It is one of those Friday nights in Fleetwood when the sky descends to envelop the port in an icy embrace.
Whistling in from the Wyre Light, a bitter wind scurries along Lowther Road, carrying with it a squall of rain that claws at the windows of the Conservative Club like an angry cat.
Fotheringay eases the Silver Cloud to a halt outside the entrance.
Moments later he is soaring through the air like a geriatric sky diver.
One hopes he remembers to let go of the umbrella handle before reaching the estuary.
Staggering across the pavement, I worry that the tempest will reduce the number of participants in this year’s Individual Knockout to a trickle.
But of course I should know better.
Your local darter isn’t going to let a little hurricane keep him away from the oche.
Imagine my delight upon finding that they have gathered in remarkable numbers, as do the herds of migrating wildebeest upon the Serengeti.
And, just as on the savannah, amongst them stroll a few predatory lions, licking their licks in anticipation of the coming feast.
For these are the previous winners of the event, each keen to savour again the sweet smell of success.
Alas, the vagaries of the draw pitch two of them against each other in the opening round. So it is that two times winner Jordan Brooks finds himself pitched into the wilderness, his nemesis 2002 and 2006 champion John Shaw.
However, safely making it through to the second stage are past champs Steve Hadgraft (2013), Steve Riley (1980) and Dean Barker (1996).
A brace of second round wins for Michelle White and Tracey Cunningham keep femme fatales hopes alive, with other notable successes enjoyed by Mike Tallentire in seeing off the challenge of last year’s finalist Carl Simey and Robert Dagger, his win against millennium maestro Stan Billington a breathless affair. Another previous winner also crashes out, he being Steve Riley at the hands of Mark Shewan.
Amongst others making it safely through to round three are tungsten trainee Chris Blyth Junior and Lee Shewan, the latter’s opponent Jim Pilling confidently anticipating a good run if he could draw an easy first opponent. Well, that didn’t happen.
With current champion Wesley Newton unable to defend his title after the PDC inexplicably electing to play the Gibraltar Open on the same night as our Presentation Evening, family hopes rest upon the shoulders of dad Colin (1998) and brother Dale (2005, 2007, and 2010). Unfortunately, both crash out of the competition at the hands of Tony Kane and Scott Hayton respectively.
Performances of note in round three include those of Robert Dagger, Cavan Thake, Chris Blyth Junior and Lee Shewan, the latter hitting a maximum in his victory over Terry Beavers. Also successful at this stage are Steve Tonge, Darren Rathbone and Craig Gill, with Scott Hayton’s seven dart demolition of Steve Gray the best of the night.
Joining them in the last sixteen are Roy Gaskell, Les Ivison and on form Olympian Peter Jackson. Steve Hadgraft sees off John Shaw at this stage, a 150 outshot snatching victory from the grasp of his redoubtable opponent when all seems lost.
Mark Shewan continues his lion taming act by ejecting 1996 winner Dean Barker from the competition, where he will be joined by last surviving lady Tracey Cunningham, Jamie Spore and 2011 champ Adam Blyth.
First through to the quarter finals is Robert Dagger, this after bringing Cavan Thake’s surging progress to a premature end. Young Chris Blyth Junior continues triumphantly past his bedtime with victory over Strawberry star Steve Tonge.
Lee Shewan emphatically brings the efforts of Darren Rathbone to a shuddering halt, as does Scott Hayton those of a resilient Craig Gill. Les Ivison continues to defy the odds in seeing of Roy Gaskell, as does Pete Jackson in ending the interest of former winner Steve Hadgraft. Also making it safely through to the quarter final stage is the last of our previous winners, Adam Blyth finally bringing to an end the gallant challenge of Beach Road Boy Jamie Spore.
Now I’ve been playing darts for fifty years and was always taught that what you should do is aim your dart, then throw it. Apparently, I’ve been doing it all wrong, for Tracey Cunningham is managing perfectly well without the aiming bit.
So it is that Tracey dumps champion chewer Mark Shewan out of the event with a performance of pyrotechnic percipience. Sumptuous starts, stupendous scores and frenetic finishes. Blink and you will miss it.
First through to the semi final stage is Pete Jackson from the Mount. Sailing serenely under the radar, the esplanader ends the interest of Les Ivison to book his place in the last four.
Joining him there is Lee Shewan, currently the hottest ticket in town. A brace of nine dart legs leaves Scott Hayton bewitched, bothered and bewildered.
Also making it through is a stalwart Robert Dagger, his hopes of making through to the final for a second time now within touching distance, as he brings to an end the tremendous run of Chris Blyth Junior.
The result of the last quarter final ensures that a new name will be inscribed on the Jimmy Hague Trophy come next May. So it is that Typhoon Tracey sees off Adam Blyth, averages champion in the port over each of the last three seasons and undefeated so far during the current campaign.
As the clocks of the port chime eleven bells it is Robert Dagger who makes it first through to the final. Holding his nerve against the redoubtable Lee Shewan, the Highbury ‘A’ star is plainly delighted to make it through to the final after an absence of five years.
Joining him there is Peter Jackson, his quiet determination throughout the evening never more evident than in the dying embers of a tremendous competition. Holding his nerve admirably, Peter finally brings to an end the charge of Typhoon Tracey to book his place on Final’s Night, his first appearance since winning the pairs knockout alongside another TT nine years ago.
Thanks as usual to the Cons, to all the volunteer markers and to Neil Buston for selling the football cards. Thanks also to Anthony Rhimes and Steve Bridge for their assistance on the night.
Thanks for reading.