Desmond Kane

World Darts Championship is a sad tribute act to alcohol abuse

Darts fans at London's Alexandra Palace

As the embers of 2012 begin to fizzle out, it is always a poignant time to dust down one's preferred sound bites from the year that was.

My personal favourite is reserved for the ongoing chairman of the Premier League Sir Dave Richards, an intrepid football explorer of Scott-like proportions, who gloriously decided to promote the need for a few pints of confidence when he washed up in liquor-shy Qatar back in March.

The diminutive but oil rich host nation of the 2022 World Cup finals is a spot where alcohol, in public at least, is about as welcome as your average Chelsea fan in Leeds. Richards did not see the need for such prohibition in the small Muslim state.

"In our country and in Germany, we have a culture," said an emboldened Richards, who also unintentionally stumbled into a water fountain during his magnificently outspoken mission to the desert.

“We call it, 'We would like to go for a pint', and that pint is a pint of beer. It is our culture as much as your culture [in Qatar] is not drinking. There has to be a happy medium."

Despite his apparent penchant for a tumbler or two of Bishops Finger, Richards would perhaps give two fingers to hotspots like the Alexandra Palace in London, a venue where the happy medium seems to be breached on a nightly basis during the three-week booze-a-thon that is the PDC World Darts Championship.

This Mecca to mindless elbow bending is all endorsed by live television. There is a darker side to what is farcically described as the best Christmas Party in town. It is also a reminder of this country’s depressing booze culture.

Some will say that darts has always had a drink problem, but the players dispensed with lager, vodka and fags on stage long ago as the need to be viewed as public role models and promote healthier living became glaringly obvious.

The days of the 1970s and 1980s when pint-laden men like Eric Bristow and Jocky Wilson were lost in the thick fug of cigarette smoke almost seems like an era from folklore.

The gone but not forgotten Geordie commentator Sid Waddell, whose voice is already desperately missed at this year’s tournament, once highlighted big Cliff Lazarenko’s need for a refreshment during a match.

"Cliff is off and looking for something yellow in a tall glass — and I don't mean daffodils,” said the loquacious Sid. Let us not forget that Scotland’s Jocky Wilson died a two-time world champion, but is as recalled as much for his alcoholism after checking out earlier this year.

During the World Championship semi-final in 1984, Dave Whitcombe outlasted Wilson in an epic battle, but failed to track down his opponent for the handshake after sinking the winning double. An inebriated Jocky had fallen off the stage.

Apart from the staggering Aussie Tony Fleet struggling to hold his darts during an excruciating loss to Martin Adams at the BDO version of the World Championship in 2010 when he had one over the eight beforehand, such drunken antics are now reserved for the fans.

“Stand up if you love the darts,” is a paean to the half-pissed. Without sounding prudish, there is something sad about watching some of the booze hounds who turn up to watch darts dressed in various costumes. The aim is obviously to get spotted on television stewed and dishevelled.

Some of the fans turned up in toga garb last night, almost straight out of National Lampoon’s Animal House, but Cleopatra had left the building long before Simon Whitlock was overcoming Haruki Muramatsu in the first round. Whitlock was losing finalist to Phil Taylor in 2010, but who can be bothered watching darts when you are all fuzzy.

Some of the drunkards who attend need to show a bit more respect to the tungsten tossers. A bloke sporting a beard had to be removed from the crowd at a tournament in Minehead last week when hundreds of fans began chanting Jesus at him during a Taylor match. He was deemed to be a distraction to the players.

“It was distressing. I was emotionally distraught. The crowd were bullying me and picking on me,” said the fan, who looked more like Justin Lee Collins.

There is something not right somewhere when characters can embrace such conduct when the finest player to throw a dart and winner of 15 world titles is playing.

Watching darts sober on TV enables a viewer to gain an edge of tension that is missing when lubricated. The final between between Raymond van Barneveld and Taylor in 2007 that went down to the final leg was best enjoyed with a cup of tea.

Zara Phillips stuck her snout in the darts trough a year ago, but then it is trendy for the idle rich to find out what this is all about. The difference with her is she has other interests away from the bottle and can return to her horses.

It is nonsense to suggest that all is good in darts when it is condoning a health problem of epidemic proportions. We live in moments of hardship for many, times when there is an overwhelming temptation to turn to grog because it is an easy option.

England and Wales last year averaged one million alcohol-related violent crimes and over one million alcohol-induced hospital admissions. That is without considering the long-term mental issues, liver damage and rising obesity rates among other ills that support anti-social behaviour.

Where there is a lot of drink, there is not a lot of happiness. Getting tanked up does not equate to being full of fun. Darts may be benefiting from a boom in popularity, but it is also cashing in from a parish of punters who remain more interested in doubles than double tops.

Half the crowd at the darts do not know if it is New Year or New York. While world darts continues to rage, the Ally Pally crowd has sadly become a very visible monument to the greater British booze problem.