Tuesday 17 September 2019

Kevin Palmer: 'You need to experience this inexplicably wonderful sporting event to appreciate it'

The PDC World Darts Championship is taking place at Alexandra Palace in London.
The PDC World Darts Championship is taking place at Alexandra Palace in London.
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

You can tell it's going be a different kind of sporting occasion when you are confronted by strewn Santa Claus and Teenage Mutant Ninga Turtle costumes in puddles at the side of the road en-route to the venue.

If that was the introduction, the sights and sounds that hit you at the epicentre of one of the most raucous events of the year confirm that the William Hill World Darts championships is a spectacle like no other.

This is a long way from the smoke-filled darts halls of the 1980s featuring beer swilling arrow chucking luminaries such as Eric Bristow, John Lowe and Jocky Wilson, as the icons of their era carved out a niche in English sporting culture that turned them into national celebrities, yet the rebranded and glossier version of the game heading into 2019 could not be more contrasting.

As the Alexandra Palace welcomes the most colourful audience in sport during this festive season, it is the unfathomable insanity away from the action on the oche that leaves a lasting impression for all visitors.

Fancy dress appears to be compulsory and as your step into the Fan Zone, the sight of a burly man dressed as a Whoopie cushion sharing a pint with his four friends who decided to show up as The Teletubbies somehow seems acceptable.

Mary and Jesus impersonators were being interviewed for television in one corner of the hall, while two lads dressed as tomato ketchup and brown sauce bottles had a go on the practice darts board.

As the Mexicans in their sombreros lined up to buys drinks tokens alongside the walking Christmas cracker and five men who made a rational decision to dress up as The Spice Girls, it was almost unfortunate to allow this outpouring of madness to be halted by a sporting event that seemed like a sideshow compared to the spectacle all around.

This scene that will be repeated day after day and night after night until the next PDC World Champion is crowned on New Year's Day, with the party atmosphere outside of the arena nothing compared to the festival of fun occurring inside the main hall.

Sky Sports have invested billions to retain the rights to screen Premier League football, yet their viewing figures confirm that coverage of the annual PDC darts roadshow has cemented darts' status as one of the most popular sports on the network and it is easy to see why so many have been drawn in.

As master of ceremonies John McDonald welcomed former world champion Adrian Lewis to the stage and the girls in skimpy outfits waved their pom-poms, this is old school entertainment in a modern format and the noise inside the sold out venue matched anything you might expect to witness at the Aviva Stadium or the 3 Arena for a major sporting event.

With £500,000 up for grabs for the winner of the PDC World Championship and the world's top players winning upwards of £1m a year in prize money, the darts boom has impacted the lives of the players in glorious fashion, with those hero worshiping these improbable sporting masters lapping up every moment.

Lewis and reigning world champion Rob Cross cruised into the last-16 of the competition, yet the abiding memory from the night at the darts was the happiness that filled the room.

With the breaks in sessions of advert breaks sparking the familiar chants of Planet Funk's Chase The Sun, the familiarity of the occasion ensured everyone knew when to join in at a Christmas party that barely allowed its intensity to drop for three hours.

By the end of the night, the screams from the crowd are fuelled by beer that has moved their volume levels past the deafening mark, yet there was no sense that the joy could turn to anger in a crowd oozing with happiness and removed from rivalry at an event where football shirts are banned and tribalism is side-stepped.

The train ride home continues the madness as Willie Wonka chats to his drunk oompa loompa pals.

Even if you have no interest in darts, you need to experience this wonderfully insane sporting event to appreciate why it has become a cultural phenomenon. What a night.

The PDC World Darts Championships continues on Sky Sports throughout Christmas, with a new champion crowned in the final on January 1st 2019.

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