London Pride: 2022/23 Review

Red Dragon Darts

Although London’s County side were unable to retain their status in the UKDA Premiership for next season, the campaign did end on a high at the UKDA National Finals weekend at the Magna Centre in Rotherham.

London Super League Champions Welling B took to the oche with hopes of becoming National Champions. They began the Group Stage against Stroud Exiles (Gloucestershire) and came away with 5-2 victory.

A 4-3 win against Hanworthy (Dorset) was followed up by another 5-2 win over Caernarfon Rebels (Gwynedd). Lincoln United (Lincolnshire) were then seen off by a score of 4-3 as Welling B advanced to the knockout rounds as group winners.

The Round of 16 saw Welling paired against Berkshire’s representatives, Debbie’s Boys. It wasn’t the start they were hoping for, as Fred Box and Wayne Brown both lost to give the Berkshire contingent an early 2-0 lead. From that point on though, it was one way traffic.

Nick Cocks shared the first two legs before finishes of 72 and 74 ensured a win in the fifth. David Wawrzewski squared the overall match in minimum time with a solid scoring display.

Graham Rackstraw put Welling ahead with a win in five, and Matt Edes fired in a 14 darter to finish things off in leg six. Lee Cocks rounded it off in the finale for a come from behind 5-2 win.

Kings Head A (West Midlands) were the opposition in the Quarter Final. Welling was at it right from the word go. Nick Cocks hit a superb 11-darter to break throw in the opening leg, and despite losing the next eased to take the opening point of the match in leg five. Rackstraw coasted to a straight-legs victory to double the advantage. Wawrzewski then won in six to leave Welling one point away from a semi-final berth.

Kings Head pulled one back as Box was whitewashed, and then edged closer as Edes was seen off in the sixth. Brown turned up the ante to saunter through in style and get the match-winning point in the minimum four legs, and Lee Cocks shrugged off the loss of the opening leg in his contest by reeling off four on the trot, with a 14 darter to conclude proceedings and make the final score 5-2.

Could Welling get to the final? In order to do so, they had to overcome the challenge of Cedars Park (Suffolk). Box made a sluggish start in the opening contest, and quickly found himself two legs adrift. After restoring parity to make it all square with three to play, he kicked on by taking the fifth and the sixth to give Welling the all-important opening point.

Lee Cocks made a similar start in the next match, as he too found himself on the wrong end of the early 2-0 scoreline. He then took the next three to edge ahead but couldn’t finish the job as he lost in the finale. Rackstraw fired in a 13 darter en route to his win in six legs.

The fourth match went the full distance. It was a nervy and scrappy affair as the tension took hold, but Nick Cocks just about held throw in a nail biting finale to leave Welling on the verge of making the final. Brown also had to go the full seven legs in his match, but this time it was the Suffolk gents who were celebrating as the match continued on.

Edes made it three matches in succession where the final leg was required, but he too could only watch as the point went to Kings Head to set up the grandstand finish. Wawrzewski didn’t buckle under the pressure, if anything he thrived on it, producing a dominant performance to win in straight legs and send Welling into the final.

West of England Champions Chepstow Football Club stood between Welling and a historic achievement. First up was the skipper, Fred Box. He began with a 13 dart hold of throw, and a 70 checkout took leg two. He was broken back in the third, but a maximum in leg four restored the two leg lead.

A routine hold of throw in leg five was enough to get the point and give Welling the start they wanted so badly. The next match saw Graham Rackstraw take the first two legs. The third and fourth were traded but legs five and six went the West of England’s way. Rackstraw never gives up without a real scrap, and he had to survive match darts in the one-leg shootout before pinning the double ten to extend the Welling lead.

Nick Cocks was next up, and produced a rock-solid performance as he cantered to a straight legs win to put one hand on the Champions’ trophy. Wayne Brown had no answer in the fourth match, as his opponent only needed a total of 57 darts to take the four legs played and get Chepstow off the mark.

Lee Cocks was drawn out of the hat in fifth. He took the opening three legs, but lost the fourth and fifth. He began the sixth leg with three straight tons and added another two visits later to set up a chance at 56.

His opponent was sat on 94, but a score of 38 opened the door. Cocks grabbed it with both hands, two darts were needed to locate the outer ring and Welling were UKDA National Champions!

With the pressure well and truly off, Matt Edes was defeated in six but that was only a consolation point for the West of Englanders. David Wawrzewski put the proverbial cherry on the cake, as he swept to a convincing four leg sweep to make the final score Welling B 5, Chepstow FC 2.

To go unbeaten in such a strong competition is no mean feat and Welling deserved all the plaudits that came their way as Fred Box proudly held the trophy aloft.

A group of people holding up trophies
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(Left to right) Wayne Brown, Nick Cocks, Lee Cocks, David Wawrzewski, Fred Box (Captain), Graham Rackstraw, Matt Edes

The London ladies were also in action on day one. In the singles competition, Debs Watling lost in the Round of 256, defeated 4-2 by Danni Kearns (Wiltshire). The Round of 128 saw Mandy Solomons depart, as Pam Hinch (Cumbria) took the 4-1 win. Jo Deamer advanced, needing all seven legs against Juliet Findlay (Cambridgeshire). She was joined in the last 64 by Carly Townsend who overcame Lacey Hughes (Black Country) in the sixth.

Townsend then exited the competition, but only after being narrowly edged out in the seventh and final leg against Hertfordshire’s Tina Neylon. Deamer kept the London flag flying, taking out Kacey Witcher of Wiltshire before a whitewash win over Mandy Pawley (Surrey) secured a spot in the last 16.  Sadly the fine run was ended at that juncture as Rebecca Rose (Northamptonshire) advanced in straight legs.

London had three entries in the pairs competition. Steph Stutley and Debs Watling drew a bye in the Round of 128. The two others both competed at this stage but advanced no further. The duo of Christina Cronin and Jane Biggs went to the sixth leg before losing out to Hancock and Allen (Cornwall), while Carly Townsend and Tammy Mackenzie were only able to take one leg off a strong pairing in Lancashire’s Shaw and Millership.

Stutley and Watling had a fine run. Their first match in the last 64 was brief, with a convincing four nil victory over Stockings and Hawtin (Yorkshire). The tandem of Hales and Hill (Breconshire) fared little better, losing in five legs before the feat was repeated as Hoyland and Oldershaw (Derbyshire) had their interest ended in the last 16. 

The Quarter Final saw the Suffolk pairing of Jo Locke and Nadine Leathers provide the opposition. The match went with throw and went all the way to the decider. Stutley and Watling had the darts, but the only break in the match came at the critical time and the Londoners’ great run in the competition came to an end. 
The second day of action saw the Wanderers take centre stage in the Ladies team competition. The Wanderers team were: Tammy Mackenzie, Lynne Biondini, Steph Stutley, Lauren Burgess and Carly Townsend.

Sadly they were not able to advance from the group stages, and finished at the bottom of their group after three defeats. The first loss came at the hands of Rileys (Cheshire), won by a score of 4-1. The other two games both saw them narrowly beaten 3-2. Shipwrecks (Devon) and Bolton (Lancashire) emerging victorious.
The Men competed in their Pairs and Singles competitions. In the Pairs, two tandems went to post. Fred Box and Wayne Brown drew a bye in the Round of 128. The other pairing of Jason Gallagher and John Walters narrowly went down in a last-leg decider against Hayle and Hinks (Staffordshire). 

Box and Brown’s first match in the Round of 64 pitted them against Aled & Geraint Goode (Breconshire). All seven legs were needed for them to progress. They had a tough draw in the last 32, but Warwickshire’s Danny Lauby and Jamie Atkins were put to the sword in leg six.  The last 16 saw their last action as again the match went to a one leg decider but it was Allies and Dewsbury (Nottinghamshire) that sealed a place in the Quarter Finals.

London had five representatives in the Singles.  Two were drawn together to compete in the Round of 512, and it was a case of brother versus brother as Lee Cocks defeated his sibling Nick by a score of 4-1.  The other participants joined the fray in the Round of 256. 

The only one not to progress was Geoff Mortimer, who went down in straight legs to Mark Challenger (Glamorgan). Wayne Brown took all seven legs to dispose of Adam Beck (Lincolnshire), with Lee Cocks and David Wawrzewski both advancing in six against Paul Palmer (Cornwall) and Derek Williams (Clwyd) respectively.

Wawrzewski fell by the wayside in the Round of 128, Cheshire’s Danny Ayres sealing the deal in the final leg of the allotted seven. Brown whitewashed Carl Dockerill (Cambridgeshire) and Lee Cocks fired in a superb match average of 105.47, the only ton-plus average in the entire competition, in a four-leg hatchet job on Lloyd Pennell of Lincolnshire.

He set the tone with a 12-dart opening leg that was ended with a sparking 121 checkout. 18 darts were enough to yield leg two, 13 darts were all it took in the third and he began the fourth with a maximum before completing the drubbing in 14 darts.

Both then continued with wins in the last 64. Brown defeated Lee Hellings (Cornwall) in six legs, Cocks needed one fewer to get rid of Nick Stephenson from Northumberland.

Brown’s run ended in the last 32, as Jim Williams (Montgomery & Radnor) claimed the win in leg six. Cocks also went six legs, but it was his hand raised in victory over Lee Harris (West of England). The vastly experienced John Scott (Middlesex) was waiting in the last 16, but another six leg victory meant London once again had a presence in the Quarter Finals. 

Cocks was paired with Essex’s Richie Howson, who has been going great guns on the Seniors Tour. As expected, the match was a high-quality tussle. A 101 finish broke Howson in leg three, a failure By Cocks to hold the fourth and restore parity was soon forgotten as another break helped bring him to within one leg. A maximum in the penultimate leg set up a winner takes all finale, which went to Howson courtesy of a 108 finish.

As one season ends, thoughts quickly turn to the new campaign. London start their quest to bounce back to the Premiership with an opening fixture on the weekend of 2/3 September as Cleveland make the long journey from the North East.

Local rivals Hertfordshire are then paid a visit (30 Sep / 1 Oct) and hopefully there will be plenty of fireworks on the oche from the Londoners as they welcome Cambridgeshire on the 4th and 5th November.

The London Ladies team will be taking on a new look this season, as Carole Belcher has stepped down as Ladies Team Manager after many years of loyal and successful service. Dee Belcher has also called it a day and I would like to wish both a long and very happy retirement. The baton of Team Manager has now been passed to Eileen Waving who will be leading the ladies in the new campaign.

The Ladies are also going to be entering a team in the Men’s Super League for the upcoming season and this can only improve their game still further. This highlights the inclusivity within darts as a sport and has to be applauded.

The Ladies Super League Singles competition will be under a new name next season and will now be known as the Marilyn Smithies Singles. This honour is in recognition of Marilyn’s 40 years loyal and dedicated service with the county and is a quite simply a superb gesture towards the “Mad Cat Lady” who did so much for everyone.

She was and is the epitome of the mantra “London Loud, London Proud” and I have no doubt that she will be overjoyed on hearing the wonderful news. 

“The Pearly King” Supported by The Horseshoe Pub, Clerkenwell and Darts GB

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