Darts, once the preserve of pubs, is big box office these days. It’s the second most-watched sport after football on Sky television and tournaments are packed out by fans who love all the razzamatazz.
But it’s not just about the big names hitting maximums in front of the cameras. Darts is still going strong at the grass roots level too, with more than 1,000 players on Portsea Island alone.
One group is the Portsmouth Darts Series. Formed in January this year, it already has more than 220 members and stages regular competitions and tournaments for amateurs and professionals alike.
‘It’s for all the individual darts players in the area,’ says 33-year-old Jimi Parr, who founded the series with his friend Stefan Evrard.
‘We have a league table and they’re playing for prizes, money and to be at the top. It’s quite a big league really, especially seeing as we’ve been going less than a year.’
Jimi first got the darts bug when he was a lot younger and dreamed of turning professional, although it wasn’t to be. He says: ‘I even tried to go on tour for a bit but I wasn’t good enough, although I still really love it.’
He first came up with the idea for the series when he realised there wasn’t really anywhere for individual players to play, although there were a lot of team tournaments across the city. Every Wednesday around 30 to 40 members turn up to take part at the British Legion in Cosham.
Tomorrow, the series is holding The Elimination Chamber competition from 10am, which gives every player a second chance to get back into the game.
He says: ‘You want to play against better players so you can improve yourself. Anyone can turn up, play and have their chance.
‘We charge an entry fee each Wednesday of £5, although this can go up if we do a weekend competition. It’s great because it means we offer prize money and it’s not too expensive for people to be part of.’
Jimi adds: ‘People come along because they want to play, even if they don’t really know how to.’
The Portsmouth Darts Series runs 13-week Grand Prix seasons and is now well into its third run, as well as staging five tournaments. But Jimi believes it’s the social aspect of the sport which keeps people coming back to play.
‘A lot of it is to do with the people around you. People have a misconception that it’s fat men drinking, but it’s not about that at all. It’s about meeting people and socialising just as much as it’s about playing.’
Visitors have come to the Portsmouth area to play from as far away as Dorset and London.
He adds: ‘People always want to make you feel welcome. I started through a local team I met and they made me feel like one of their friends. At the big competitions people bring their whole family along with them and the children too. It means a lot to people.’
Aside from the Portsmouth Darts Series there are regular events almost every day across the city, with hundreds of people taking part.
Jimi explains: ‘On a Monday there are the Fareham, Havant and Waterlooville and Gosport darts leagues, which are all quite big. Tuesday is the two main Portsmouth leagues and it’s when the teams play.
‘Our own is on Wednesday and during the winter you get a club league for social clubs. Thursday is ladies’ darts evening and Friday is another mixed league for men and women.’
He adds: ‘It’s very, very popular and obviously there are more people who are just coming for the enjoyable and social aspect of watching it. It’s a good night out.’
‘The idea that darts is all about drinking in a pub is changing, says Jimi, ‘especially at an amateur level. People enjoy watching it.’
Andy Jenkins, 41, who lives in Cosham and has taken part in 16 darts world championships, is also involved with the Portsmouth Darts Series and is top of the leader board.
He first became interested in the sport when he left school.
Andy says: ‘I tried to get served a pint when I was 16. They said no and gave me a shandy, but I remember seeing someone play darts and he asked me if I wanted to have a go.
‘I did and then he asked if I wanted to see their team. I went along to a competition a couple of weeks later and I won against the best player in town at the time.
‘I was planning on becoming a Royal Marine!’
But the professional player believes the Portsmouth Darts Series is giving individuals more of a chance to learn and develop in the sport.
He says: ‘Before the series started, it was just people going round to pubs.
‘It gives the young darts players a chance to play and come along. They can watch me and learn about it too. They turn up every week even if they aren’t that good because they want to keep learning.
‘Also there are more and more women.
‘Portsmouth has a lot of players and it’s one of the few professional sports where everyone can give it a try, including the kids.’
It’s not just individual players who are competing across Portsmouth, as there is a Tuesday Darts League played by teams.
Split into leagues and divisions, they compete against each other to be the best.
Landlord of the Admiral Drake pub in Landport, 46-year-old Simon Hughes, regularly has teams playing at his pub on a Tuesday evening.
He says: ‘There are always people in the pub playing darts.
‘It’s popular and really sociable too as it gets people together and talking to each other as they play, especially if they’re in a team.
‘And it doesn’t cost a lot to play darts either.’
Go to portsmouthdartsseries.co.uk for more information.
THE HISTORY OF DARTS
The game of darts has been around for centuries.
Some historians attribute the birth of darts to English soldiers in Medieval times when they would shorten their arrows from time to time and throw them at the bottom of a wine barrel or a wide tree.
It was essentially a drinking game in those days.
Today, dartboards are made of 20 segments, numbered one through to 20, with a bullseye in the middle of the board.
There are many games that can be played on a dartboard, but darts generally refers to a game whereby the player throws three darts per visit to the board.
Each number on the board also contains two small rectangular scoring sections on each segment.
The smallest of the segments, closest to the bullseye, scores triple points and the other rectangular segment scores double points.
For example, if a player throws an eight but it lands in the small segment closest to the bullseye, the triple score would bring the total to 24.
The final dart can land in the bullseye or on a double segment.
A game of darts is generally contested between two players, who take turns, although many people also play the game as part of a team.
Each turn consists of throwing three darts and then counting up the scores.
Darts star Simon Whitlock is ranked fifth in the world and has reached both the BDO and PDC World Championship finals. He’s the current European champion.
Originally from Australia, he now lives in Waterlooville and will be taking part in The Untouchables event at the Pyramids in Southsea on December 6.
He says: ‘There’s a lot more interest in darts now and it seems to be growing week to week. There are a lot of competitions in Portsmouth for people to get involved in.
‘Although I don’t go to a lot of amateur events now, when I was in Australia darts was always really sociable and I think the same is happening here.’
Simon first got involved with the sport through his dad.
‘He’s originally from the Brighton area,’ he says, ‘and moved to Australia in the 1960s. Him playing got me interested in it and now I’ve moved to the UK because it’s a lot easier being near my manager.
‘I’m looking forward to The Untouchables too because I couldn’t go last year as I broke my ankle. It should be good.’
Darts fans have the chance to get up close and personal with champions next month as The Untouchables comes to the Pyramids Centre in Southsea. On Saturday December 6, five-time world champion Raymond van Barneveld will head the list of talent returning to the city. Waterlooville-based Simon Whitlock will also take part, alongside world number three James Wade, World Grand Prix winner Michael Van Gerwen and Cosham star Andy Jenkins.