Darts in the UK has been banned in Public Houses (Pubs) in several locations over the past 100 plus years. But the biggest threat to the game in recent years is the closure of the Pub as we used to know it.
The Pub trade has dramatically changed and declined. According to The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), in 2017 18 pubs per week in the UK closed its doors for the last time.
Pubs style has also moved on from the tap room (a place where the beer normally cost a few pence less and featured a dartboard and other pub games) has given way to mini dinery. The cheap beer has given way to more artisan and mini brewery beers.
During the period from 2000- 2016 over 10,500 pubs closed in the UK. From personal experience this meant five of the league darts pubs closed and a further two removed their dartboard playing areas, in favour mostly of what was called snug areas or rooms. Areas designed for a couple to enjoy a quiet drink without the banter of the local darts team, that is if the pub still had one!
This, however, has not been the case in Holland and Germany. Darts has played a significant part in the Pub life and has increased dramatically. In 2018 a third of the PDC World Darts Championship tickets were snapped up quickly by adoring German fans, yet here in the UK, the local leagues have declined.
Fans who attended the once every popular British Darts Organisation (BDO) tournament now seem to consist of players friends and family with the odd local dropping in to watch the event in the fairly best of order quiet atmosphere. Not so however with the Professional Darts Corporation.
The PDC, chaired by Barry Hearn, has taken the humble sport of darts to a totally new level. Recognising, the sport needed to be made more of a spectator sport than it had been in the past, Barry and his team, set about making darts the second most watched sport (second to football) on Sky Sports.
The PDC dart fans now enjoy a party atmosphere at every event they attend. Fans are encouraged to have a good time and they do. The PDC World Series, Germany Masters attracted over 20,000 fans.
The fan base as some may say has changed. Years ago, most of the fans played league darts once or twice per week, however, today's fan base just enjoy the social aspect as fans do with motor racing, horse racing and football.
The UK has not only suffered the loss of many public houses but years ago some areas banned the sport or game as it was knew then.
Probably the most notable case was 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). The owner of the pub called the Adelphi Inn in Leeds was accused of operating a game of chance and prosecuted for allowing darts at his establishment. The landlord, Jim Garside, asked the best player he knew at the time, William ‘Bigfoot’ Annakin to demonstrate. Annakin argued that darts was not a game of chance, and obtained permission for a board to be set up in the courtroom. At this time, the board would have been a Yorkshire Dartboard, no trebles. It is said that Annakin threw three darts in the 20 section of the dartboard and invited any magistrate to do the same. The challenge, if to be believed to be true was accepted. However, the court officials were unable to duplicate Annakin shot, thus proving darts was indeed a game of skill and not of chance. The case was dismissed. But like most history, for this to be fully accepted it needs to be backed up with some proof.
Darts historian Dr Patrick Chaplin said he had been unable to fully confirm the story because he had not found any records in the Leeds magistrates court or newspaper articles.
More betting now takes place in the professional sport of darts than most others. A game can change dramatically during the course of the match. A player can be seen to have a purple patch and hardly missing anything then one miss fortune, a missed double or bounce out and the match can be turned. When played at the highest level such misfortunes can make for great viewing, however, players may argue otherwise.
Despite, the decline and changes of many pubs in the UK, darts is bigger than ever. It attracts bigger audiences (PDC) and more sponsors than ever before. Ask anyone have they thrown a dart or two at a dartboard sometime in their life and most will say yes.
More social history about the sport of darts can be found on Patrick Chaplin’s website. Or read his book in the studies in popular culture, ‘Darts in England, 1900-39’ taken mainly from his thesis/dissertation that gave him a PhD! Dr Darts!