the prize money as he was determined to win for Wales.

The format of the final was best of 21 legs, the longest match in which Rees ever had played but he was not worried at all as by now he believed this tournament was his tournament.  And he was right!

At the start, the final was a head-to-head race but when Lowe was 4-3 ahead, Rees won six legs in a row and and marched to a 9-4 lead.  So, he needed only two more legs to win the title…

Lowe threw a 15-darter and Rees answered with a 15-darter.  Only one leg more was needed for the title but Rees couldn’t finish his 66 points in the next leg and Lowe snatched it.

In the following leg Lowe stood on 141 points while Rees still had 81.  Lowe got down to 50 and Rees threw 31 points.  Lowe couldn’t finish off his points with his next throw while Rees hit first the single 20 and then tops and won the inaugural World Championship title of the BDO.  It was a really big win for the Welshman but for him the greatest moment was the reception he got when he returned to Wales.

Not to be forgotten was a match for the third place which American Nicky Virachkul won against Stefan Lord.

After his World Championship win Rees didn’t win many more tournaments but qualified every year until 1990.  The last event he played was in 1994, the Welsh Open.  John Lowe won in 1979, 1987 and 1993 and after the split in darts, twice (in 1995 and 1996) reached the semi-finals of the PDC World Championship.  In 2005, he qualified for the last time for the PDC World Championship.

For a long time, Leighton Rees remained the only Welsh World Champion – until 1995 when Richie Burnett won the title.  In 2008, Mark Webster was the next Welsh World Champion.

Besides the first BDO World Champion probably that last BDO World Champion was a Welshman too – Wayne Warren won the title 2020.

To date there has been no Welsh winner of the PDC World Championship.

In 2021 – with Nick Kenny, Jamie Lewis, Gerwyn Price and Jonny Clayton – four Welsh players will stand on the stage at Alexandra Palace.  And I can well imagine that Gerwyn Price will one day be the first Welsh PDC World Champion.

No video of the of the complete inaugural BDO World Championship final exists but you can watch the last leg here:

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Charis Mutschler
The founder of Global Darts, darts journalist Charis Mutschler hails from Marbach, near Stuttgart, Germany. A regular at most major PDC tournaments, a lover of literature, dance and music and cats, Charis' popular writings about darts and its players often transcend the usual. She brings something unique to the chroniclers of the sport we all love.