John Gwynne: Missing out on magic

By John Gwynne 14/10/2020

FIVE months later than scheduled but, thankfully, the play-off finals of the 16th PDC Unibet Premier League, albeit behind closed doors, are going ahead. I’ll not be the first to sing the praises of all who made the completion of the league stage of the wonderful event possible and I won’t be the last. The ingenuity of the PDC was matched by the sacrifice and cooperation of players, officials and front-line workers in making it happen.

One normally associates bubbles with West Ham United but the one big ‘bubble’ at the home of MK Dons FC, as it had been for the World Matchplay in July, is the reason completion was attained. I had the pleasure of commentating on Sky Sports on the inaugural Premier League play-offs and the first of Phil Taylor’s many titles in Manchester in 2005 and, almost, eight which followed it, through to Michael van Gerwen’s first success in 2013.

“Why almost?” I hear you ask. Well, that’s because there was another occasion, of course, when postponement of the big night occurred. Rather shorter than the five months’ delay of 2020, the 24-hour wait in 2010, which was forced upon us by an untimely power cut at the Wembley Indoor Arena, resulted in the finals, instead of going ahead on Sunday, May 23rd, being staged the following night.

The problem for me was that I had a prior engagement on Monday, May 24, a small matter of hosting Blackpool FC’s players’ awards night at Bloomfi eld Road on the occasion of the famous old club’s promotion to football’s version of the Premier League, their first time back in the top flight since 1971. I could hardly pull out of that at such short notice and, anyway, I was looking forward to the celebrations of Ian Holloway and his wonderful squad of players. Halfway through the celebratory meal on the Lancashire coast, I received a text message, an update, from Eric Bristow, telling me the latest. I nearly choked on my spinach as I read his script.

“Taylor’s done a 9-darter. Unbelievable!” Nothing more, nothing less. Just my luck! I wasn’t in the Winter Gardens venue when The Power had struck that most memorable Matchplay perfect leg back in 2002 - I had gone for ice cream on the promenade - and here I was, still in Blackpool, only a few hundred yards from that same promenade, as he hit the first in a Premier League final. When I received a further text from The Crafty Cockney telling me of a second nine-darter, I began to doubt. “Now you’re taking the p***, Eric”, I replied. He assured me he wasn’t and that, in fact, James Wade had come close to hitting one as well!

On my return home, I watched it all unfold via Sky Sports’ replayed version of the entire night. The commentary of Sid Waddell and Dave Lanning did full justice to the occasion. At the same time, I did wonder what I might have said! The most memorable, the most remarkable of finals, I had, unfortunately, missed. Sadly, an entire crowd will miss this year’s shootout, other than via TV, of course. I don’t think anyone will complain, if there are a couple of nine-darters, though!

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*John’s story of that famous night in 2010 is one of many which appear in his book, ‘Soccer Satisfied’, which was published recently. Although a football book, it has a number of entertaining, informative darts-related anecdotes

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