The Tab takes a look at Cambridge’s Darts scene.

Cambridge Darts jesus johns

Check-outs, markers, mad houses. Middle-aged men with colossal beer-bellies and bizarre nicknames like ‘the Count’ and ‘the Power’. Pre-match warm-ups involving up to 12 pints of lager. Endless repeats of ‘Chase the Sun’ between matches. The oche.

As anyone watching TV coverage of this year’s World Championships well knows, Darts can be baffling to the uninitiated. Yet it is a sport breathtakingly simple in principle. After all, what could be more straightforward than throwing a miniature arrow at a stationary target? Surely anyone could master a sporting discipline at which bearded behemoths like Andy ‘the Viking’ Fordham – who tipped the scales at nearly 31 stone in his prime – excel? Well, no. And it’s pronounced ‘ockey’.

Darts has a proud tradition at Cambridge. Sid Waddell, the legendary commentator, read History at John’s. A man renowned for his way with words (gems include “his eyes are bulging like the belly of a hungry chaffinch”), Waddell also created ‘Indoor League’, a classic Seventies programme which played a crucial role in the birth of televised darts coverage. Hosted by a pipe-smoking, ale-quaffing Fred Trueman, the show also featured some of Yorkshire’s finest exponents of shove ha’penny, arm wrestling and bar billiards and is well worth a cheeky Youtube.

Yet ever since the Light Blues strode onto the hallowed Lakeside stage at the 2005 Varsity Match (to the tune of ‘Eye of the Tiger’, if you’re interested), there has been a cloud hanging over the Cambridge Darts scene. That game represented the nadir. Those ‘lucky’ enough to be in the live audience and thousands of BBC One viewers across the country were treated to a spectacle so bad as to be termed “the worst display of darts ever to grace the BDO World Championship stage and television screens”. The BBC, who allegedly thought that broadcasting the Darts would make up for losing the rights to the Boat Race, were left red-faced. Those of you with a taste for Schadenfreude can find some highlights here.  Needless to say, that was the last time the Darts Varsity match – or, for that matter, any University darts – was televised.

Despite this public humiliation, or perhaps because of it, Darts is enjoying something of a renaissance in Cambridge. An inter-collegiate League takes place every Lent term – this season it features 8 teams of 4 players from across the University. Undergraduates and graduates take part in roughly equal numbers and the range of abilities stretches from the hopeless (in the words of one insider, “players so bad that they can scarcely hit the wall”) to seasoned ‘archers’. The University Social Club plays host to matches and practice sessions; its three boards and decent bar more than make up for it not being quite as sociable a venue as its name might suggest.

Even more impressive is the way in which the Cambridge team acquitted themselves against the old enemy last season. Considering that Cambridge could hardly scramble together a team and that Oxford’s College League boasts 48 teams of 8 players, a narrow defeat (or glorious all-or-nothing last-leg Cambridge victory, depending on whose version you listen to) was nothing to be ashamed of. This year the fixture returns to Cambridge; Captain Chris Tolley is optimistic that Cambridge can bring back the coveted trophy to its rightful home.

This season’s College League is also shaping up to be a cracker. Last year’s edition ended in an improbable 4-way tie at the top of the table (even more so when you consider that there were only 8 teams competing) and hopes are high that this year’s will follow suit. Historically, Catz and Robinson, who are led by a man mysteriously nicknamed ‘Dangerous Dave’, have been the sides to beat.

The John’s team, captained by Lloyd ‘the Theif’ [sic] Rickman, are serious contenders as well; according to an unnamed source, they have been ‘hitting the tungsten hard’ in pre-season training. Jesus College Darts Club (JCDC) should also not be underestimated, despite the fact that this season marks their League debut. Rumour has it that team members were recruited exclusively from Britain’s darts-playing strongholds – the North, the West Country and Essex. When confronted with these allegations, JCDC spokesman, Bath-based Alexander Thomson, issued a strongly-worded denial.

Whether or not Thomson is to be believed, it looks like some quality Darts action lies ahead.

For more information on Darts in Cambridge, visit the CUDC website.