With a record attendance of up to 10,000 people expected to visit London’s O2 tonight to witness the opening round of the 2010 Premier League, it would appear that the darts scene in London is thriving. It isn’t. Fifty years ago, there were 200 London pubs containing skittle alleys; now there is just one. It’s not an exaggeration to claim that darts – as a pub activity – could soon go the same way.
The closure of pubs throughout the UK has been well documented – the British Beer & Pub Association released figures in December 2009 showing that 281 pubs closed for good in the capital during the first half of 2009; that’s eleven every week. In the centre of London there are additional pressures on space, and demands on rent, and at least thirty central dart pubs have either closed or taken down their board in the last year and a half.
I know little about darts on the outskirts of London, but in the centre leagues are being decimated, decades of tradition are being wiped out, and names of long-gone dart players which have been attached to this-or-that competition for many years are disappearing forever.
Life, of course, moves on. Dominoes, bar billiards, shove ha’penny – they’ve had their day as pub pastimes, alongside smoking (and, for that matter, talking to strangers).
But darts as we know it came from London: large scale organised darts started here in the 1920s, with the first National Darts Association tournament under a standard set of rules taking place in the Red Lion in Wandsworth in 1926; the board played on throughout the world is known as the London board; and London was where the ground-breaking News of the World tournament blossomed between the wars.
Darts in London pubs is worth fighting for. Today, therefore, I add my limited weight to those many better-qualified people campaigning on behalf of the traditional boozer, with the launch of a guide to central London’s dart pubs.
Capital Arrows is the only comprehensive guide to the dart pubs of central London. It’s available on this site, and if you, like me, like darts and pubs, I urge you to look at it, use it, improve it, borrow it, link to it, and, most importantly, tell people about it.
Here’s the good news. The guide contains 100 pubs with dart boards in the centre of the capital, all just a couple of miles from Charing Cross. Central London contains many fantastic pubs where you can meet and play against Londoners and visitors alike – or just chuck a few arrows on your own.
I’ll be at the O2 tonight, no doubt bemused by the sight of 10,000 people paying £20 or £30 each to watch a sporting event at which they can’t see what happens. Perhaps a few of them will translate their interest in watching darts into visiting the capital’s dart pubs and throwing a few. I would highly recommend giving it a go – while you still can.
Some kind words about Capital Arrows:
Darts legend Bobby George: “I started out playing in pubs, and many players – including 2010 Lakeside World Champion Martin Adams – still turn out for their local pub team. All players come from the pub, and that’s where players learn to love the game. Most breweries know that darts is good for business and enjoyment in their venues – I have been involved in John Smith’s People’s Darts initiative for the last 2 years – and I hope Capital Arrows can help encourage more people to play the sport. The pub is the ‘mother’ of darts – so it’s cheers to darts in pubs. May the darts always be with them.”
Barry Hearn, Professional Darts Corporation Chairman: “London has shown incredible appetite for seeing the world’s best players live, with record crowds at Alexandra Palace for the Ladbrokes.com World Darts Championship and sales of tickets for the Whyte & Mackay Premier League Darts at The O2, and at the Wembley Arena. The sport of darts on both the playing level and also as a fan has grown immensely in recent years, to the stage where we are now the UK’s biggest indoor sport. The PDC hopes that Capital Arrows helps to stem the decline of dart boards in central London pubs.
Daniel Pearce, managing editor of The Publican: “Anything that can put a positive focus back on pubs in 2010 will be warmly welcomed by the industry – and Capital Arrows definitely falls into that category. Darts is one of the classic pub sports, and most pub-goers will be aware that it is undergoing a real renaissance. The guide will help the public connect with the best places to hit the bullseye in London, both at the dart board and at the bar.”
If you are interested in the history of darts in pubs, check out www.patrickchaplin.com or ‘Played at the Pub’, by Arthur Taylor, from English Heritage’s Played in Britain series.