Thursday, 8 January 2009

Darts

This week, my attentions are mostly directed towards the Lakeside World Professional Darts Championship at Frimley Green. A lot of people consider the PDC equivalent to be the real World Championship decider, which is arguable when the final was contested by Phil Taylor, the greatest darts player of all time, and Raymond van Barneveld, probably his closest rival for the past decade. But for me, the BDO is where it's at. It's the BDO who support darts from the grass roots of the youth and county game and in organising darts around the world, right up to the top of the professional game. It's the BDO who find the players for the PDC. Put simply, without the PDC, the BDO would carry on as usual but without the BDO, the PDC would wither and die.

So, with the weight of moral superiority and history behind it, the Lakeside is a major entry on the year's sporting calendar. I love every element of it. I love the players, their nicknames, their costumes. I love the game, the drama and the tension. I love the crowd, all Croydon facelifts, signet rings and butcher's apostrophes. But most of all, I love the commentary.

Sid Waddell, the Cambridge-educated English graduate and professional Geordie, is rightly considered a legend of sports commentary. However, in his absence this past 15 years, the BBC have been able to fall back on Tony Green. Tony Green is a sports commentator without parallel. No-one combines intimate knowledge and ignorance in the same heady mixture. His understanding of the game cannot be questioned, nor his experience or standing. But give the man a microphone and you get the feeling he's just saying absolutely anything which comes into his head. In last night's game between Northern Ireland's Darryl Gurney and England's Martin Adams, twice he said "when Irish eyes are smiling...", most probably because Gurney was Irish and he was smiling and besides, it was something with the word Irish in it. Thankfully the match was only 7 sets in length. Had it been a best-of-eleven semi-final, I'm sure "Irish Republican Army", "Irish Coffee", "Irish Stew", "Irish Stew in the name of the law" and "Irish potato famine" would have been given an airing.

For years, Green's co-commentator was John Part, the Canadian 1994 World Champion. However, in recent years, Part's darts career has undergone a major renaissance culminating in his winning the 2003 and 2008 PDC World Crowns under the preposterously brilliant nickname 'Darth Maple'. With the PDC championship taking place the week before the BDO, in the last few years Part has opted to abandon his BBC commentary duties. His place has been filled by David Croft, also Radio 5 Live's Formula One commentator.

The dynamic between these two is a fascinating one. Indeed, it's pretty well unique in sport. The majority of commentary duos feature a play-by-play man - a dedicated journalist and broadcaster; a John Motson, a Murray Walker, a Barry Davies - and an analyst (called Color Commentators in the USA) - an ex or current practitioner of the activity to explain tactical decisions and criticise mistakes; a Mark Lawrenson, a Martin Brundle, a John McEnroe. Green and Croft, meanwhile, are neither and both at the same time. Croft is perhaps the most obvious contender for the journalist role, but Green's seniority leads to an egalitarian distribution of duties. The overall effect - a stream of consciousness, peppered with crass observations, fundamental inaccuracies, bad puns and giddy excitement - is of two men with one microphone, each struggling to retain sufficient sanity to say something into it between pints of bitter.

The BBC commentary team - which sometimes also incorporates Bobby George's monumentally wonderful Sid James laugh and gravelly voice when one or the other of the normal team passes out - projects a simple, crazy, proletarian, excitable and gormless soundtrack over the action. And given the fact that the action in question is professional darts, nothing could be more appropriate. Every January I spend evenings curling my toes with laughter and tension, wondering if Tony Green might accidentally say something inappropriate, enjoying every single dart in the company of two men who genuinely love, care and understand about what we're seeing. The whole thing is a 9-day long Rabelasian masterpiece. Long may it continue on free-to-air television.

1 comment:

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