Darts – Rise of The Class of 2010.
I wrote the article below as a reflection of what had happened since I had become involved with professional darts in 2010. The Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) were about to introduce a tour card system and Qualifying School in a similar style to golf. The 2010 intake would be the last that could simply pay entrance fees and compete, alongside the elite, in an effort to make a career and living from the game:
It is now many years since this story began and the six players highlighted within it have experienced a great deal more of what a professional sports career can be like. The original article appeared in four parts at Dartsmad.com.
For some time now it has seemed to me that the 2010 intake of new PDPA members was something rather special. I can be accused of bias, due to one of that intake being, Mark ‘Mile High’ Hylton, but a look at the tale behind the scenes will confirm that this was a special moment for professional darts.
As we come to the end of their second season it seems an appropriate time to review the story of `The Class of 2010’.
In the Birmingham area in late 2009 a remarkable coincidence took place; in an area of the city a new darting venture under the banner `This is Darts’ was looking for players to support its effort to create a new darts brand.
The players selected were chosen by one of their number, Ian McFarlane, and included the strongest and most consistent local performers in what was a hotbed of quality amateur competition.
Recommended were Nigel Heydon, Tony Randell, Trevor Frost, Mark Hylton, and, a little later, Scott Rand. All except Mark Hylton were given the opportunity to play PDC darts that year by the `This is Darts’ initiative.
On the other side of the city an amateur player/enthusiast had been watching Mark Hylton for a year whilst also studying what it would take to succeed in the PDC. Following an initial discussion it was decided he would become Hylton’s manager rather than supporter.
And so, the Midlands branch of the 2010 intake was formed, consisting of players based in Staffordshire and Leamington Spa as well as the second city itself.
A mere forty miles away another player was deciding to make the leap from rising BDO star to PDC newcomer. Telford’s Steve Farmer made the tough decision to leave his comfort zone and cross into what some describe as the shark pool of PDC organised tour events.
Despite being well known as a quality thrower Steve had not won a significant BDO event nor had consistent business end results. However showing great courage in backing himself Steve joined the class of 2010 with many people quietly thinking that he could do well.
Meanwhile in Stoke-on-Trent a forgotten man was weighing up a big move from BDO to PDC. Despite a couple of outstanding seasons in the BDO, with several tournament wins, as well as pairs triumphs, the frustration of an early exit from the Lakeside Championship had seen him start 2010 still a BDO player.
Later, with three months of the season already gone, our final member of the Class of 2010 would be playing catch up from the beginning. With the support of a number of illustrious PDC names, and a determination to make darts his living, Ian ‘Diamond’ White finally made the decision to join the PDC and attempt to become one of a select few to play both World Championships in a calendar year.
As the UK contingent of the class of 2010 prepared for their debut event, in Gibraltar, another equally remarkable assault was being planned on the holiday isle of Mallorca. 32 year old Antonio Alcinas, a relatively unknown Spaniard who’s best result was reaching the last 64 of the 2005 Winmau World Masters, was preparing for his entry into the fray.
In 2009 ‘El Dartador’ had discovered a renewed passion for the game and the belief that he could make an impact on the big stage. The vagaries of the PDC system meant that his European passport gave him the irresistible opportunity of success and winning the Spanish National title had filled Alcinas with confidence.
This confidence was borne out later, with a run to the semi finals of the PDC World Cup that included a victory over Gary Anderson inspired Scotland and only ended at the hands of eventual winners, Holland. Antonio Alcinas had arrived.
So there we have it, the new intake that would play with intent over that year: Heydon, Hylton, Farmer, Rand and White, with Alcinas representing Europe. How would they fare?
Part 2 – The Debut Year
The new boys announced their arrival with Nigel Heydon reaching a semi final during his first weekend of competitions and taking out a range of famous names along the way.
Alcinas reached a quarter final, steadily picking up valuable prize money for the European Order of Merit and the European Championships later in the year.
The rest began in mixed fashion – Farmer plodded steadily toward the UK Open but did not trouble the Pro Tour events.
Hylton struggled to come to terms with playing players who had inspired him, players he had only watched on TV. He failed to qualify for the first major of the year, the UK Open.
Farmer departed at the last 96 stage so it was left to Nigel Heydon to fly the flag for the newcomers. And fly it he did with a fine run to the last 16. The run included a victory over 2005 World Championship finalist, Mark Dudbridge. It was a decent start for the trailblazers but they were yet to set the world on fire.
It wasn’t long before we saw signs of the newcomers really starting to settle into the challenge. Scott Rand & Ian White were now on board while Farmer and Hylton were beginning to show signs of what they could do. A sprinkling of impressive victories over name players such as Colin Osborne, Andy Hamilton, Kevin Painter and Jamie Caven backed this up.
The annual jaunt to Las Vegas proved a turning point for Hylton who secured some important victories earning him valuable prize money to get his campaign going.
Nigel Heydon twice battled gamely against Phil Taylor knowing victory would secure a dream place at the World Matchplay in Blackpool. Although The Undertaker was not successful, Taylor was given a scare and notice had been served.
Scott Rand was now beginning to make an impact, already earning over £2000 on the Pro Tour. Ian White had also got into his stride and had already reached the last 16 of a Pro Tour event. Despite no representative at the 2010 World Matchplay, the newcomers were represented by Antonio Alcinas at the European Championships, having qualified via the European Order of Merit.
Mark Hylton was the only traveller to Australia for that year’s Players Championship event. Mile High sensationally reached the final, despite being 1-4 down in the first round, where he was defeated by, former World Champion, Dennis Priestley. Things were looking good for the boys of 2010.
The following month saw the Class of 2010 move up a gear. Steve Farmer reached a Pro Tour final and then superbly won an event several weeks later while Ian White reached a semi final shortly after.
His event victory secured Farmer a place at The World Grand Prix in Dublin where a scrappy first round loss to Steve Brown would be an important milestone on Farmer’s steep learning curve.
Heydon had evened out but was steadily progressing whilst Ian White was homing in on an Ally Pally World Championship place.
In November it was Mark Hylton’s turn to come to the TV party. He won through to the Grand Slam of Darts, via the wildcard qualifier, where, in the final match, he reversed his previous defeat by Priestley.
In a Group of Death that included Gary Anderson, Mark Webster and Wayne Jones, Hylton bowed out at the group stage but his valiant performances had left their mark and given a glimpse of better to come from the former airline cabin manager.
By the end of the 2010 season Heydon, Farmer, Alcinas & Hylton had qualified for the World Championships, while Ian White had missed his chance of entering the record books by a single place. Scott Rand’s late start to the season meant that he would have to wait until the end of 2011 for his chance of Ally Pally glory.
All of the newcomers automatically retained their tour cards for the 2011/12 season so, with playing rights for the next year safely in the bag, who would impress on the biggest stage of all?
Steve Farmer was the first to make his appearance on the Ally Pally stage and despite a late rally he went down tamely to The Asset, Paul Nicholson.
Nigel Heydon got off to a bad start and despite his best effort was shaded in round one by Robert Thornton.
Antonio Alcinas had drawn the short straw and despite some great legs succumbed 3-0 to James Wade.
Having got off to the slowest start in 2010 it was Mark Hylton who was finishing the season the strongest and he continued this in London by defeating Steve Beaton in round one and Colin Lloyd in round two.
By the time he went into his last 16 clash with Mark Webster, Hylton had hit the most 180’s in the tournament but couldn’t get past the Welshman who went on to beat Phil Taylor in the next round and reach the semi finals.
So the class of 2010 had started well – one Pro Tour win, one runner up, 3 semi finals and a smattering of quarter finals was a decent haul for year one. Mark Hylton & Nigel Heydon had reached the last 16 of two major tournaments while Steve Farmer still had one major to go at having qualified for the Player’s Championship Finals.
Three of the guys were deservedly on the short list for the PDC’s 2010 Newcomer of the Year award and Mark Hylton’s World Championship performance ensured he claimed the trophy to join the exclusive best newcomer’s club.
PDC Ranking Position: Farmer 50 | Hylton 54 | Heydon 55 | Alcinas 71 | White 89 | Rand 97
Pro Tour Results: Wins – 1 | Runner Up – 2 | Semi Final – 3 | Quarter Final – 5 | Last 16 – 16
UK Open – 3 Qualified (1 x L16)
World Matchplay – 0
European Championship 1 (1 x L32)
World Grand Prix – 1 (1 x L32)
Grand Slam – 1 (1 x L32)
World Championships – 4 (3 x L64 + 1 x L16)
2011 The Difficult Second Year?
Just like that difficult second album, or the second season in football’s Premier League, year two would see the honeymoon over, and new pressures arriving, but all the Class of 2010 started steadily in the Pro Tour events.
The first major of 2011 was the Players Championship Finals and following his first round exit from the World Championships Steve Farmer had said to me “enough of this first round s**t, that’s the last of them!”
And he was not wrong. A superb run saw the 2010 debutant reach the semi finals in fine style with wins over Mark Walsh, Colin Osborne and Colin Lloyd. An in-form Gary Anderson proved too strong in the semi final with a 10-7 victory but Farmer had shown what he was capable of and was hungry for more.
Back on the Pro Tour Scott Rand was making his presence felt with two quarter finals, a semi final and three last 16 appearances in the first couple of months. Some huge scalps had been taken along the way and `Cool Hand’ was showing just how good a player he was and was well positioned for the upcoming majors.
Ian White also had a great start to 2011, qualifying for the UK Open and reaching a Pro Tour final along the way. However due to sponsor and external issues, it was a tough start to the year for the “Diamond”.
Antonio Alcinas had started with an even bigger bang getting to a Pro Tour final on the first weekend, in Germany, thus also being right in the mix for major tournament qualification.
Following his sterling efforts at the World Championships, Mark Hylton had begun 2011 in steady fashion and had himself qualified for the UK Open. Then one May weekend in Austria Hylton exploded into form, reaching a quarter final and a semi final on consecutive days, moving him into a high position in the Players Championship Order of Merit.
Steve Farmer’s form had dipped during the first part of 2011 and he slipped up, as Hylton had in 2010, by failing to qualify for the UK Open in Bolton.
As for the Open itself, Scott Rand had qualified and made a decent debut but was nudged out early on the back of some superb finishing from Steve Beaton.
Ian White was the highest qualifier of the bunch but a tough draw saw him blown out by Gary Anderson in the last 64.
Meanwhile Mark Hylton was on something of a roll. Wins over Brian Woods, Geoff Whitworth, Andy Jenkins, and the dangerous Andrew Gilding preceded a superb last 16 defeat of Peter Wright and brought a quarter final against Denis Ovens. Despite a disappointing 10-6 loss, it was another leap in the right direction for the man who was now top of the Class of 2010.
Immediately following the UK Open were more critical qualifiers and another big effort from Hylton brought another semi final. During this wonderful run Hylton produced some top class darts. Over the course of four matches against the highest quality opposition, including Micheal van Gerwen, he won over twenty legs without reply and was, at times, unplayable.
Scott Rand was also maintaining his own run of form and, despite a few minor wobbles as the deadline approached, both he and Hylton made it to the Winter Gardens for the World Matchplay in July. Such was Hylton’s form he only narrowly missed out on the toughest major to qualify for – The European Championships.
In Blackpool both men received difficult first round draws and failed to clear the first hurdle, Rand gaining more vital experience against the wily Wayne Jones and Hylton earning plaudits for averaging nearly 100 and running Phil Taylor close. The pair took away many positives from their experience of the matchplay format against the big guns of darts.
Following the World Matchplay the summer break would prove tough for some of the players as Scott Rand and Nigel Heydon found themselves desperately disappointed at not being able to attend the Pro Tour events in Canada due to sponsorship issues.
Meanwhile after a slow start on the Pro Tour Ian White was working closely with Mile High and his management, results were soon coming in as morale and determination were boosted. Steve Farmer, meanwhile, seemed content to dip in and out of the tour with what must have been another plan to come strong at the end of the year.
The hard work put in at the start of the season ensured that once again the Class of 2010 would be represented at the World Grand Prix in Dublin. Now a force to be reckoned with, Mark Hylton blazed a trail to the quarter finals, defeating Mark Walsh and, impressively, Simon Whitlock before bowing out to a resurgent Richie Burnett.
The Class of 2010 were improving at every stage and they would have had greater Grand Prix representation had Scott Rand not been cruelly denied qualification at the last gasp by the aforementioned Burnett.
Elsewhere, Antonio Alcinas had been quietly strengthening his European Order of Merit position to ensure qualification for the World Championship. Ian White had produced some incredible consistency in the face of some terrible draws and Nigel Heydon was returning to his early form and looking a serious danger again.
So it proved.
Mark Hylton hit another purple patch in the floor tournaments, reaching more quarter finals and semi finals in the weeks after his Dublin success. Ian White and Nigel Heydon smashed their way into the Grand Slam of Darts through the wildcard route that bore fruit for Hylton in 2010.
White also ensured that it would be a full house at the 2012 World Championships with a superb end of season run that included quarter final and last 16 places. Heydon had been in superb form on the Pro Tour reaching quarter finals with assured regularity.
As in 2010, the Grand Slam of Darts should have been a warning to everybody that the Class of 2010 were not to be underestimated. Heydon and White kicked off superbly, defeating Gary Anderson and Raymond van Barneveld respectively. More importantly they gained three matches of invaluable experience on the pressurised TV stage – good preparation for the imminent World Championships.
A shuffling of the PDC calendar saw the Players Championships finals moved to December 2011 giving an extra opportunity for the Class of 2010 to attack the majors.
Mark Hylton bowed out early to Mark Walsh but the baton was brilliantly carried by Scott Rand, who defeated Jamie Caven, James Wade and Raymond van Barneveld in a stunning run to the semi final, only to be thwarted at the penultimate hurdle by an inspired Kevin painter, whose name seemed to be on the trophy. Once more at a major the Class of 2010 had yielded two qualifiers and a semi final spot. Only the World professional Championships remained to conclude a superb second year.
2012 World Championship and End of Term Report
Impressively, all six of the 2010 alumni qualified for the 2012 World Championships. Each player had so far stated their case both in ranking events and televised majors and shown evidence that they could make an impact on the PDC rankings.
Nigel Heydon led the defending World Champion, Adrian Lewis, two sets to nil and was only pipped in a last leg decider.
Ian White pushed Rob Thornton all the way but went down 3-1 to ‘The Thorn’ who has made a habit of removing the 2010 boys from their debut World Championship!
Mark Hylton featured in one of the best games of the first round against the rapid fire Dutch Destroyer, losing to Vincent van de Voort in a last set decider.
Antonio Alcinas lost another thriller to The Hammer, Andy Hamilton, to leave just two of the Class of 2010 standing at the Ally Pally. Hamilton went on to reach the final, losing to Adrian Lewis.
Scott Rand enjoyed a cool debut as he whitewashed The Pieman, Andy Smith. A second round tussle with Colin Lloyd saw Cool Hand start favourite against the former world number one; further evidence of the progress that Class of 2010 have made. However, it was not to be this year as Jaws ruined Rand’s first match as a professional, dumping him out of the tournament.
Steve Farmer’s master plan of laying low and coming on strong at the end of the season appeared to have worked to a tee. Farmer defeated Ronnie Baxter in round one and qualifier Kevin Munch in round two to reach a last 16 dust up with James Wade. Again the this round proved a bridge too far for the 2010 guys, Farmer losing out to The Machine.
Thus Steve Farmer was the most successful of the bunch at Ally Pally 2012, a tournament that saw all players put up a good fight and Scott Rand make the decision to give up the lorry driving and become a full time darts pro.
PDC Ranking Position: Hylton 33 (up 21 places from 2010) | Farmer 36 (14) | Rand 41 (58) | Heydon 43 (12) | Alcinas 51 (20) | White 54 (35)
Pro Tour Results: Wins – 0 | Runner Up – 2 | Semi Final – 6 | Quarter Final – 14 | Last 16 – 22
Player Championship Finals (2010) – 1 Qualified (1 x Semi)
UK Open – 5 Qualified (1 x Qtr, 1 x L64, 1 x L96, 2 x L160)
World Matchplay – 2 Qualified (2 x L32)
European Championship – 1 Qualified (1 x L32)
World Grand Prix – 1 Qualified (1 x Qtr)
Players Championship Finals (2011) – 2 Qualified (1 x Semi, 1 x L32)
World Championships – 6 Qualified (1 xL16, 1 x L32, 4 x L64)
Part 5 – End of Term Report
So here we are after almost two full seasons. The progress of the Class of 2010 is there for all to see. All six players are in, or around, the top fifty in the PDC Order of Merit. Mark Hylton is one place outside the top 32 and three others are within striking distance; all are going in the right direction, some quite quickly.
One member of the class has won a floor event and three more have been to Pro Tour finals. In majors two have been to a semi final and one has made a brace of quarter final appearances at the PDC’s premier events.
The entire class have performed admirably against the best of their peers, both on TV and away from the cameras. Between them they have represented the class of 2010 at every PDC event in the last two years (with the exception of the Premier League & Championship League of Darts).
It is an impressive litany of success and to do it within the first two years of joining the PDC is remarkable. Somewhat surprisingly they have stayed under the radar for most part due to the arrival in 2011 of some more famous faces – Dave Chisnall and John Henderson for example.
There is another reason why the Class of 2010 deserve huge credit for the impression they have made on the PDC. I have been told separately, and by the players themselves, that a number of other players from unheralded backgrounds (players such as Mick Todd, Matt Edgar & youngsters like Adam Smith-Neale) took huge inspiration to enter the PDC based on the exploits of the Class of 2010.
Todd, Edgar, and the like played with and against players such as Rand and Heydon in the amateur arena and took the plunge at the PDC Qualifying School at the start of 2011 others were spurred on by the thought “if bloody Mark Hylton can get that far, I could do even better!”
Players such as John Henderson, Dave Chisnall and Brian Woods all followed Ian White after seeking Diamond’s advice, inspired by his success.
If more evidence were needed of the inspiration provided by the Class of 2010, look no further than the year James Richardson has had. After following a near identical route to “Mile High” It has been a year almost identical to the one Mark Hylton enjoyed in 2010 and a year that bubbled to the surface with his spectacular trouncing of Raymond van Barneveld at the 2012 World Championship.
Due to a number of changes that have taken place with the qualifying criteria (with more in the pipeline) it will be difficult for new players to make such an impact in future years. I believe that the Class of 2010 will go from strength to strength and will come to be regarded as a unique group.
Six guys with little or no top level experience who had only twelve months to secure tour cards and only another year to break into the Order of Merit top 64. All six achieved both targets and have shaken up the comfortable world of professional darts, inspiring others to do the same along the way.
What will they future bring? Will any other intake compare to the Class of 2010?
Article originally appeared at Dartsmad.com
(Four Parts during 2012)