One of the noticeable things in the darts industry over recent years has been the growth of the special or collectors edition sets. Often they are simply a variation on the player’s current dart or specially packaged, souvenir type, product to mark an occasion or achievement. However, Unicorn has just released a unique pack. Not one but two sets of darts marking the remarkable career of John Lowe!
A Moment Of Darting History
In 1984 John Lowe MBE became the first person to achieve a 9-dart finish on television, in a match against Keith Deller at the 1984 World Matchplay. John hit two 180s with his first six darts, before finishing on 141 with treble 17, treble 18, and double 18 to complete the perfect leg. With this feat, John earned himself a place in darting immortality, as well as £102,000.
The John Lowe MBE Limited Edition darts are presented in deluxe packaging and come complete with two sets of darts, the first of which is a Limited Edition Replica of the dart John used to throw the perfect leg. His original (Phase 1) barrels are 90% natural tungsten, with Limited Edition 9 Dart engraving. The shaft and flights are a modern replica of those used on that famous day, a Silver Moulded SlikStik shaft and ULTRAFLY Rainbow Blue flights in Xtra shape.
The second set of darts included are a Limited Edition replica of the dart John used more recently, the main variation is a more pronounced and aggressive grip. The 90% tungsten dart (Phase 2) with gold titanium coating and Limited Edition MBE engraving also includes Gold Premier Aluminium Shafts and Gold John Lowe MBE ‘Ultrafly’ flights in Plus shape.
2019 New Year’s Honours
On the 2nd May 2019, the three-time World Champion was awarded an MBE by Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, for services to the sport of darts and Charity at Buckingham Palace. John’s incredible career has spanned across four decades of darting excellence, in which he became the first man to win three World Championship Titles across three decades, defeating Leighton Rees in 1979, Eric Bristow in 1987, and Alan Warriner in 1993.
In total there are just 501 sets of the John Lowe Limited Edition Set, spread across the three weights, meaning there are just 167 Sets each of 21G, 23G and 25G available. Available only from Unicorn or from John Lowe MBE himself.
Each John Lowe MBE Limited Edition Box Contains-
Deluxe John Lowe MBE Packaging
2 Sets of Limited Edition John Lowe Darts – 1 x Set of Phase 1 Natural John Lowe Darts and 1 x Set of Phase 2 Gold John Lowe Darts
The Tech Explosion.
As with many sports, darts has been inundated with “technological” advances over recent years. Due to the large audience, increased exposure and huge participant numbers, manufacturers have been seeking to develop products that will tempt the ordinary player and, perhaps, give professional players that extra % that will make all the difference.
One of the great advantages of darts, as a participant sport, is its relatively inexpensive nature. A decent board, other items needed, in order to play the game can be obtained and installed for less £100 or even less than £50 with the help of Ebay or swap & sell sites.
Surges in popularity of Golf & Tennis, among others, also lead to technological leaps, both for amateurs and at the professional level. Yet in these sports the advances can be clearly demonstrated, explained and sometimes obviously visible. Sweet spots, head size, string power or spin generation, length of shot, reduction of mis-hits etc.
The biggest change in darts was the use of denser metals, such as tungsten, in order to make darts thinner at the preferred weights. Tennis and golf have had their equivalents with changes in shaft and frame material respectively. Again in such sports these changes lead to measurable increasing in power, durability, flexibility etc.
A few years ago however darts manufacturers began to introduce other changes. With these came increased costs and what could be termed premium level darts and accessories. Along with the design “innovations” came new cosmetics and terminology in order to persuade players that these items could really make a difference to them. At the highest level players were tinkering, with the help of manufacturers, almost constantly to create the impression of an evolving process, thus meaning new generations of players, or classic, darts and the creation of a market that now sees many amateur players changing darts annually or even more often! It seems that a combination of sport tech and mobile phone / football shirt fashion have entered into the game.
Do darts Innovations Work?
There are three main area’s where advances are claimed. Barrel design, and manufacture, accessories that complete the dart, often known as the “Set Up” and more recently the third area, point design and manufacture.
The Start of The Technology Game in Modern Darts?
The recent increase in these areas of innovation can probably be traced back to Unicorn’s, and Phil Taylor’s, development of development of the Sigma dart. Much fanfare was brought to the creation of this ( Phase 4?) dart. Could “The Power” be made even better? Rocket scientists were apparently involved, later known as UniBoffins! and “dart & accessories designed to be as one” from point to flight became a watchword.
These darts were then packaged in premium cases and sold with serial numbers and assured weights, laser etched on the barrels, and quality guaranties etc. These were short-lived in terms of Phil’s use and , due to his struggles, The Phase 5 was swiftly introduced. Yet the die was cast and the annual launch, technology heavy and premium looking package, formula now became the norm.
Slick marketing, space age tech and premium sets. The new way?
Hidden in this tale, however, is a possibility that manufacturers would not like to dwell on. Namely, that the advances are myths and depend totally upon the player. “The Power” could not get on with the newly created darts, something had to be done, so some old tech, the “John Lowe”barrel, was swiftly adapted into the Phil Taylor Phase 5. Even the one piece side loading stem was very similar to those used by Lowe and others in the 1980’s. Taylor went from strength to strength, different editions of the Phase 5 were launched, colour hjgcoordinated and coated for fashion preference and the day was saved, The Phase 5 is now known as the most successful dart ever made.
Despite being based on very old tech. The Phase 5 follows the same formula and triumphs.
Barrels & Grip
If barrel technology was moving the game forward at rapid speed, or had changed anything significant, the current crop of the games elite would be using different equipment, or much improved versions, than those of 10 or 20 years ago. If we allow the argument that those players had grown up with the older equipment, and struggled to change, then surely the younger generation coming through would be using newer kit or dramatic variations of the older styles.
Yet a good look at the rankings may show us a different story. The top twenty PDC players include players whose age range is from mid fifty’s to early twenties. They are a mix of players, some who have grown up with darts early TV age and those who will have been heavily influenced by the more modern Sky/PDC game. They also differ in speed, style, rythym just as much as previous generations.
Of the current top twenty. Eleven use a straight or tapered barrel with a cut grip. These are either simple ring cut, combination cut or a “purist style” cut. Phil is currently the only player in the top 20 using a classic Lowe/Sigma barrel and similar set up. Of the other eight players, two use knurled grip barrels, variations of these have been around for decades. Too more use very smooth barrels of slightly different types. Although Stephen Bunting is trying various new grips, his most successful darts were very light, simple and smooth. Jelle Klassen and Simon Whitlock are using an interesting looking barrels, yet upon close inspection they have much in common with other tapered nose barrelled with ring cuts placed where they like them and a scallop or similar toward the rear of the dart. Even the weight used by players is not changing greatly. Phil’s 26g is still at the high end, Bunting at the lower end with 12-17g. The vast majority seem to sit between 20 & 22g. Not much has changed here (for example John Lowe prefered 21.5g) in over over thirty years. It does seem however that lighter darts have the slight upper hand. Priestley, Hankey and Bunting have won world titles using 17g or less. The 21g or less professional group seems to be gaining momentum.
Ultimate Retro? Dolans history making darts. Simple, tungsten, ring grip darts.
What of the younger generation of players, perhaps less set in their ways or more open to the newer styles? Micheal Smith uses a very simple ring cut barrel with soft snub nose, Dave Pallet uses Adrian Lewis type darts made either by Unicorn or Bulls. It is a tapered nose edition with ring step cuts all the way down. Keegan Brown uses a Unicorn dart that uses simple cut sections and smooth blanks. It looks like cross between Barney, Bob Anderson and some One80 barrels.
Bully Boys darts are again simple, ring grip darts,slightly snubbed nose. No Whistles or bells.
The newer grips that are being developed, produced and marketed include nano grip, pixel grip, micro grip, diamond grip and more. None of these have yet made the grade in terms of a player coming through having adopted one of these from early in their career or changed to one and transformed their performance. Although a special mention should go to Red Dragon/Winmau here. Around 2010/11 they introduced the diamond fusion grip. Selected designs of premium darts were made with an encrusted diamond grip on sections of the barrels.
Diamond Grips for Diamond White?
After trying various darts and set ups, during a “fitting session” Ian Diamond White was suggested to try the 22g edition. They were very familiar to him in shape, style weight & balance, the additional grip and security, of the diamond idea, seemed to really fit with Ian and over the next couple of years his career did indeed go to the next level. The problem is, this process had already started, Ian had qualified for the G Slam and Worlds in the previous few months and was already on a steep upward curve. It is very difficult to be sure how much the grip chance added to that. However I do believe it provided a confidence in his eqipement, and in turn his game, that helped him improve quicker and maintain his highest standard for longer periods. It is interesting that they have now introduced this into more models, in the Winmau Range, and Peter Wright’s Euro 11 dart. This is very similar to MVG’s dart. The combination of the two could be very interesting.
In some ways grip fashion is moving backwards, there is a renewed appetite for older style copper tungsten, and other mixed material, darts. This seems to be due to the fact that the metal, combined with use , sweat etc., seems to produce a natural grip not dependent on the added factors. Could this be due to added or surface grip wearing and being less consistent over time?
As can be seen the jury is still out on “technological advances” in the barrel and grip areas. Yet the development, presentation and marketing of these premium products goes from strength to strength. Makers such as Cosmo package their darts more like jewellery than sports items with Target’s recent £300 Elysian darts illustrating the extreme end of such a market.
Ultimate in Premium product marketing. Target’s £300 darts!
What about “set ups” can technology and innovation help the pro’s or the rest of us when it comes to flights, stems and other accessories?
Point, Barrel, Stem & Flight all as one. Fact or fiction?
Premier League darts has been a huge success. The opportunity to see ten of the best players, across a single raucous night, in huge venues has proven an important driver in PDC darts being the showcase for the professional game. Crowds, in the tens of thousands, flock to buy tickets for the biggest professional exhibition/competition.
There is a healthy debate each year regarding who should be selected to play? Fans have favourites they would love to see in the biggest show. Even supporters of darts’ other code, The BDO, can’t help but wonder how their own players would match up, adding a little spice to the debate.
Discussions regarding how players from differing eras would have done, against the players of today, are commonplace. With modern conditions and advantages would they be able to hold their own or even outdo today’s superstars?
This divides quite nicely into two golden ages. The current, Sky Sports & PDC driven, times and the original 1970/80’s golden age which proved hugely popular and provided many of the templates for the success of today. Players from both eras are held up as icons and whilst some of the debate is, understandably, generational it is not the only factor in deciding who would make an ultimate league.
The skill factor of the players, the simplicity of the game and the intimate and dramatic nature of the competition, the characters and emotions, or lack of, of players at any time. These factors explain the popularity of TV Professional darts. The Premier League is about showing all these assets, to the maximum degree, in a single night and over the entire league. With finals night being the ultimate showdown.
With all that in mind, who would make an all time ten man line up, how would the generations match up? How would the league progress? Who would triumph?
The Line Up.
1 – Phil Taylor: With 16 World Titles and a huge volume of major wins across the generations there is no doubt that Taylor would be the first name on the sheet. His overall skill level is simply unsurpassed and the Premier League distance is just long enough to show it. His competitive, or matchplaying, spirit is also beyond question, winning matches and titles from almost every position and against all types of opposition. The only dip would be the entertainment level, Phil entertains through excellence and offers little more.
Skill Factor 10, Matchplay 10, Entertainment 8. Total 28
2 – Eric Bristow: Five World Titles, a ruthless competitor and the founder of the feast in terms of entertainment. A prime Crafty Cockney would be the biggest draw of the event and many would be desperate to see him bestride the event with the cocky brilliance of his pomp.
Skill Factor 8, Matchplay 10, Entertainment 10. Total 28
3 – MVG; A career slam of major titles and one of the driving forces upping the standard in the current era. Able to destroy any opponent MVG would also provide the clearest modern versus classic era battles. Not untouchable especially if dominated.
Skill Factor 10, Matchplay 8, Entertainment 8. Total 26
4 – Jockey Wilson; Twice World Champion, the totally unpredictable Jockey, would add to the event just by being in it. Yet viewing old footage reveal that he , and other past champions, were capable of 100+ averages even using old equipment. The short format of the these games and Jockey’s sheer determination would mean shocks, sublime spells and probably defeats as well. Adding great drama, to the proceedings, especially in the Scottish venues!
Skill Factor 8, Matchplay 8, Entertainment 10. Total 26
5 – John Lowe; World Champion in three separate decades and a multiple winner in all formats. The ultimate example of the classic stylist. Totally unflappable and the first 9 dart TV hero. Lowe would provide huge contrast to some of the modern players. His battle with Taylor would also carry great interest in a contrasting way.
Skill Factor 9, Matchplay 9, Entertainment 7. Total 25
6. John Part: Darth Maple is a three-time World Champ across both codes. In his pomp his fluent style and deadly play would have seen him compete in any era against any opponent. Articulate and interesting when discussing the game, his media savvy may also add to the proceedings.
Skill Factor 8, Matchplay 8, Entertainment 8. Total 24
7. Gary Anderson: Double World Champion in an era containing MVG, Taylor & Lewis, to name but three, Gary brings phenomenal darts and differing laid back attitude. I suspect he would relish the opportunity to match with a variety of players from across time. Can have off nights as well which adds to the unpredictability.
Skill Factor -10, Matchplay – 8, Entertainment – 8. Total 26
8. Bob Anderson: World Champion and three-time World Master. The Limestone Cowboy has already shown he could compete with the best from both codes across both of darts great eras. With phenomenal professionalism, and will to win, in many ways, Bob is the perfect example of a pro dart player. Reaching the semi’s of the PDC worlds in his late 50’s and winning the League of Legends in 2008 demonstrate his often underestimated ability. The shirts, the point, and the grit would all add the entertainment as well!
Skill Factor – 8, Matchplay – 9, Entertainment 8. Total 24
9. Adrian Lewis: Jackpot is another double World Champ and just like Gary he achieved them back to back. Another in the modern style who hits big scores for fun. But how would they adapt to the matchplay skills of some of the other players in this league? Adrian has been known to go missing or suffer bouts of frustration. I am sure this would not have gone unnoticed by others in the group. When inspired, Ade is a great entertainer with flash shots and a fun, quick-fire style.
Skill Factor 9, Matchplay 8, Entertainment 8. Total 25
9. RVB: Despite 5 world titles I had difficulty putting Raymond into this league. The important elements of entertainment and grit have been lacking recent times from the Dutchman. Then I remembered the very best of Barney, winning World Titles in both codes, pushing Phil to ever greater heights and the ability to defeat MVG in big games even now!
Skill Factor 9, Matchplay 8, Entertainment 7. Total 24
10: Dennis Priestley: Despite hot competition, for the final place, it must be The Menace. World Champion in both codes, gritty competitor, revolutionary in the art of switching (18’s in his case). With Phil and Part the only member of the Older guard who has Premier League experience. Loved by all fans.
Skill Factor 8, Matchplay 9, Entertainment 7. Total 24.
This league would be very competitive and every great show needs interval entertainment ( think Riverdance!). Special guest would be exhibition doubles.
BDO vs PDC “The Entertainers”
Tony O Shea & Daryl Fitton vs Wayne Mardle & Peter Manley.
How Would The Ultimate PL Go?
The above all time league would provide superb nights of drama and high quality competition every week with shocks and maybe even a bit of needle! Ultimately, with every player being in their prime, the last four would be very hard to pick, as would the elimination pairing, but here goes.
The two Johns would bow out at this stage. Lowe at his best was unbelievable consistent and would have battled in every game. I am not sure he would have had quite enough of a 2nd gear when needed. Part may get off to a slow start playing many of those who he idolised. This would see Dennis Priestley survive as he would start strongly although this would fade he would have the points on the board.
The second section of the League would possibly be the most exciting. Most of the big rivalries and cross era clashes would be seen again, this time each would have settled and be aware that elimination was at stake. I would guess that it would come down to the last week with many outcomes still at possible.
Finally though, the combination of skill, ego and sheer determination would see a Semi Finals between Eric Bristow & Gary Anderson and Phil Taylor vs MVG.
=1 Eric Bristow & Phil Taylor
3rd Gary Anderson
5th Bob Anderson
6th Adrian Lewis
8th Dennis Priestly
Semi 1: Eric succeeds by getting away well and thoroughly enjoying the massive crowd and atmosphere. Gary would catch fire later but Eric would get home reasonably safely.
Semi 2: A belter this one, MVG would be out of the gate and into the lead early. But the chance of playing Eric on the biggest stage and in front of the biggest crowd would prove a huge inspiration to Phil. “The Power” ups the gears and produces a stunning spell mid-match. MVG can not quite match the sudden burst and Phil wins by a couple.
Each man in his absolute pomp, Eric enjoying the benefits of what he built and Phil suffering under the huge pressure that Eric exerted. Phil settling down and out playing Eric mid match. Eric however is less easily worn down and uses every tactic and psychological ploy to knock “The Power” out of his stride.
The last leg decider is certain to be the result. The chance to be crowned the best ever, head to head, would prove the only inspiration The Crafty Cockney needed.