Last night the packed Lakeside crowd and the many more people watching from their homes around the country saw Ted ‘The Count’ Hankey narrowly edge out Tony ‘Silverback’ O’Shea 7-6, in what Tony Green described as “The greatest final ever”.
Having watched every dart thrown and many more over the week and years preceding it, I can vouch that it was brilliant . . . Not though in the typical imagined ideal of sporting greatness. Last night yielded no potential ‘Sports personalities of the year’ (although by definition both competitors had a lot more personality than any previous winner I can remember), there were no supreme physical specimens in their athletic peak, no years of gruelling training before them, no careful last minute preparations – it was just two regular blokes with beer guts and aspirations and it was this humility that enabled the 2009 BDO World Championship to achieve greatness.
As far as the match itself was concerned, both players threw spectacular darts and showed incredible ability under pressure – after all, it is quite a skill to accurately throw a 20 gram arrow into a small rectangle, with nothing more than adrenaline and alcohol coursing through your veins – however, as the evening’s close fought battle came to a end, it was the players’ attitudes that really triumphed.
From the off, it was abundantly clear that Ted Hankey and Tony O’Shea are good friends with enormous respect for one another – as is true of virtually all the players on the circuit, who can regularly be seen backstage, drinking pints and chatting to one another – and it is this camaraderie and goodwill that lends an authenticity to the whole proceedings and cannot be faked. Even their interviews exude a candour that I thought had long since been eliminated from professional sport – there are no prepped PR speeches containing stock phrases such as “I fought really hard”, “all credit to my opponent”, “at the end of the day I came through”, etc – in Ted’s final interview with Ray Stubbs, he spoke openly about how his excessive drinking had been damaging his game, until his fellow competitors persuaded him to ‘buck up his ideas’. It was staggering to hear someone honestly recounting their actual feelings live on TV – even Big Brother contestants don’t do that! Not only the players, but the WAGs are loveable as well – far from the super chic footballers’ wives sat stoically at premiership grounds, masked by designer sunglasses, wishing that they were out wasting money – they cheer passionately and when asked, they speak proudly about their fellas. Indeed, the whole spectacle is so heart-warming I felt like I’d been doused in a bath of heroin and connected to an IV drip full of happiness.
When Hankey hit the double 10 that sealed his victory it was almost too much to take. A man with the demeanour and stage presence of a belligerent thug, who just seconds before was staring at double 10 like it had murdered his children, was abruptly reduced to a blubbering wreck; all of a sudden he looked small and innocent, lost – he was truly overwhelmed. Amongst the furore, his rival, the ever popular and jocular Tony O’Shea, was clapping, with tears welling up behind his glasses. I then witnessed the most poignant self-effacing response, the crowning moment of the entire event – I saw Ted, through the tears, mouth the words to his vanquished opponent . . . “I’m sorry”.
In a time where sports, by and large, have become more than the sum of the players and the game – a media infused shambolic pantomime of prima donnas competing for higher pay cheques – to watch something so unpretentious, where the desire to play a game you love, among opponents you love and with the support of those you love and who love you is all that matters, is enormously refreshing.
Still, I can’t help but feel sorry for the players, who receive so little acclaim and remuneration for their talents – I’ve flicked between BBC News and Sky Sports News all morning and neither channel has mentioned last night’s final, choosing instead to endlessly showcase Kate Winslett’s vomit inducing, gushing breakdown over the two Golden Globes she received for doing her job well – however, for somewhat selfish reasons, I feel that this may be for the best. After all, how long could the true ideals of this game and the players survive if it were injected with the kind of cash and glamour of modern day football? Before winning the title for the second time in his career, Ted Hankey said “The money doesn’t matter to me, all I want is to be called champion again.” As such, I am happy that the game remains as it is and the only bling in sight is draped over Bobby George.