On the evening of New Year’s Day, I was all set for an early night ahead of a return to work the next morning, when I made the fatal mistake of turning on the TV.
My pressing the ‘on’ button coincided precisely with the start of the PDC World darts final, live from Alexandra Palace in London.
I wouldn’t instinctively place darts on my list of favourite sports, but I sat transfixed for the next couple of hours, witnessing Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor take on Dutchman Michael van Gerwen.
Professional darts in the UK is a fascinating mixture of precision and hype, all played out in a raucous atmosphere that is part beer festival, part football crowd and part mass karaoke sing-a-long. That may sound bizarre, but it makes for an excellent night’s viewing.
The final began with the players being introduced to a crowd already approaching fever pitch, fuelled no doubt by the many jugs of beer in evidence on the banquet-style tables.
Each player made his way through the crowd to the stage accompanied by a couple of bouncers, a ‘glamour model’ and their own signature tune.
In this case we had Snap’s ‘The Power’ (Taylor) versus White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’ (van Gerwen), although if you fancy seeing the walk-ons of all the top players, you could do worse than check out this clip.
And the music doesn’t stop after the walk-ons either, with each set concluding with a rousing audience chorus of Planet Funk’s ‘Chase the sun’ – here is one I prepared earlier.
Indeed, the crowd is a major feature of the spectacle with many wearing fancy dress, drinking heavily, chanting, singing, waving signs around and generally having a whale of a time. And all that on a school night too.
It looks like the kind of party you wish you were at.
The game itself was intriguing, pitting two very different characters against each other.
Taylor is the cool old timer, a 15 times world champion, now over 50 with a waistline to match and an impressive collection of tattoos peeping out from the short sleeves of his black Hawaiian shirt.
Van Gerwen, is the young upstart – almost 30 years younger in fact, full of pumped-up bravado and confidence, looking like a larger version of Matt Lucas from Little Britain.
The quality of their play though was amazing, averaging over 100 every time they took to the oche (see, I know my darts terminology) and regularly finishing with the required double at the first time of asking.
We were treated to several maximum 180 scores, as well as a few 11 dart finishes – for the uninitiated, that is scoring 501 and finishing on a double, achieved with a mere 11 darts.
When I think back to my own darts ‘career’, a 11 dart finish would generally mean I’ll have 11 goes at getting a double and then I’ll finish my beer.
After storming to a 4-2 lead in the first to 7 sets final, van gerwen was gradually overhauled by the imperious Taylor who, by the time he hit the final double 16 for a 7-4 win, had put his young rival back in his place, whilst claiming his 16th world crown.
So much for my early night, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.