The sport or game of darts is unique in several ways: the equipment required to play is reasonably inexpensive, a relatively small amount of space is required to play and special clothing is not required. Age, gender, size and physical strength or endurance have almost no effect on a player's ability to do well. These factors combine to make darts one of the appealing and popular games today.
The game of darts is hundreds of years old rumour has it that the sport originally began as a contest between bored soldiers / archers during respites from battle. The soldiers threw short throwing spears into the upturned ends of wine barrels. As their competition progressed, a more critically marked target became necessary, which led to the use of a slice of a tree as a target. The natural rings of the tree proved perfect for scoring purposes, as did the radial cracks which appeared as the wood dried out. The winter forced the game indoors, and shorter darts and basic indoor rules were adopted.
In 1530 Anne Boleyn gave Henry VIII a set of "darts of Biscayan fashion, richly ornamented," these were not darts as we know them today but more of a small throwing spear. Even our Pilgrim fathers are said to have had darts on the Mayflower (1620) and although their main use was for a weapon it is conservable they may have used the butt of a wine cask as a "board" for target practise. However Queen Elizabeth I throw the odd dart as seen here below
Queen Elizabeth I throwing darts in Slough, England
Pub Darts Match circa 1937
The number system on the board is often credited to Brian Gamlin, a carpenter from Bury, Lancashire, who is said to have invented it at the age of 44 in 1896 but he died in 1903 without patenting it. But after extensive research viewing the English and Wales Census and contacting Bury News papers and archives no trace of Brian existence can be found. This is not to say he didn't exist, as some reports say that Brian was also attached to a travelling circus and may have missed the census at the time...
According to another source, Thomas William Buckle invented the dartboard in 1913. The source in question is his son, Thomas Edward Buckle who 1992 made this statement in Darts World (issue 234).
Pictures: (Left) Man at the fair "21 or under wins a prize! Outside the board or fallen darts count 18!" (Right) Thomas William Buckle
Where does the word Oche come from? 'Oche' as a word meaning the throwing line which a dart player stands behind to throw his or her darts is comparatively recent, being introduced by the British Darts Organisation in the mid-1970s. The actual word is believed to be derived from Old Flemish (or similar) meaning a notch or nick but let the truth be known.
The truth is since the 1920s, the word was ‘Hockey’ and not ‘Oche’ was used in competition rules. It is believed a writer miss herd the name and recorded it as 'Oche'.
References to 'Hockey and Son' Brewery and the throwing distance being created by putting beer creates end to end has always been a nice theory but it is totally untrue. No such Brewery every existed in the UK hence to say this myth as been around for years.
Over the years many myths have repeated as regards how the Hockey / Oche length came to be but why 7’ 9 ¼ “ / 2.73m it is rather a weird length isn’t it! Why not 7’10” or 2.8m? It basically comes down to trying to standardise the Oche length across the Country and in Europe. In the UK several setups where commonly used however two of the most prominent were 7’6” and 8’, The News of the World Championships was played at 8’ so why the change?Before and after the 1939-45 war a 9ft throw was popular Hockey (Oche) length. However that was to change. From 9ft, the throwing distance gradually crept nearer the board until 7ft 6in was the rule for most major competitions in UK with exception of the News of The World Completion that remained at 8ft. Players from outside the UK were not happy with the 7ft 6in because they felt it was too short and during a meeting with in December 1977 with the World Darts Federation a compromise was met. The Federation worked in meters not imperial measurement used in the UK for dartboard set-up; 7ft 6in is 2.28 meters, and 8ft is 2.44 meters. To make an agreed length a compromise was made halfway between the two, but wait a minute, halfway between the two is 7’9” so where does the extra ¼” come from? 7’ 9” didn’t equate nicely into metric so the addition of ¼” made the distance fit nicely at 2.37m hence the standard Oche length of today.
In 1908 a decision was made by the Magistrates in Leeds, England which effectively ensured the eventual popularity of darts as a sport. At that time, "games of chance" were illegal in public houses (pubs). A pub owner called "Foot" Annakin was accused of operating a game of chance and prosecuted for allowing darts at his establishment. Foot argued that darts was not a game of chance, and obtained permission for a board to be set up in the courtroom. It is said that Anakin threw three darts in the 20 and invited any magistrate to do the same. The challenge was accepted, however the court officials were unable to duplicate Foot's shot, thus proving darts was indeed a game of skill and not of chance; the case was dismissed. The years afterward saw the progression of the game in British public houses; by World War II the majority of pubs had dartboards, and teams and matches with other pubs were arranged on a regular basis. Further research by Dr Patrick Chaplin reveals that Annakin wasn't a publican at all he worked in a forge. Annakin was in fact the best darts and dominoes player in the Adelphi Inn. When the landlord of the Adelphi, Jim Garside, was summoned to Leeds Magistrates’ Court to answer the charge of allowing a game of chance to be played on his premises, he asked Annakin to come along and demonstrate darts was a game of skill.
The first major step towards making darts the international game it is today occurred when The News of the World, a British Sunday newspaper, instituted its championship in 1927. Originally confined to the London area, the event nevertheless drew large numbers of participants, and due to its success became a national competition after World War I. This event grew into one of the most prestigious and sought-after international titles in the sport, but was suspended in 1990. It returned in 1997, but is now restricted to players in the UK. (This event sadly is no longer being played)
Major credit for promotion of the game goes to The News of the World and also to the National Darts Association of Great Britain (NDA), formed in 1954, for their contributions in creating both an international forum for the sport, and establishing basic acceptable rules of play.
The NDA drew together various Counties and London groupings, and began holding English national competitions in 1957.
The British Darts Organisation (BDO) was formed in 1973 by Olly Croft, he helped to coordinate the strengths of the various County associations and the development of various County championships, with the organisation of international events following soon after. The BDO's primary focus at that time was acquiring sponsors and running special events for television. In 1978 the BDO organised the Embassy World Professional Championships, one of the biggest events in darts.
In 1976 the BDO was a major force in setting up the World Darts Federation (WDF), which was formed by representatives from 15 Countries to govern and promote the sport of darts on an international basis. Among the first decisions of the WDF were the recommendation of a standard throwing distance for all countries, and the inauguration of the World Cup, an international event held every two years since 1977 in which top players compete for their respective countries. Today the WDF is comprised of the national darts organising body from each of 49 member countries, representing six continents.
The 1970's and 1980's witnessed the first darts 'stars' such as Eric Bristow, John Lowe, Alan Evans, Jocky Wilson, Leighton Rees, Cliff Lazarenko, to name just a few. All became household names during this period.
Four Past World Champions left to right Leighton Ress, John Lowe, Eric Bristow MBE & Jocky Wilson
In 1992 saw a great split between the BDO and a number of professional players. The game had lost some sponsors and had declined from the TV screens leaving the Embassy World Championship as the only televised event. The professionals felt that not enough was being done to encourage more sponsors into their sport and TV courage should be greater than one event a year. A group of professionals including Eric Bristow MBE, John Lowe, Phil Taylor, Dennis Priestley and many more formed a new darts organisation known as the World Darts Council (WDC) and the following few years saw any member of this new organisation excluded from BDO events. A legal battle between WDC and the BDO was also on the way. This bitter dispute over the rights to darts organisation fell in favour of the WDC but one of the words ‘World’ had to be dropped. The organisation as we know it today is the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC)
The PDC have now introduced some key, high profile competitions including the World Matchplay, Grand Prix and the PDC World Championship. The British Darts Organisation (BDO) continues to support youth and County darts and organises major championships including the Winmau World Masters and the Lakeside World Championships (formerly the Embassy World Professional Darts Championship.)
To make a history page and still be at the top of your game is some achievement by anyone's standard. But by far the one darter that has dominated the sport for the past decade and a half is Phil 'The Power' Taylor. Phil has won the PDC World Championships no less than fourteen times and before that the BDO / WDF World Championship twice making him the sixteen times World Darts Champion. (January 2013)
During this time darts promoter and chairman of the PDC Barry Hearn arranged a head to head encounters with the then current BDO / WDF World champion, Phil has always won these encounters, proving beyond doubt he is the greatest darts player the World has even seen in the modern sport of darts.
On The 24th March 2005 Sport England took the lead in officially recognising darts as a sporting activity.
The decision was approved at a recent Sport England Main Board meeting and paves the way for further recognition from other sports councils in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In taking the initiative to acknowledge darts as a legitimate sporting activity, Sport England took into account its status as a national and international sport, its high and growing levels of participation and the physical and mental skills and dexterity needed to compete successfully.
Sport England Chief Executive, Roger Draper, said that the Board decision looked beyond the stereotypical image of darts and took into account its many positive sporting and social values: “The presentation of darts as a pub game has helped popularise its cult appeal, but the reality is that it is a sport played by many thousands of people across the county in locations ranging from schools to village halls, social clubs and sports centres".
"By taking the lead in recognising the skills and social and community values associated with darts, we hope others will follow suit in the near future to complete its formal and official recognition as a sport,” he added.
Full sporting recognition will allow darts authorities to take advantage of tax incentives afforded to recognised sports by the Government. There are currently no plans for Sport England to fund darts, as in February this year (2005) the four-year funding strategy was confirmed for the national governing bodies of sport.
Initially recognised by Sport England, on the 3rd June 2005 Sport Wales, Sport Northern Ireland and Sport Scotland have now added their unanimous agreement that darts is to be recognised as a sport.
Olly Croft OBE
Eric Bristow MBE
Professional Dart Players that have been honoured by HRH Queen Elizabeth II for services to darts and charitable work
The first and currently the only male recipient of the MBE is Eric Bristow. Eric received his award for services to the sport of darts 1989. Eric is former World Darts Champion. During his long career at the top level of professional darts Eric, known as the Crafty Cockney’, won the World title five times.
Eric was one of the group of players that broke away from the BDO in 1992 that formed the World Darts Council that is now known as the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC).
Trina Gulliver MBE
In 2013 Trina Gulliver the nine time Ladies World Darts Champion was also awarded the MBE for services to the sport of Darts and her charity work. Trina is also the former England ladies captain and still plays at the highest level of ladies professional darts (2015)
Ladies darts has come a long way over the last few decades and a lot of this can be put sown to Trina’s stunning achievements on the oche. It is also a slight achievement for me as I managed to obtain a vast amount of citations to support the application I presented to the honours committee for her to receive the honour. My thanks to all that I asked and supplied a citation to support the application.
So what about the most success darts player that has ever live Phil Taylor? Phil has won the World Championships 16 times surely he deserves to be recognised as one of the UK most successful sportsman that has ever lived. Many people may ask the question why isn’t it Phil Taylor MBE?
It has been widely reported that Phil Taylor was awarded the MBE however before he could accept the award Phil was found guilty of indecent assault.
In a Dunfermline Sheriff court Phil was convicted of fondling two 23-year-old women after a darts exhibition in Fife in 1999. He was fined the sum of £2,000 however he escaped a jail sentence. As a result the MBE would not be forth coming.
Serious convictions of any person that has been awarded a British honour is usually stripped of their titles as many have seen in the news with several show business. Hence to say it is unlikely that Phil will receive an honour unless circumstances change.
Where would we be without the help of others providing information and hard research? Like all other pages on this site, I like to be as accurate as possible with the information I provide. History of the sport, it's origins, founders and development in my opinion is as interesting as the sport itself.
For one person the history of the game has become a passion, that person is Dr Patrick Chaplin, who is fondly known in the darts fraternity as 'Doctor Darts'! Patrick can probably give any enquiring person the answers about the sport during the twentieth century. He finished and submitted his PHD thesis and in December 2006 was awarded a PhD by the Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge – the title of his dissertation being:
‘DARTS IN ENGLAND 1900-1939 – A SOCIAL HISTORY’.
I have conversed with Patrick on a number of occasions, trying to prove or disprove history as it's been presented. Brian Gamlin’s existence to name one point. Patrick's approach to history is thorough and his research into the sport has become widely respected within the darts community. He is without doubt the authority on the history of darts in the twentieth century. Normally a reserved man, Patrick, is the writer behind many books and co-writer behind some dart players autobiographies. You may have even bumped into him at one of the many darts events without evening knowing it! He still plays pub darts but confesses to not being a great player.
Patrick deserves his own place in history as the man who's helped uncover the origins and many aspects of the sport of darts.
For more information about the history of the game and to read other aspects of the great sport of darts visit Patrick Chaplin's main site or click on the Doctor Darts Logo above.
Picture Thomas William Buckle - Dr Patrick Chaplin Darts Archive - Used with permission