At this time of year it is the practice, amongst the various governing bodies of the darts world, to hold a knockout as soon as the Christmas decorations have been taken down and the last of the cooking sherry has been quaffed.
We at the Fleetwood Darts League (FDL) have been merrily running our own knockout since 1946, with the British Darts Organisation (BDO) finally getting in on the act over thirty years later in 1978. Leighton Rees overcame John Lowe to become the first BDO champion in that year, with Mick Beaumont from the Royal Oak taking the title in Fleetwood, this after seeing off the challenge of Wally Mayhew from Cleveleys Workingmens Club.
In 1994, new kids on the block the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) held their first championship, Dennis Priestley seeing off Phil Taylor in a decidedly one-sided final. More importantly, 1994 sees Paul Grundy from the Mount Vaults take the Fleetwood title, his opponent that night being one of this year’s hopefuls, Mick Hoole from Fleetwood Cons.
This year the BDO only manages to get 40 players to turn up at the Lakeside, with the PDC doing a little better as 72 make it to the Ally Palace. But, as usual, the BIG turnout is in Fleetwood, where over 100 competitors gather on Friday night at the Cons, having travelled from as far away as the Esplanade, Broadwater and even Upper Lune Street.
And just as herds of wildebeest migrate across the vast Serengeti each January, so to do the darters of the port meander down its alleyways and back streets in the direction of the Cons. Indeed, it is one of the wonders of the natural world to watch them frantically trying to squeeze through the club entrance at exactly one minute after registration deadline.
But make it through they eventually do although, just as in Africa, many of the biggest amongst them fall foul victim to the voracious predators awaiting their arrival. One such is Robert Dagger, the proud owner of an unbeaten record so far this season. Jimmy Reilly from the Mount duly despatches Robert from the tournament at the very first hurdle, a fate also suffered by the Queens skipper Jamie Spore, at the hands of youngster Natasha Eaves.
Other first round performances worthy of note include that of Mick Gordon, who hits a finish of 167 in progressing safely through to the second round. Sadly for Cavan Thake, his 121 bull finish against Dale Newton provides only temporary glory as the Artful Dodger exacts revenge in the final leg. Blasted Heathen Chris Grinstead resembles a beached halibut, as Arthur Armstrong hits treble eighteen and double sixteen for a wafer thin victory on the arrows. Also as mad as a wet cat in a strange back yard is Robert Job, this after rattling in a 180, which does nothing to stop averages frontrunner and Highbury ‘A’ team mate Scott Hayton from progressing comfortably through to the next stage.
Into round two and a number of splendid victories for defending champion Steve Hadgraft, Joanna Coultas, Lee Shewan, Natasha, Haidan Hughes and Olympian Craig Gill. Also safely through to round three soars Collapsible Johnny Johnstone, this after he despatches 2009 champion Steve Cowell. The prodigal Alan Ashton also departs the contest at this point at the hands of Anthony Rhimes, this despite recording an emphatic nine darts leg.
Stan Billington evicts Jimmy Reilly at the third round stage, but is denied a match up with sibling Lenny, this after Ian Ball from the Strawberry delivers one of the shock results of the night. Also departing at this stage is Joanna Coultas, albeit that it takes Steve Hadgraft to bring her excellent run to an end. Tony Brogden of Deaduns moves quietly through to round four, as indeed does an effortlessly comfortable Cobbler.
The last of the ladies departs the contest at this stage, although Natasha does give opponent Scott Hayton a mighty scare before he edges through to the last sixteen. Haidan Hughes knocks three time winner Dale Newton out at this point; his reward a tie against another former winner Steve Riley.
The performance of the night is that by defending Champion of Champions John Shaw, whose 71, 180 and 50 eight darts masterclass brings to an emphatic end the challenge of 2011 winner Adam Blyth. Not far behind in the performance stakes comes Colin Newton, as he pops in a nine darts leg to bring about the downfall of Cons big hitter Dave Smith. Also safely through to the next stage are Mark Thwaites, 2012 champion Jordan Brooks, Ian Ivison, Johnny Johnstone, Ray Connolly and Anthony Rhimes.
Ian Ball’s enjoyable evening comes to end at the hands of Stan Billington, as indeed does that of Tony Brogden as Steve Hadgraft also makes it through safely to the quarter finals. Joining them there are Scott Hayton and Steve Riley, this after despatching Lee Shewan and Haidan Hughes respectively.
Mark Thwaites stops the progress of Highbury ‘A’ colleague John Shaw at this point, as does Jordan Brooks that of opponent Colin Newton. Johnny Johnstone brings the splendid run of Ian Ivison to an end, whilst Ray Connolly makes it safely through to the last four by ending the splendid run of youngster Anthony Rhimes.
First through to the semi final stage is last year’s winner Steve Hadgraft, his finishing power just enough to resist the challenge of the ever dangerous Stan Billington. Another Steve also makes it through to the penultimate stage, he being Jocky Riley, the conqueror of pre-tournament favourite Scott Hayton.
Also through to the last four is Jordan Brooks, this after he overcomes the formidable challenge of Mark Thwaites. The final member of the quartet is Johnny Johnstone, this after he creaks his way painfully past the redoubtable Ray Connolly just as the clocks of the town strike eleven bells.
First to enter the Elysian Meadows is Steve Hadgraft, this after grinding down the visibly tiring defences of Steve Riley. Joining him on Final’s Night will be Jordan Brooks, who finally breaks the dogged resistance of Johnny Johnstone with the final darts of the evening.
So there you have it. Did I mention that the finalists are brothers? Did I mention that both have won the competition in each of the last two seasons? Did I mention that Steve has won eleven straight matches going back to 2012? Did I mention that the last time he lost was against Jordan in the second round that year? I’m sure they’ll both find that fact a little interesting.
Thanks to the Cons for the use of the room, to all the markers, to Hannah Bailey for selling the football cards and especially to Steve Bridge for all his help on the night.
Thanks for reading.