Was there life before darts? I am old enough, just about, to remember such a time. One minute, in or around 1978, there was no darts on TV. Next minute, there was nothing else, and Eric Bristow, if he had felt inclined to stand, would have been elected prime minister by a landslide. As with snooker, the glory years of mass popularity were but brief, but once established as the chosen sporting endeavour of people who don’t like moving too quickly, darts retained a substantial fan base, and continues to thrive even in these slimmer and more austere times. There really is something to be said for a sport whose greatest exponent, Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, looks like a man who has sat on the same bar stool every night for 35 years, eating pork scratchings and sounding off about Top Gear.
And the man primarily responsible for all this wasn’t a player or an administrator, or even one of the TV producers who first twigged that the game would be perfect for small-screen viewing. It was the commentator Sid Waddell, an excitable Geordie whose nuclear-powered enthusiasm and surreal turn of phrase placed him at the peak of his profession in the 1980s and ’90s. It is no exaggeration to say that many of us watched the darts mainly to hear what Sid would say next. Most commentators these days, on every sport, are former practitioners, and while their expertise is undoubtedly greater than the journalist-fan types who used to get these jobs, they tend to lack their flair and, crucially, that tinge of madness that separates the great from the merely good. Waddell had more than a tinge. He died in 2012, a day after his 72nd birthday. Darts has never been the same since.
Dan Waddell, son of Sid, has written a memoir of his father, full of humour and life and wonderful stories.