Amongst the characters that have drifted in and out of this column over the years, none is more beguiling than Ivory Joe Stalin, the gin-soaked former Great White Hunter who has been assiduously decimating the local fox and rabbit populations of Nether Wyresdale since taking up his post as gamekeeper at Bleasdale Towers some thirty years ago.
How well I remember sitting in Ivory Joe’s tent as a young boy, entranced by his tales of butchery upon the African savannah when he led the 1953 BDO expedition to El Hadj Diouf, deep in the impenetrable jungles of Bristowland. Tragically, Ivory Joe was to be the only survivor of that ill-fated mission, this after becoming lost amongst the sisal swamps of Didier Drogba.
During the years leading up to that tragic event, Ivory Joe had single-handedly obliterated entire populations of African wildlife, including the fabulous tree oysters of Namibia and the sinister crested hippopotami of the Pongo Pongo River. Indeed, had supplies of gin and ammunition not run out, causing his repatriation to Dear Old Blighty, it is more than likely that Joe would have rendered Africa as meatless as a vegan dinner party.
I am reminded of Joe on Friday as I look out upon an empty room at around eight bells that evening. He loved to tell the tale of the annual Wildebeest migrations, when millions of those befuddled quadrupeds (whose only role in life appears to be to provide a mobile buffet for the massed crocodile population) arrived each year upon the banks of the Serengeti. Indeed, many of the utterances used by the wildebeest can be heard echoing around the port at eight bells on Friday, just fifteen minutes before the deadline for registration in the Fleetwood Individuals Knockout at the Gasworkers.
Thus does, “Are you sure crocodiles only eat grass” translate to “What do you mean all your taxis are busy?” as herds of perplexed ocheologists realise that they have again left booking a cab too late for the seventeenth year on a trot. But eventually they all arrive in Preston Street; safe in the knowledge that by entering the Tank huddled together their tardiness will go undetected, as would their bovine ancestors upon being surrounded by a cornucopia of carnivorous crocs.
And, just as happened to the crested hippopotami, before long a number of the big beasts have departed this year’s competition at the very first hurdle – amongst them Scott Hayton, Cavan Thake and Rob Saunders at the hands of Johnny Johnstone, Ian Ball and Alan Thornton. Excellent early winners include Margaret Garner, Darrell Moore, Craig Gill and Craig McNaught, along with a brace of excellent performances by Chris Blyth Junior and Tom Duggan. Friday also sees the return of Wez Newton to the competition, his first appearance since taking the title against Steve Riley in 2008.
A splendid performance by Chris Blyth Junior brings 2006 champion John Shaw’s interest to an early end in the second round, as indeed does that of four time winner Dale Newton at the hands of man on a mission Ian Ball. Other notable scalps detached from craniums at this point include Mark Thwaites, courtesy of an ebullient Terry Beavers, Brian Bond against Tom Duggan and Alan Ashton at the hands of Lenny Billington. Others progressing with some panache to the next round include Stan Billington, Jim Doran, Carl Simey, Steve Hadgraft, Tracy Cunningham and 2011 champion Adam Blyth, his two leg victory completed in eighteen frenetic darts.
Into round three and it’s the end of the road for Femme fatale Carol Evans at the hands of Al Morley, a fate also suffered by Chris Garton against Chris Blyth Senior. 2009 finalist Pete Hornby sees off the challenge of Lee Shewan, whilst Dean Stockell brings to an end the challenge of Chris Blyth Junior. Ian Ball meanwhile continues his march forward in ending the challenge of Craig Gill. Johnny Johnstone successfully circumnavigates the obdurate Mick Jackson, with Adam Blyth maintaining his momentum by despatching Craig McNaught. Wez Newton moves smoothly through the gears in seeing off Tom Duggan, as Stan Billington moves into fourth round at the expense of Mark Shewan.
Dean Barker keeps the Cons flag flying with a cracking win over Terry Beavers, as does Steve Hadgraft in showing the door to Jamie Cygal. Lenny Billington brings the curtain down on Colin Newton’s evening, as does Robert Job that of Tracy Cunningham.
First through to the quarterfinal stages is Ian Ball against Dean Stockell, where Adam Blyth joins him after seeing off the challenge of Johnny Johnstone. Wez Newton continues upon his merry way by ousting teammate Dean Barker, as indeed does Steve Riley in ending the winning run of Stan Billington.
Steve Hadgraft continues his pursuit of a hat trick of consecutive final appearances by despatching Al Morley, a fate also suffered by Chris Blyth Senior at the hands of Carl Simey. Meanwhile Dave Smith finally brings the run of Lenny Billington to an end, the final quarter finalist a delighted Robert Job, this after seeing off the challenge of Pete Hornby.
First to book his place in the semi finals is Carl Simey, this after he finally brings to an end the three year odyssey of Steve Hadgraft. Also missing out at this stage Robert Job as Dave Smith makes it safely through to the last four, where he will be joined by Adam Blyth after the Dockers star edges past the resolute Ian Ball by the narrowest of margins.
Our final quarter final is a repeat of the 2008 final, as Steve Riley once again takes on the formidable challenge that is Wez Newton. And what a tremendous battle Steve puts up, a brace of halved legs helping the Warrior edge into the last four with nothing to spare.
Adam Blyth sets about Wez with gusto in the first semi final. Alas he is deserted by his finishing doubles at the death, thus allowing the Warrior to stake his place in the final come May. Awaiting him on Final’s Night will be Carl Simey, this after a tremendous battle against the formidable Dave Smith.
With the match delicately poised at 1-1, Dave safely despatches 59 in three darts in the deciding leg, leaving the Highbury ‘A’ player on 57. A deep breath, a steely eyed stare at the sisal and a sweet seventeen and titanic tops sees Carl safely passed the winning post to become the first player to make it through to both singles and pairs knockouts since double champion Steve Cowell in 2009.
Thanks as usual to the Cons, to all the volunteer markers and to Cliff Ashby for selling the football cards. Thanks also to Neil and Steve for their assistance on the night.
And that, as the crocodiles of the Serengeti would say, is the end of the gnus for another year!
Thanks for reading.