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Wright Out to defend title – PDC World championship preview

The 2020/21 William Hill World Darts Championship begins on Tuesday at Alexandra Palace, London as 96 of the world’s best players compete for the sport’s biggest prize across 16 days of darts.

Taking place from December 15-January 3 over 28 sessions, the World Championship will once again offer the winner a life-changing £500,000 prize along with the coveted Sid Waddell Trophy.

The pre-Christmas period will see the first and second rounds played across nine days from December 15-23, with reigning champion Peter Wright to compete on the opening night against either Steve West or Amit Gilitwala.

Despite being the current title holder, Wright believes he is the player with least pressure on his shoulders at this year’s tournament.

Wright famously exorcised his final demons by defeating Michael van Gerwen in style to become World Champion for the first time almost 12 months ago, however the Scot insists he isn’t feeling any weight of expectation to defend his crown.

“I’ve already accomplished my dream. It’s the other guys who have never won it so the pressure is on them,” Wright explained.

“I’ve done it, so it doesn’t matter what happens now. That moment will never be taken away from me.

“That said, I’ll be going out all guns blazing to try and take the Sid Waddell Trophy home with me again.

“It’s every darts player’s dream to be World Champion. I achieved it last year and it made me cry like a baby on stage, but that’s just what it means to fulfil your dream.

“The other players need to watch out, because give me a chance and I’ll take it. Honestly, I think I can defend this title.”

An exciting first session will also see Steve Beaton compete in his record 30th successive World Championship as he plays Brazil’s Diogo Portela, while Canada’s Jeff Smith takes on Irish prospect Keane Barry.

World number one Van Gerwen opens his challenge to win a fourth World Championship on Saturday December 19, on a day which will also feature Women’s Series Qualifier Deta Hedman’s tie with Andy Boulton and Scott Waites’ Alexandra Palace debut.

Despite suffering a difficult year at times, the Dutchman has enjoyed a return to form of late and is rated the 5/2 favourite for glory with title sponsor William Hill.

“Of course, this year has not been an easy one for me, as it hasn’t been for a lot of people,” admitted Van Gerwen, who will face either Ryan Murray or Lourence Ilagan.

“There have been some difficult moments both on and off the oche but it’s about how you come through those moments.

“In the last few weeks I have been feeling good again and I can definitely feel the old Michael coming out on the dartboard.

“I have to thank my family, friends and management for helping me through this year, I couldn’t have done it without their support.

“Now I’m feeling ready to go at the World Championship and the other players need to watch out.”

Third seed Gerwyn Price opens his challenge to improve on his semi-final run 12 months ago on Monday December 21 against either Luke Woodhouse or Jamie Lewis.

The Welshman has enjoyed his best year in the PDC, picking up three televised titles, including winning the World Cup for the first time.

“A few months ago I thought 2020 was going to be a write-off for me, but it hasn’t turned out that way,” said Price, a first round victim in July’s World Matchplay.

“It’s turned out to be one of my best years on tour in terms of my results.

“I have found it difficult at times without a crowd, but it’s the same for all of us and we’ve just had to get on with it.

“The few weeks rest I’ve had has come at a great time for me because I was just starting to have a little lull in my performances.

“But the break has allowed me to recharge the batteries and give me my competitive edge back heading into the big one which I would love to get my hands on.”

The second round will conclude across two sessions on Wednesday December 23, when top ten stars Michael Smith, Nathan Aspinall and Dave Chisnall are amongst the players in action.

Following a three-day Christmas break, the third and fourth rounds will be held from December 27-30, with the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final being held from January 1-3.

In a change from previous World Championship rules, to reduce the possibility of sessions over-running, there will be no tie-break in any match. Should any deciding set reach two-all, the fifth leg would be the final leg.

Tickets for the William Hill World Darts Championship are now on General Sale from SeeTickets, with up to 1,000 fans able to attend per session under specific regulations.

Global coverage will be headlined by coverage on the dedicated Sky Sports Darts channel, while the PDC’s international broadcast partners will include RTL7 in the Netherlands, DAZN in various territories, Fox Sports in Australia, Sky Sport in New Zealand, PDCTV for Rest of the World Subscribers and at matchroom.live.

Schedule of PlayTuesday December 15 (1800 GMT)

  • 3x First Round, 1x Second Round
  • Steve West v Amit Gilitwala (R1)
  • Steve Beaton v Diogo Portela (R1)
  • Jeff Smith v Keane Barry (R1)
  • Peter Wright v West/Gilitwala (R2)

Wednesday December 16

Afternoon Session (1200 GMT)

  • 3x First Round, 1x Second Round
  • Ryan Joyce v Karel Sedlacek (R1)
  • Ross Smith v David Evans (R1)
  • William O’Connor v Niels Zonneveld (R1)
  • Chris Dobey v J Smith/Barry (R2)

Evening Session (1800 GMT)

  • 3x First Round, 1x Second Round
  • Max Hopp v Gordon Mathers (R1)
  • Callan Rydz v James Bailey (R1)
  • Adam Hunt v Lisa Ashton (R1)
  • Glen Durrant v Beaton/Portela (R2)

Thursday December 17

Afternoon Session (1200 GMT)

  • 3x First Round, 1x Second Round
  • Madars Razma v Toru Suzuki (R1)
  • Mike De Decker v Edward Foulkes (R1)
  • Ryan Murray v Lourence Ilagan (R1)
  • Daryl Gurney v O’Connor/Zonneveld (R2)

Evening Session (1800 GMT)

  • 3x First Round, 1x Second Round
  • Luke Woodhouse v Jamie Lewis (R1)
  • Ron Meulenkamp v Boris Krcmar (R1)
  • Ryan Searle v Danny Lauby (R1)
  • Jose de Sousa v R Smith/D Evans (R2)

Friday December 18

Afternoon Session (1200 GMT)

  • 3x First Round, 1x Second Round
  • Mickey Mansell v Haupai Puha (R1)
  • Darius Labanauskas v Chengan Liu (R1)
  • Wayne Jones v Ciaran Teehan (R1)
  • Jamie Hughes v Hunt/Ashton (R2)

Evening Session (1800 GMT)

  • 3x First Round, 1x Second Round
  • Dirk van Duijvenbode v Bradley Brooks (R1)
  • John Henderson v Marko Kantele (R1)
  • Luke Humphries v Paul Lim (R1)
  • James Wade v Rydz/Bailey (R2)

Saturday December 19

  • Afternoon Session (1200 GMT)
  • 3x First Round, 1x Second Round
  • Steve Lennon v Daniel Larsson (R1)
  • Scott Waites v Matt Campbell (R1)
  • Kim Huybrechts v Di Zhuang (R1)
  • Mervyn King v Hopp/Mathers (R2)

Evening Session (1800 GMT)

  • 3x First Round, 1x Second Round
  • Andy Hamilton v Nico Kurz (R1)
  • Andy Boulton v Deta Hedman (R1)
  • Damon Heta v Danny Baggish (R1)
  • Michael van Gerwen v Murray/Ilagan (R2)

Sunday December 20

Afternoon Session (1200 GMT)

  • 3x First Round, 1x Second Round
  • Derk Telnekes v Nick Kenny (R1)
  • Jason Lowe v Dmitriy Gorbunov (R1)
  • Maik Kuivenhoven v Matthew Edgar (R1)
  • Vincent van der Voort v Meulenkamp/Krcmar (R2)

Evening Session (1800 GMT)

  • 2x First Round, 2x Second Round
  • Martijn Kleermaker v Cameron Carolissen (First Round)
  • Keegan Brown v Ryan Meikle (First Round)
  • Jeffrey de Zwaan v Searle/Lauby (Second Round)
  • Jonny Clayton v Henderson/Kantele (Second Round)

Monday December 21 (1800 GMT)

  • 4x Second Round
  • Krzysztof Ratajski v Joyce/Sedlacek (R2)
  • Ian White v Huybrechts/Zhuang (R2)
  • Gerwyn Price v Woodhouse/J Lewis (R2)
  • Gabriel Clemens v Hamilton/Kurz (R2)

Tuesday December 22

Afternoon Session (1200 GMT)

  • 4x Second Round
  • Brendan Dolan v De Decker/Foulkes (R2)
  • Joe Cullen v Jones/Teehan (R2)
  • Simon Whitlock v Labanauskas/Liu (R2)

Adrian Lewis v Heta/Baggish (R2)

Evening Session (1800 GMT)

  • 4x Second Round
  • Danny Noppert v Kleermaker/Carolissen (R2)
  • Devon Petersen v Lennon/Larsson (R2)
  • Rob Cross v Van Duijvenbode/Brooks (R2)
  • Dimitri Van den Bergh v Humphries/Lim (R2)

Wednesday December 23

Afternoon Session (1200 GMT)

  • 4x Second Round
  • Ricky Evans v Mansell/Puha (Second Round)
  • Gary Anderson v Razma/Suzuki (Second Round)
  • Stephen Bunting v Boulton/Hedman (Second Round)
  • Mensur Suljovic v Kuivenhoven/Edgar (Second Round)

Evening Session (1800 GMT)

4x Second Round                        

  • Dave Chisnall v Brown/Meikle (R2)
  • Jermaine Wattimena v Telnekes/Kenny (R2)
  • Nathan Aspinall v Waites/Campbell (R2)
  • Michael Smith v Lowe/Gorbunov (R2)
  • Sunday December 27

Afternoon Session (1200 GMT)

  • 3x Third Round
  • Evening Session (1800 GMT)
  • 3x Third Round
  • Monday December 28
  • Afternoon Session (1200 GMT)
  • 3x Third Round
  • Evening Session (1800 GMT)
  • 3x Third Round
  • Tuesday December 29
  • Afternoon Session (1200 GMT)
  • 3x Third Round
  • Evening Session (1800 GMT)
  • 1x Third Round, 2x Fourth Round
  • Wednesday December 30
  • Afternoon Session (1200 GMT)
  • 3x Fourth Round
  • Evening Session (1800 GMT)
  • 3x Fourth Round
  • Friday January 1
  • Afternoon Session (1200 GMT)
  • 2x Quarter-Finals
  • Evening Session (1800 GMT)
  • 2x Quarter-Finals
  • Saturday January 2 (1800 GMT)
  • Semi-Finals
  • Sunday January 3 (1930 GMT)
  • Final

Draw Bracket – Second Round Onwards

  • (1) Michael van Gerwen v Ryan Murray/Lourence Ilagan
  • (32) Ricky Evans v Mickey Mansell/Haupai Puha
  • (16) Joe Cullen v Wayne Jones/Ciaran Teehan
  • (17) Jonny Clayton v John Henderson/Marko Kantele
  • (8) Dave Chisnall v Keegan Brown/Ryan Meikle
  • (25) Danny Noppert v Martijn Kleermaker/Cameron Carolissen
  • (9) Dimitri Van den Bergh v Luke Humphries/Paul Lim
  • (24) Jermaine Wattimena v Derk Telnekes/Nick Kenny
  • (4) Michael Smith v Jason Lowe/Dmitriy Gorbunov
  • (29) Devon Petersen v Steve Lennon/Daniel Larsson
  • (13) Gary Anderson v Madars Razma/Toru Suzuki
  • (20) Mensur Suljovic v Maik Kuivenhoven/Matthew Edgar
  • (5) Rob Cross v Dirk van Duijvenbode/Bradley Brooks
  • (28) Jamie Hughes v Adam Hunt/Lisa Ashton
  • (12) Glen Durrant v Steve Beaton/Diogo Portela
  • (21) Adrian Lewis v Damon Heta/Danny Baggish
  • (2) Peter Wright v Steve West/Amit Gilitwala
  • (31) Gabriel Clemens v Andy Hamilton/Nico Kurz
  • (15) Krzysztof Ratajski v Ryan Joyce/Karel Sedlacek
  • (18) Simon Whitlock v Darius Labanauskas/Chengan Liu
  • (7) James Wade v Callan Rydz/James Bailey
  • (26) Stephen Bunting v Andy Boulton/Deta Hedman
  • (10) Ian White v Kim Huybrechts/Di Zhuang
  • (23) Jeffrey de Zwaan v Ryan Searle/Danny Lauby
  • (3) Gerwyn Price v Luke Woodhouse/Jamie Lewis
  • (30) Brendan Dolan v Mike De Decker/Edward Foulkes
  • (14) Jose de Sousa v Ross Smith/David Evans
  • (19) Mervyn King v Max Hopp/Gordon Mathers
  • (6) Nathan Aspinall v Scott Waites/Matt Campbell
  • (27) Vincent van der Voort v Ron Meulenkamp/Boris Krcmar
  • (11) Daryl Gurney v William O’Connor/Niels Zonneveld
  • (22) Chris Dobey v Jeff Smith/Keane Barry
  • Format
  • First Round – Best of five sets
  • Second Round – Best of five sets
  • Third Round – Best of seven sets
  • Fourth Round – Best of seven sets
  • Quarter-Finals – Best of nine sets
  • Semi-Finals – Best of 11 sets
  • Final – Best of 13 sets
  • There will be no tie-break in any match. Should any deciding set reach two-all, the fifth leg would be the final leg.
  • Prize Fund
  • Winner – £500,000
  • Runner-Up – £200,000
  • Semi-Finalists – £100,000
  • Quarter-Finalists – £50,000
  • Fourth Round – £35,000
  • Third Round – £25,000
  • Second Round – £15,000
  • First Round – £7,500

William Hill Outright Winner Odds

  • 5/2 – Michael van Gerwen
  • 5/1 – Gerwyn Price
  • 6/1 – Peter Wright
  • 14/1 – Michael Smith
  • 16/1 – Jose se Sousa
  • 20/1 – Dimitri Van den Bergh, Nathan Aspinall
  • 28/1 – Glen Durrant, Devon Petersen
  • 33/1 – James Wade, Gary Anderson
  • 40/1 – Damon Heta
  • 50/1 – Krzysztof Ratajski, Dave Chisnall, Rob Cross, Simon Whitlock
  • 66/1 – Dirk van Duijvenbode
  • 80/1 – Jeffrey de Zwaan, Luke Humphries, Ian White, Daryl Gurney, Joe Cullen
  • 100/1 – Mensur Suljovic, Gabriel Clemens, Mervyn King, Jonny Clayton
  • 125/1 – Chris Dobey, Adrian Lewis
  • 150/1 – Ryan Searle
  • 200/1 – Danny Noppert, Jermaine Wattimena, Max Hopp
  • 250/1 – Keane Barry, Ross Smith, Vincent van der Voort, Callan Rydz, Ryan Joyce, Stephen Bunting
  • 300/1 – David Evans, Jeff Smith, Boris Krcmar, Darius Labanauskas, Scott Waites, William O’Connor, Kim Huybrechts, Steve Lennon, Jamie Hughes
  • 400/1 – Jason Lowe, Karel Sedlacek, Ron Meulenkamp, Brendan Dolan, Nico Kurz, Ricky Evans, John Henderson
  • 500/1 – Martijn Kleermaker, Nick Kenny, Jamie Lewis, Matt Campbell, Andy Boulton, Danny Baggish, Steve West, Keegan Brown, Lourence Ilagan, Luke Woodhouse, Niels Zonneveld, Mike De Decker, Steve Beaton
  • 750/1 – Madars Razma, Mickey Mansell, Ryan Murray, Derk Telnekes, Adam Hunt, Ryan Meikle, Andy Hamilton, Edward Shoji Foulkes, Maik Kuivenhoven, Wayne Jones, Bradley Brooks, Ciaran Teehan
  • 1000/1 – Diogo Portela, Daniel Larsson, Marko Kantele, Matthew Edgar, Haupai Puha, Toru Suzuki, Paul Lim, Lisa Ashton
  • 1500/1 – Gordon Mathers, Cameron Carolissen, Dmitriy Gorbunov, Danny Lauby, Chengan Liu, James Bailey
  • 2000/1 – Di Zhuang, Amit Gilitwala, Deta Hedman

Odds courtesy williamhill.com and correct at time of publication. Subject to fluctuation


Words: PDC

Featured Pic: L Lustig

World ChampionShips 2020: Draw Highlights.

In this bizarre year, the highlights of the darting calendar seem to come thick and fast. The latest is today’s draw for the William Hill World Championships. With the reduced crowd and a qualification process severely affected by Covid-19, this could be one of the most unpredictable events for many years.

Many of the seeds could be in for a tough time right from their first round. They will meet experienced players, from all systems, many of whom will find they have fewer disadvantages than usual. In addition, they will have already ‘played themselves in’ in what looks to be one of the best first rounds the championship has seen.

Ally Pally is a difficult place to play and it’s especially hard for the lesser experienced or those not used to the biggest events. The stage is huge, the crowd is normally raucous and bigger than most will have played in front of. In addition, the processes behind the scenes, the TV and media requirements mean that often qualifiers or lower-ranked players are overwhelmed or slow to start.

2020 is going to be different. There will be only a small crowd and their merriment will be heavily restricted. Although this may make the place feel even more cavernous. The fact that they will have already had a chance to get used to this may prove very valuable. Another factor is the sheer talent, quality, and experience of those who will play in round one.

Here are a few highlights that could lead to bigger tests for the biggest names:

Could Scott dominate another stage? (image: Winmau)

Perhaps the most intriguing draws, of the big names, is the challenge that may face Nathan Aspinall. Aspinall will play either Canadian Matt Campbell or double World champion Scott Waites. Campbell is lesser-known but is seriously capable and has recorded impressive averages while being difficult to shake off. Matt slightly underperformed last year making his debut but that experience may help. Waites could be a serious dark horse at the Ally Pally. Although it’s taken ‘Too Hotty‘ a little while to adapt, to the rigors of the PDC, he is a big stage and big-game player. The small, but no doubt excited, crowd will suit him and he has begun to find his feet after some decent Pro Tour efforts. This could be a cruncher of a first-round and The Asp will have to be very prepared for a tough opener.

Chris Dobey will face the winner of Jeff Smith vs Keane Barry. Smith is a former World Cup Singles Champion and Lakeside finalist. ‘The Silencer‘ has had an excellent 2020, especially considering he has often had a tougher time than most traveling back and forth to Canada. But Jeff will first have to deal with one of the games hottest prospects. Barry, a former World youth champ, has begun to adapt to the senior game and is tipped for major success in the coming years. Dobey is going to have a tough time will either player.

The ‘German Giant‘ is due to meet either ‘The Hammer‘ or the ‘Man with No Name‘. Andy Hamilton returns to Ally Pally after a spell with the BDO and conquering his demons over the past couple of years. But he is hugely experienced, exerts a lot of pressure, and will not fold regardless of his opponent. Sebastien Kurz has the technical and temperamental potential to have a superb career. He has a certain style and likability that may endear him to the crowd/viewers if he can relax and play his own game then perhaps he can set up a huge all-German clash with Gabriel Clemens in round 2. Either way, keep an eye hear for a truly titanic pair of matches.

Big names could be in for a tough start at Ally Pally 2020 (PIC; LAWRENCE LUSTIG)

Jamie Hughes could also be in for a tough encounter. Either Lisa Ashton or Adam Hunt will be relieved to progress and may relax and play to their full potential in their second game. Hunt is a fine player who is yet to really show what he can do. Part of a group of Northeast players to have come through over recent years Hunt is currently in the shadow of Ryan Joyce, Chris Dobey, and, of course, Glen Durrant, but that may well play to his advantage. Ashton has had a remarkable year.’The Lancashire Rose‘ gained her tour card through Q School, becoming the first female player to do so, and has gained regular wins on the Pro Tour. Lisa is yet to really demonstrate her talent on TV, but she has had some experience on the Ally Pally stage and may well feel more at home. Jamie will be coming from a cold start whereas his opponent will be confident and familiar.

Another big name with a tough start is likely to be Adrian Lewis. ‘Jackpot‘ will play the winner of Damon Heta and Danny Baggish. Both of these guys could trouble Ade if they play close to their potential. Heta is the breakthrough player of the last couple of years. Damon has totally committed to a career in pro darts. He moved to the UK with his family and even with no experience and the Covid-19 issues, he has managed to claim a Pro Tour event and is beginning to find his feet in the majors. Baggish however will be no walkover, he debuted well at Ally Pally this year and seems to have kept busy during a virtual US shutdown of live darts. Lewis seems also to be through the worst of his slump and is heading in the right direction. This section of the draw should be thoroughly enjoyable.

So, as always Ally Pally is looking like a seriously competitive and entertaining couple of weeks. That’s without mentioning many of the biggest names. Players like Paul Lim, Nick Kenny, and Jason Lowe could also make waves before we even reach the entry of the world top 32!

2020/21 William Hill World Darts Championship
Draw Bracket – Second Round Onwards

(1) Michael van Gerwen v Ryan Murray/Lourence Ilagan
(32) Ricky Evans v Mickey Mansell/Haupai Puha
(16) Joe Cullen v Wayne Jones/Ciaran Teehan
(17) Jonny Clayton v John Henderson/Marko Kantele
(8) Dave Chisnall v Keegan Brown/Ryan Meikle
(25) Danny Noppert v Martijn Kleermaker/Cameron Carolissen
(9) Dimitri Van den Bergh v Luke Humphries/Paul Lim
(24) Jermaine Wattimena v Derk Telnekes/Nick Kenny
(4) Michael Smith v Jason Lowe/Dmitriy Gorbunov
(29) Devon Petersen v Steve Lennon/Daniel Larsson
(13) Gary Anderson v Madars Razma/Toru Suzuki
(20) Mensur Suljovic v Maik Kuivenhoven/Matthew Edgar
(5) Rob Cross v Dirk van Duijvenbode/Bradley Brooks
(28) Jamie Hughes v Adam Hunt/Lisa Ashton
(12) Glen Durrant v Steve Beaton/Diogo Portela
(21) Adrian Lewis v Damon Heta/Danny Baggish
(2) Peter Wright v Steve West/Amit Gilitwala
(31) Gabriel Clemens v Andy Hamilton/Nico Kurz
(15) Krzysztof Ratajski v Ryan Joyce/Karel Sedlacek
(18) Simon Whitlock v Darius Labanauskas/Chengan Liu
(7) James Wade v Callan Rydz/James Bailey
(26) Stephen Bunting v Andy Boulton/Deta Hedman
(10) Ian White v Kim Huybrechts/Di Zhuang
(23) Jeffrey de Zwaan v Ryan Searle/Danny Lauby
(3) Gerwyn Price v Luke Woodhouse/Jamie Lewis
(30) Brendan Dolan v Mike De Decker/Edward Foulkes
(14) Jose de Sousa v Ross Smith/David Evans
(19) Mervyn King v Max Hopp/Gordon Mathers
(6) Nathan Aspinall v Scott Waites/Matt Campbell
(27) Vincent van der Voort v Ron Meulenkamp/Boris Krcmar
(11) Daryl Gurney v William O’Connor/Niels Zonneveld
(22) Chris Dobey v Jeff Smith/Keane Barry


World Championship Darts and The Lakeside Myth.

The Lakeside. Venue & main sponsor for BDO World Championship Darts.

The Lakeside. Venue & main sponsor for BDO World Championship Darts.

 

With the recent announcement that the BBC will be covering a new darts event, staged by the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC), and featuring the top 8 players in the world, it can be argued that professional darts is now able to expand and reach a huge audience of both armchair fans and potential new players.
Of course, this news has also lead to much discussion regarding the long-running split in darts, which took place in 1993, and the future of players and events that are staged by The British Darts Organisation (BDO). The main source of concern seems to be the future of the BDO “World Championship” often referred to as The Lakeside.
The event is known as such due to its current venue and the fact that, in order to avoid classing it as a world championship, the PDC, and others, refer to winners of the event post-1993 as being “Lakeside” Champions.

The famous Lakeside stage.

The famous Lakeside stage.

The tournament itself is the continuation of the first darts world championship, held in 1978. The famous trophy is iconic in the sport and contains the names of those, Rees, Lowe Bristow, Wilson, Deller, Anderson, Priestley & Taylor to name a few, who built the game’s popularity over its initial glory period and then through to its current PDC Sky TV incarnation.

The Myth

Over the years the history of the event, the fact that it was the first incarnation, and its more recent venue have become into twinned to create a myth of Lakeside and its importance.
The first edition of, what is regarded as, Darts’ World Championship was actually held in The Heart of the Midlands Club in Nottingham and won by Leighton Rees. The event proved popular and featured an Englishman, Welshman (Rees) a Swede and an American in the semifinals.

1st World Champion. Played at The Heart of The Midlands Club.

1st World Champion. Played at The Heart of The Midlands Club.

The next seven events were held in Jollies Cabaret Club in Stoke on Trent. These events from 1979 until 1985 are regarded by most as darts first golden age. Most great memories of the game from its early TV days are formed here, the battles between Bristow and Lowe, the remarkable Jockey Wilson managing to claim the title against the rock that was Lowe and Kieth Deller managing to defeat all three of them to win his only title, whilst looking like The Milky Bar Kid! These were the kickstart that saw darts boom and created an opportunity for a truly professional game to later emerge.

The games initial great era was built in Jollies in Stoke on Trent.

The games initial great era was built in Jollies in Stoke on Trent.

The event then moved to its new home at The Lakeside Country Club. For the next 8 years, it could claim to be the home of the world darts championship and created some great memories of its own. Jocky’s incredible second win, Bob Anderson finally claiming the ultimate prize and the emergence of two fellows by the name of Taylor and Priestley.

A legend begins.

The Power, 14 world titles have been collected away from Lakeside.

So, from Its start in ’78 till ’93, the World Championship was played eight times at The Lakeside and eight elsewhere. Thus its claim, to be the spiritual home of darts or even The World Championship, is tenuous at best.
From 1994 there have been two rival world championships. Owing to the split between the top players and the BDO who arranged the events until that time. The WDC (later PDC) held their event, featuring all active world champions to that point and most of the top 32 world ranked players, at the Circus Tavern in Purfleet, whilst the BDO continued to use Lakeside. Each event is still providing stories and star players today. Over time the PDC retained the better players or attracted more with numerous TV events and higher prize money while the BDO and Lakeside remained substantively the same for the next 22 years.
Thus from 1994 onward, the Lakeside has held what, at best, can be described as a “version” of the World Championship, whilst another is held featuring the majority of the best players. Alternatively, the event could be described as a World Amateur Championship which happens to carry prize money!

The BDO circuit could easily be compared to The Championship, in football, with PDC darts as The Premiership. Lakeside could be similarly compared to the Play-Offs. The main difference being the winners don’t have to accept promotion and can choose to continue playing in and dominating the lower league.

BDO World Champ , Scott Mitchell, chose to remain within the system.

BDO World Champ, Scott Mitchell, chose to remain within the system.

Meanwhile PDC venues have  established their own spiritual homes of professional darts, with The Circus Tavern being the testing ground for the development of an event, and product, that can be deemed fit to be played on Pay For and Free to Air TV, and in front of  tens of thousands of fans, at The Alexendra Palace in London. The Winter Gardens in Blackpool, home of The World Matchplay and The Civic Hall in Wolverhampton for The Grand Slam of Darts, to name but two, have been enthusiastically adopted by darts fans producing superb and unique atmosphere’s of their own. The Euro tour is also producing such venues. Rotterdam & Dortmund are looking likely to become iconic.

Winter Gardens as dart venue

Solutions.

The current situation of the British Darts Organisation raises a genuine concern for the health of the amateur game and the future of two of the most iconic event in darts. The Original World Championship and The (Winmau) World Masters. Both of these are classic events with long-running histories. Where they are held is almost irrelevant, the truth is that they need to be well run and well marketed in order to ensure their continued survival.

The solution seems relatively simple. Forget the myth of Lakeside or any other venue. A world championship should be where the very best players have the opportunity to qualify and compete against each other during a single regular event. Thus the “Original” World Championship Darts Trophy should handed to the PDC in order that they run one professional world championship each year. Both the Classic & Sid Waddell Trophies would be awarded to the winner. In exchange for this, the PDC should support the running of a World “Amateur” Championship. Possibly for the Olly Croft Trophy.

Any player who has won or, possibly, reached the final of either current version should be granted an exemption into a prelim or qualifying round for the next five to ten years (golf manages this pretty well and it may assist in the transition). Other, time-limited exemptions, may be possible after discussions. The result should be one Professional World Championship and other tournaments in which the very best players qualify or have the opportunity to do so.

In exchange for this the PDC should support the running of a World “Amateur” Championship and lend its management and marketing expertise to the BDO, or other organisation, in order to stabilize the situation and ensure that an amateur system, such as currently exists with superleague & county darts, continues to thrive on a strong and secure footing.

The World Masters could then be staged as a single event open to all players amateur and professionals from across the globe, without its recent late-stage seeded format, jointly run and marketed by the two circuits.

Former PDC director Tommy Cox has offered to come out of retirement and help. His experience in directing tournaments all over the globe in ever-changing times could prove a masterstroke. The amateur circuit could include many current popular events and opens and the money earned viewed as expenses.

Without such an accommodation the consequences will be very damaging, the BDO “World Championship” & World Masters may be reduced to streamed or minority channel events, poorly produced, watched by few and cared about by less. The darts product has been superbly built over 40 years, first by the BDO and Olly Croft , then through the PDC via Tommy Cox & Barry Hearn.

It should not be cheapened, risked or demeaned due to pettiness, spite and or incompetence.

Anyone but MVG.

The Flying Scotsman - Could Anderson prevent another MVG World Title?

The Flying Scotsman – Could Anderson prevent another MVG World Title?

The PDC’s annual darts festival is only a few days away, yet I cannot find the clarity of mind to select those who will win, go close or cause a shock or two on the way. The reason for this is the anyone but MVG factor.
It must be recognised that this is completely unfair on Micheal, he is a good guy who has conquered an incredibly difficult couple of years to rise and sit atop the darting world. But I cannot warm to him as a multiple winner. The gurning, the OTT jumping about and the almost Teutonic interviews leave me completely cold.

The Green Machine. Can anyone stop him.

The Green Machine. Can anyone stop him.

In addition darts does not need another era of single player dominance. The last fifteen to twenty years have belonged to “The Power”, the PDC does not need a like for like replacement.
The fans attitude to Martin Adams, during this years Grand Slam, at Wolverhampton should give us a clue. Their disgraceful efforts to prevent MVG winning the title should also provide food for thought. Darts needs characters, rivalries and fresh blood. Mere excellence is not enough.

So, bearing this in mind, who can prevent my worst nightmare and claim the World Professional Darts Championship this year.

The Reigning Champion. Gary Anderson.

Without Gary’s popular win the era of MVG would look unstoppable. Yet, Anderson demonstrated that his phenomenal talent, combined with a, carefully fostered, laissez faire attitude, could be a match for anyone. The capturing of the Premier League Title ensured that MVG has not had it all his own way in the last year.

It is very tough to defend a world title with only Taylor and Adrian Lewis having managed this it the PDC.

The Harlequin – Peter Wright

The title could of course be The Jester or The Fool. But forget the costumes and the daft dad dancing, Peter can play darts. The antics are all part of ensuring that he can simply play and ensure his own relaxed personality is deployed to good effect. His previous visit to a world final, combined with getting to the later stages of almost every major in recent times, could mean he is ready to stop knocking and just walk in!

The Comeback Kid – Mark Webster

It is superb to see Mark getting back toward the level he deserves to play at. His return to work and regaining of form and perspective is to be admired by any darts fan. Webby was always a very strong end of year player, many of his best performances have come in the autumn and winter events. The sheer consistency and determination of Webby at his best can wobble anyone. His efforts in 2010 & 2011 show what he is capable of here.

The event may have come a little soon for Mark, to expect him to go all the way may be a bit too much. However look for some superb performances and who knows……

The Rough Diamond – Ian White

cropped-ian-matchplay-dart501-pointing-great-sponsors-shot.jpg

Getting less rough with every passing season. Ian has superb talent, a relentless work ethic and a rare capacity to learn. His match versus MVG at the Matchplay, where he led 6-1, and against Anderson at the Grand Prix, show that he has again advanced and could be ready to take a giant leap.

The downside is that after a few years of superb success, without really gaining the credit he deserved, Ian is finally being regarded as a contender and being touted for The Premier League. This seems to have weighed on him a little in the last couple of months. Once he learns to accept this The Diamond will advance again.

The Young Gun – Keegan Brown

Although by no means the only young pretender in this year’s line up, Brown is the only one who has already seen the later stages of major events and who seems to grow on the big stage.

Reaching the Qtr Finals of last years Grand Slam and then grafting through a tough spell or two this years have provided Keegan with an insight into both the daily graft and the big moments of PDC darts. He may well be coming to terms with doing both consistently.

The clash with Peter Wright could be a very tough first rounder for Keegan but it may prove a good proving ground for this and future events.

The Team Effort – Adrian Lewis & Co.

Twice World Champion already, could team Lewis pull off another win?

Twice World Champion already, could team Lewis pull off another win?

Jackpot’s two world titles came in 2011 & 12 whilst he was working closely with former world champ Keith Deller. This partnership is again in full effect, with the recent major final proving its lost nothing. Team Lewis also involves a settled family life and long time partner in crime Craig Sharples. This outfit knows how to prepare and execute at the worlds. Could a hat-trick be on the cards?

His last Bow? – Phil Taylor.

Once more unto the breach?

Once more unto the breach?

I cant shake the feeling that the man is not finished yet. The new speeded up, throw and flippant manner, seem to me to be a tactic being worked on to aid a push for another world title. Two week events are very rare and thus every scrap of energy that can be saved in earlier rounds, both physical and mental could be priceless. With Phil getting older I suspect this is a deliberate and clever attempt to, once again, adapt to the circumstances and produce what is needed to win. I shall not fall into the trap that a number of folk have jumped headlong into in the past. I don’t believe its all over yet for the Stoke legend.

So there we have it, not just anyone but MVG, but a handful of differing players and approaches that really could prevent my worst nightmare!

Pro Darts – Class of 2010 Return to Earth with a Bang!

We left the “Class of 2010” at the end of the 2011/12 season after   two full seasons in the PDC. Six newcomers had taken to the professional game like lads to lager, but would they be able to withstand the pressures sure to come? Living up to expectations, earning their livings, coping with being known to all the other players and then defending their rankings and positions over the next few seasons.

Could they forge lasting careers in and places in the record books of modern professional darts?

High and Whitey 2012 smoke

It is now five full seasons since the boys of 2010 entered the PDC, during the first two years it was fair to say they had made superb starts and were in a position to make a genuine, and lasting, impact on the fast expanding and financially rewarding PDC Pro Circuit.

It is safe to say that the next three seasons have seen mixed results to say the very least.

Nigel “The Undertaker” Hayden:

Ranking after 2011/12 World Championships – 43

Current Ranking – 76

Nigel Heydon 2012

(Technically unranked as new Tour Card will be zeroed)

As noted in the original article Nigel had the fastest start of any of the new boys in 2010. He caught most of the established order napping, reaching a quarter-final in his first PDC weekend and a last 16 place in his first professional major appearance. During his second year strong floor form and appearances at The Grand Slam and The World Professional Championships ensured his star continued to rise.

During this time however Nigel was unfortunate enough to suffer from sponsorship issues which led to important events being missed. These may have resulted in more major qualifications and an even higher ranking. It is safe to say that the two years that followed were not of the same standard he had produced in his first two seasons.

His ranking began to slump and the upward momentum, that appeared to be with him, soon disappeared, to be replaced by a downward cycle. After failing to defend  his ranking points / pounds in 2012 and 2013 Nigel was forced to return to the beginning in 2014 and take Q school route to retain his tour card. Brilliantly he did so on the final day and chose to keep his current points total and have a single year card. This was a tactical mistake. Nigel then had a mixed year, showing some flashes of his true self but struggling overall. His runs to the last 32 of the UK open and a Pro Tour Semi underlined the talent he possesses.

This has been underlined once more in Q School 2015 where, despite having to return once again, Nigel qualified automatically for a tour card on day 1!

Future Prospects –

Nigel’s talent is clear to any who watch him regularly. The difficulty with combustible early sponsorship and the need to work full-time have placed limits on the extent to which this potential has been realised. It will take a sustained spell of focus and his very best performances to regain the momentum had in 2011/12. Without such a run, the yo-yo of Tour Card and Q School may continue.

Steve Farmer

Ranking after 2011/12 World Championships – 36

Steve Farmer 2011

Current ranking – Unranked

Even the stats given above do not give the true picture of the dramatic rise and fall of “The Train”. Within twelve months of joining the PDC Steve had won a Pro Tour event, finished runner-up in another, qualified for and played in three majors and The World Championships. For good measure he had reached the Semi-Finals of one of those majors! During the second year he had gone for the approach of not playing all events and coming on strong in the ones he did enter. This seemed to suit his game and the run to the last 16 of the 2011/12 worlds appeared to cement his place in the higher bracket.

All seemed to start well in 2012, with Steve correcting the previous error by qualifying for the UK Open. It should be mentioned that he did this is style with a competitive  9 dart leg in round 3. From there on however things completely reversed. Steve crashed out of that event early, qualified for no more majors that year and repeated the pattern in 2013. Over these two terrible years Steve’s ranking slipped to 49 and then outside the top 150. Following his failure to qualify, for the 2013/14 World Championships, Steve did not renew his membership of the PDPA and has not played events for over a year.

This unmatched decline seems to have involved a number of factors, the difficulty of earning a reliable living playing darts, whilst having to keep additional work to ensure family income, may have played a role. In addition Steve is not a keen long distance traveller and the growth in numbers and importance of European Tour events has worked to his disadvantage.

Future Prospects – 

In the case of Steve this is very difficult to project. He is a superb natural talent and is capable of defeating any individual or putting a tournament winning run together. Whether he ever wishes to make the attempt again may prove the deciding factor. To have achieved those heights so quickly and yet completely disappear from the rankings within another two years is an incredible but unwanted record.

Antonio “El Dartador” Alcinas

Ranking after 2011/12 World Championships – 50

Alcinas soft tip

Current Ranking – 120 (Officially unranked as no tour card)

Antonio’s defeat to Andy “The Hammer” Hamilton in the world championship seemed to be a high water mark for the Spaniard. His previous floor event form deserted him and despite qualifying for the European Championships and The UK Open on a number of occasions it seems a sustained run to a higher plateau is not within him.

Some of Antonio’s erratic form could be as the result of his other area of excellence. It should be remembered that he is only member of the class of 2010 to be a World Champion. His victory in the 2010 World Soft Tip event has led to him playing regularly on the soft tip tour and achieving very good results. This results in a huge a mount of travelling and possibly the distraction of being committed to more than one goal. Alcinas seems to thrive on success and momentum thus even in the darker times he can have runs in either format to earn good prize money and keep himself in contention.

Future Prospects

It is possible that “El Dartador” will become one of the first complete multi format darters. Due to his European nationality it is still easier for him to qualify for many PDC events than it is for the UK players and he seems to still do this with regularity. These events together with the World Cup of Darts, which will see him with a new partner in the form of Christo Reyes, seem to inspire him. For him to achieve much more he will have to concentrate on one tour and commit 100%. He appears to not need or want to do this and so will  probably continue to be a minor player in the PDC and still achieve spasmodic high notes both there and in the soft tip arena.

Scott Rand 

Ranking after 2011/12 World Championships – 41

Scott Rand

Current Ranking – 83 (Unranked due to no tour card).

After the huge success of 2011, with Scott reaching the Semi Finals of The Players Championships and the last 32 of the World Championships, the decision to become a full-time dart player was made. With a new management deal and a sponsorship from Target darts things seemed to be in place for a long and successful professional career for the former lorry driver. 2012 was a solid year on the Pro Tour but not strong enough for Scott to feature in additional majors. A decent UK Open and another last 32 place at the World Champs meant a consolidating year but not the upward curve that would have been anticipated. 2013 was much the same, with scattered highlights of good floor form , including quarter and semi finals, but no increase in major qualifications or impact.

Scott’s problems compounded in 2014, a very poor start to the year and failure to qualify for the UK Open seem to indicate more troubles for “Cool Hand”. His participation in the tour halted in July  2014 and he did not participate in either the qualification play-offs for events or the Q School for 2015.

Future Prospects – 

Scott’s ability and determination are not in doubt, his form and competitiveness never disappeared in the way of some other players. It appears that external matters, as well as the pressures of earning a living at the game, have combined to make things doubly tough for the midlander.

Rand has shown before that he can return from a period away and be successful. It may however be harder to manage such a comeback in the new PDC. It will be interesting to see if , when and where this superbly talented thrower will resurface.

Mark “Mile High” Hylton

Ranking after 2012 Worlds – 33

mh uk open 2012 v jabba action shot dart in air

Current Ranking – (Unranked due to no Tour Card).

The return to earth of “Mile High” is, perhaps, the most shocking of all the bumpy rides to befall the class of 2010. An perfect storm of events conspired to cause the Rugeley leftie to fall from the verges of the Premier League towards the end of 2011 to twice failing to secure a tour cards at the q schools of 2014 & 2015.

It is often said that it is more difficult to deal with and maintain success than it is to achieve it. Hylton struggled to maintain a stellar spell which saw two major qtr finals, an epic battle with Taylor at The Matchplay and a hat full of Pro Tour Qtr & Semi’ finals. Sadly the tail off was nearly as dramatic.  Personal circumstances produced a major blow for Mark following The Grand Prix and successive European Pro Tour events. Together with a slip in focus and difficulties coping with expectation, caused by the early success, this resulted in two successive first round major exits. Although both were close and well contested, the “Mile High” of a few months before would have won both with ease. The decline that had begun after the Benidorm  Pro Tour event in 2011 did not come to a stop.

As well as these extraneous matters the darting gods turned against Mark at this crucial time. Chizzy defeated Phil Taylor at the 2011/12 worlds, this ensured that Mark would not finish in the top 32 that year. The new European Tour was announced with the top 32 qualifying automatically. Thus Hylton was left having to struggle to qualify for events that due to some early gliches were handing players £1000’s for a couple of soft ish games. As a direct result Mark was unable to take advantage and lost ground in the early part of the year. When he finally played his way into the top 32 and qualification for Euro Tour events, he was then injured in a fall and unable to play!

Few highlights in the first half of 2012 included a pair of Pro Tour qtr finals, one of which was the hardest working I have seen, and a rally to the last 32 at the UK Open. That remains the last we have seen of “Mile High” on our screens or indeed at the later stages of any major. Following a parting of the ways with his management team his Pro Tour form deteriorated further and after falling out of the top 64, having not gained a tour card from Q School, he chose to pursue the PDC’s  Challenge Tour in an effort to regain some focus and confidence. It would appear that Mark will adopt the same strategy again in 2015 after failing to secure a tour card again.

Future Prospects – 

Mark starts 2015 with strong hopes of a return to where his ability should take him. A new sponsorship and management deal, and some life changes, together with some renewed application and focus, seem to have given a little momentum. Early signs are promising if not yet earth shattering. Needs to re discover the self belief he had installed into him previously.

 

Ian “Diamond” White

Ranking after 2011/12 Worlds – 54

Ian White  Diamond Shirt

Current Ranking – 16

Ian ranking was the lowest of our class at the 2 year point. However he had started a little later than most and had come on strong toward the end of his second season. A place in the grand slam and his first world championship had ensured that Whitey would start 2012 in a far better position than had been the case twelve months previously.

Within 3 months of the season re start Ian had picked up two semi finals and several other good Pro Tour placings. I addition his 9 dart finish during the Benidorm event had added both cash and confidence. Over the next 6 months he accumulated ranking points like sweets and got over the first round TV hurdle in The Matchplay. he added a European Tour final and another 9 darter for good measure, all before the end of September. Another two Pro Tour finals were added as were last sixteen places in the European Championships and the World Grand Prix along with the Champions League of Darts in October. Diamond completed the year by adding The Players Championship Finals to the list of majors and another solid appearance at the 2012/3 Worlds.

If anything Ian next twelve months were even stronger, proving to be the only member of the 2010 intake who could sustain a top end challenge and not struggle under the expectation. His superb end to 2012 on the floor meant that a consistent showing in Pro Tour & Euro Tour events was enough gain Ian qualification for The Matchplay & World Grand Prix again to consolidate a superb 12 months. A huge hurdle was crossed in September when after a few finals, and other near misses, Ian claimed a Pro Tour event in Barnsley. This long-awaited win opened the floodgates and led to Ian winning another floor event, before the end of the season, and claimed a quarter-final place in The Players Championships in early December. This superb run has seen “Diamond White” climb from the verges of the top 32 into the top twenty players in the world within a year. There was more to come yet! Strong victories over Kyle anderson, Kim Huybrechts and Richie Burnett ( especially sweet) mean that Diamond had reached the Quarter-Finals of The World Championships. A dramatic final set defeat at the hands of Simon Whitlock ended the campaign for that year with Ian scheduled as a top 16 player!

2014 can be seen as either a continuation of what had been started the previous year or a consolidation year. Progress was made at the UK Open with his quarter-final appearance making it 3 major quarters in a row. Two more Pro Tour wins and an immensely consistent Pro & Euro Tour effort ensured that Whitey stayed firmly in the top 16 in the order of merit. His World Championships were ended in the last 32 by a resurgent Kim Huybrechts who, despite being 4 places lower in the rankings has been awarded a Premier League spot.

Future Prospects – 

Whitey’s performance and his recent Masters Series debut has ensured that the class of 2010 have been represented at all PDC events except the Premier League. He is currently ranked 13 in the world and, with the prize money and event increases, has the chance to achieve even more. He has shown a great ability to learn and improve, both his game and his strategy / event management. If this pattern continues there is no reason for Ian not to go higher. He has a stated ambition of being a World Champion and, as we have seen on the floor, once he starts winning events then he can be unstoppable. Three years ago, I mentioned to Ian that, due to his metronomic style and ability to learn and process, he could get to the very top of world darts. I added that it would be a methodical rise and an eventual outcome rather than a sudden burst. So far that prediction is looking eerily accurate.

What next for the “Class of 2010”?

The class of 2010 blazed a trail for unheralded but talented players to take a full tilt at the highest level of professional darts. Six guys with very little or no top flight experience took the plunge and the results have been played out before us. Between them they have reached every major event (even the Premier League may not be beyond them!) One or more have reached the top 16, top 32 or top 48 over the five-year period. The semi’s of TV events have been reached twice and the quarters on multiple occasions.

They have also illustrated the importance of solid and stable personal lives, genuine and financially stable management or sponsorships and the importance of timing decisions or thoughts such as giving up employment or believing you have made it.

For Ian White it may well be onward and upward, if he can adjust as well to this last step up as he has to all the others on the way.

For the others it seems that time out or a new approach are needed, perhaps slower burning beginnings and steadier climbs up the rankings, in the manner of Q  School graduate 2012 Q School graduate Andy Gilding may well be more realistic in the new PDC system. Messers Heydon, Hylton, Rand,  Farmer and Alcinas have all shown that they have the talent and ability to compete with the very best. Sadly they have also shown that more than that is required for a lasting career at the top of elite darts. Ian “Diamond” White has shown what can be achieved if all the elements are present.

Could it be that Ian’s experience of reaching the 1997 News of the World final, and the difficult times that followed, ensured that he would not miss a second shot at the top?

(Photo Credit : Lawrence Lustig, Tip Top Pics & PDC)

 

 

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:

vs Peter Wright UK Open

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.


(January 2012)

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.

Nigel heydon this is darts poster 2010

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.

Steve farmer Floor final

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.

mh gsod 2010 great wide stage shot

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.

Mark Worlds1

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.

2010 Summary

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

Majors:

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)

Part 3

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.

Antonio Alcinas

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.

Scott Rand

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.

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.

Ian White 2011

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.

Part 4

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.

2011 Summary

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
Majors:

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.

Dave Chisnall

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)