The 2022 edition of the PDC World Championship was one of the best of all time, culminating in a battle between two players who were both on razor-sharp form.
Crowd favourite Smith lost out to the veteran campaigner Wright in the end, pipped to the post after a fine display of darts from both; a high-quality final to cap off a high-quality competition. Scotland’s Snakebite raised the trophy for the second time in his colourful career to a mixture of boos and applause, while the Bully Boy hardly knew where to look as yet another major trophy slipped from his grasp.
Some scintillating darts was played over the course of a competition which wraps itself around the Christmas period like tinsel around the tree, with some calling this the best Darts World Championship of all time. However, while the quality of play has gotten better over the years, it is certainly arguable that the calibre of punter in attendance has gone the other way.
The Good Old Days?
Take this 1997 clash between up-and-comer Phil Taylor and the Crafty Cockney himself, Eric Bristow. Note the hushed silence as the darts are thrown, until finally the engrossed audience rises to its feet to celebrate this changing of the darting guards.
Compare and contrast, if you will, with the modern audience at a PDC event. This is less a sporting crowd and more a rolling stag/hen party (mostly stag) with a darts competition taking the place of an exotic dancer. To be honest, were the likes of Dave ‘Chizzy’ Chisnall to shimmy on stage and start twerking it is doubtful that the reaction of the audience would differ much either in tone or in volume.
In 2020, the crowd at a professional darts event has morphed into a collective Bantz Monster, for the most part indifferent to the action taking place in front of them.
One of the most popular audience refrains – ‘Stand Up, If You Love The Darts’ (to the tune of ‘Go West’ by the Pet Shop Boys) – is the type of chant which you imagine could catch on in aggressively undemocratic police states, just to ensure that everybody is on the same page.
Should one section of the auditorium refuse to respond to the above with the appropriate levels of enthusiasm, then expect righteously indignant cries of ‘Boring, Boring Table!’ to ring around Alexandra Palace. The affronted table may hit back with ‘You Can’t Afford a Table!’, putting the balcony mob back in their box. Or perhaps indulge in a Yuel-themed chorus of ‘Feed the Stands, Don’t They Know It’s Christmas Time at All?’ No doubt Messrs Geldof and Ure will have been watching delightedly at home, content that their famous clarion call against poverty has been repurposed to such good effect.
Occasionally the crowd en-masse will break into a chorus of ‘Heeee-eeey Baby’ (DJ Ötzi remix), for no particular reason other than that they can.
And now and then – particularly if it looks like the annual Christmas booze-a-thon may be subject to some restrictions, an old favourite will be repurposed to make a political point:
Little England On Tour
In recent years, the Ally Pally Bantersaurous has added some rather unsavoury tunes to their repertoire. This most English of crowds, which will from time to time be stirred to launch into a patriotic verse or two of God Save the Queen, seems to take a rather dim view of their near-neighbours. One would fear indeed for the state of the Union, at least based upon the reception afforded to Welsh and Scottish dartists at this venue.
Players from North of the Border tend to be reminded that ‘Scotland get battered, everywhere they go’ (in spite of considerable evidence to the contrary). These chants become louder and more pointed should the player in question – like a tartan-trouser-wearing Alan Soutar – have the brazen cheek to actually revel in their Scottishness. Meanwhile the abuse which rained down on former champion Gerwyn Price – ‘You know what you are, sheep sh****ing b**tard, you know what you are’ were so far beyond the pale that even the cheerleaders at Sky Sports broke off from gushing about the ‘unbelievable atmosphere’ to deliver a stern ticking-off to potential repeat offenders.
These days, rather than wait in respectful silence – à la golf or snooker – for a player to take their shots, the crowd will actively try to put off whoever they deem to be this afternoon/evening’s ‘Bad Guy’. Safe to surmise that Gerwyn was probably hankering back to last year’s Covid version of the tournament, held without crowds in attendance
Fortunately the Ally Pally Hive Mind has not yet come up with anti-Dutch, Belgian, Irish, Australian and (gulp) German chants deemed suitable for a darts competition. Only a matter of time though, one would think.
All of this is not to blame individual punters who roll up to the Ally Pally in search of a cheerfully boozy evening’s entertainment. It’s about how the culture of fan behaviour at the darts has been allowed to develop over time. When Price was getting dog’s abuse there was no ‘Order please!’ from the referee and only glancing mentions from Sky’s commentary team, while behind the scenes they tried to mute the worst of the crowd’s abuse in the editing suite. These days the fans’ loudest cheers seem to be reserved for when players miss doubles, rather than when they hit them, and maybe that is missing the point of this sport.
One final thought.
Nine-darters are like the hole-in-one of darts, or a 147 break in snooker. Once so rare that the prize for claiming one during the World Championships dwarfed that of the winner’s prize, this year we were treated to no fewer than three, including one by the much-maligned Price in his semi-final defeat. Spoiled by such riches, the modern darts crowd now actually boos players who have the temerity to fail in their attempt at the mystical 9-darter after opening with a 180.
The message is clear: you had better entertain us, and if not, we are more than happy to entertain ourselves!
I’m pretty confident that Sid Waddell – the ‘Voice of Darts’ and the man after whom the winner’s trophy is named – would have called out that kind of behaviour very quickly; maybe the current crop of commentators should follow his example.