Breathing New Life into the Oche
The health of the UK pub scene goes hand in hand with that of the nation’s darts scene, particularly at the grassroots level. The number of pubs is dwindling, but the number of pubs with a dartboard – a useable and fully functional dartboard – is falling fast. All is not lost though. There are encouraging signs that darts is not just surviving, but actually showing signs of flourishing.
A Global Game
Traditionally, darts was seen very much as a game played in the UK and by a couple of other countries just across the English Channel and the North Sea. That is no longer the case. Dartboards are becoming a more regular feature in pubs around the world. The PDC World Championships and Premier League are beamed into homes in every continent; and websites are written in every language from Chinese to Czech, Nigerian to Norwegian explaining darts rules, etiquette and the history of the game.
This has had an inevitable effect on the players competing at the very top level of the sport. In the 2019/20 William Hill World Darts Championship, players from 28 different countries took part. Far-flung countries such as Brazil, Singapore, Japan and the Philippines were all represented. Added to that, the PDC world tour travels far and wide, taking the sport’s biggest names to the United States, Asia and Oceania, pulling in full houses wherever it goes.
Closer to Home
In the UK itself, there is a valid argument that the sport – at least as a spectator sport – is healthier than ever. The move to Ally Pally has rejuvenated the World Championships. Sky has also been a shot in the arm for the sport, and the Premier League has shown that there is an appetite for the game throughout the year. Once again packed, boisterous crowds are present in whichever town or city it rolls into.
For the sport to survive, never mind prosper, that interest does need to be reflected in the number of people actually picking up and throwing some tungsten. This change needs to happen in the sport’s home nation if the UK isn’t to become an ‘also ran’ when the trophies are handed out. Realistically, if people are having to travel longer and longer distances to find a dartboard. When they get there, they are made to feel like second class citizens, as they are forced to move furniture to get to the oche, then many just won’t bother. The sport will have lost another potential club player, or even another champion.
All is not lost, however. You may have to look a little harder but there are options available, wherever you live. Our handy pub finder makes it easy to locate your nearest board. There are also alternatives to the traditional boozer; for example, snooker clubs invariably feature several boards. Dedicated darts venues have sprung up as an answer to the decline in dart friendly pubs, and British Legions and working men’s clubs almost always have a dartboard.
Playing for a team is a sure-fire way to improve your game and experience, and is the nearest most of us will ever get to walking out onto the stage at Alexandra Palace. Most pubs with a dartboard will have a team in a local league, and many are crying out for players. Those living in London can take advantage of the fantastic APFSC (The Association of Provincial Football Supporters Clubs in London) which means you can not only play darts for a team but represent your football club while you’re at it.
There is no doubt the advent of the gastropub has hit darts hard. Pubs have to do everything they can to make enough money to simply survive and taking down the dartboard and installing perhaps two more tables for diners seems like an easy way to do that. Many have found that is not always the answer though, and if there is enough interest – which the viewing figures show there is – then it may just be a matter of time before the tide is turned.