Dan Dawson: Darts turns it on

By Dan Dawson 18/09/2020

THERE is a simple answer to the question “what turns on people who watch darts?” That answer is Steve Beaton. But sadly my pitch for a 9,000-word essay on this topic was refused by the Darts World editors, and so I pose a different question: “what makes people turn on to watch the darts?” This is a trickier one to answer.

The Autumn Series in Germany was a triumph of organisation from the PDC and their partners in Europe, but it brought us no closer to understanding the issue of who the best player in the world is right now. The World No.1 Michael van Gerwen won one of the five events, but finished second in the Order of Merit (just as he did in the Summer Series), while his two main rivals for the top spot in the pecking order picked up the series titles.

World Champion Peter Wright won over the Summer, while Grand Slam Champ Gerwyn Price reeled-off the last two events in Niedernhausen to pip MvG in the week’s rankings. Just who is the best right now? Indeed, if you take off all the ranking money between now and the start of January, there is nothing between Van Gerwen and Wright in the rankings, and Price is not out of contention. The World Championship could well see a new man at number one for the first time in more than half a decade.

For many darts fans this is turning out to be a Golden Age, where not only do we have more strength in depth (new tour card holder Damon Heta picked up his first ranking title in Germany, while Devon Petersen continues to look like a top 10 player), but there is a genuine tussle among the very elite for who can claim to be the world’s best. But what does this mean for the sport? The rise of darts through the 90s and beyond was built upon the dominance of Phil Taylor, a man who was virtually unbeatable at times. They watched to see how he won, not if he won. They wanted to see things that had never been done on a board before - two nine darters in a game, world record averages, unbeaten runs longer than Roland Scholten’s inside leg measurement.

The emergence, and subsequent dominance, of Van Gerwen has provided darts with a ready-made replacement. Granted, it’s unlikely he will ever reach Taylor’s ridiculous stack of trophies, but he has still won every single televised major and has gone on to break some of the records set by “The Power”. Premier League football became enormously popular over a similar period as darts while Manchester United were dominating and playing exciting football. But without a dominant force who seems a shoe-in for the vast majority of titles, will it continue to grow as we would like? I do not have an answer, and it may be that this blip from MvG is just that. He may emerge from this period of pain with renewed focus and go on to remorselessly batter everyone until the debate is once again put to bed.

Personally, though, I adore this new era. I love the genuine doubt about who walks away with the trophy. It excites me. It turns me on. But not like Beaton does. That’s different.

Dan Dawson is a pundit on The Darts show, presenter of Low6 Good Darts Podcast

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