Darts has long been an entertaining addition to social gatherings, drawing together diverse groups through the precision and concentration the sport demands. Darts create bonds of camaraderie and rivalry between people who enjoy playing the sport as a social game. Its appeal lies in its skill requirements and its capacity for bringing different people together in friendship and competition.
Let us delve deep into the rich history and influences that contributed to the booming popularity of darts, where we will learn more about the humble origins of the sport until today, when it has become a worldwide sport.
Many theorise about how darts began. However, as a game, it started in France!
A game called Fléchettes (meaning 'small arrow') was the forerunner of the modern sport. The game consisted of three wooden darts, flights made of Tukey feathers, that were thrown at a clinical wooden target. The centre scored the most. Unlike modern dartboards, the board had no numbers and was approximately 10" in diameter.
Although much speculation is given to medieval English warriors using darts for sport, no historical records show they did. Small hand-thrown weighted darts were used to kill small animals such as wild boar, pigs and young deer. The darts were also used as a defence weapon, thrown from battlements. Although it may be plausible to assume shortened arrows, crossbow arrows etc., may have been used to hand-thrown at a target in the form of a game and may say that they were, historians have yet to find any written information to substantiate this claim
The modern form of darts that we recognise today was not standardised until the late 20th century. Dartbords in the UK had regional variations, including hanging height and the distance a player had to throw from.
The dartboard most of us play on today and see in TV tournaments is called the 'Standard Dartboard' or the 'London Clock Dartboard'. The circular board consists of 82 scoring segments. Number segments 1-20 are arranged to reward good accuracy and penalise the poorer thrower. Each of the twenty segments has two single scoring areas, a double on its perimeter and a treble area spanning the centre. The middle of the dartboard has two additional scoring areas: the outer and inner bullseye.
Who invented the numbering system? Well, too many references to Brian Gamlin are made. Brain supposedly came from Bury, Lancashire, but despite many years of research, no evidence of Brain exists. The more plausible, however, unproven, is Thomas William Buckle, a wire maker from Yorkshire, England.
For many years, darts betting has been an inseparable part of any occasion where darts are played, from playing for a pint of beer or a money runner. The biggest difference when we compare past and present is in the engagement opportunities that are offered to the people due to digitalisation and a faster flow of information. Nowadays, players can get in-play dart odds at the press of a button or app, which takes the sport of darts into a whole new dimension. Before such technology, players could only bet before a dart was thrown.
Dart leagues were formed as darts became more popular in the pubs and taverns of England. The minor social leagues became more serious when the best of the league players then represented their local town and England County. Soon, darts became a national sport, with the country competing against other countries. Darts transitioned from a casual game to a competitive sport. The pub provided a perfect setting - social yet competitive, where patrons could test their skills against each other. The close ties between darts and pub culture spurred the game embedding the game into the social fabric of England and beyond.
The late 20th century saw the emergence of professional darts, marked by the establishment of the British Darts Organisation (BDO) in 1973. This led to the development of major tournaments like the World Darts Championship, which brought together top players from around the globe.
In the 1990s, with darts sponsorship dwindling, sixteen of the top dart professionals broke away from the BDO roots to form the World Darts Council (WDC). The players wanted to stage more TV tournaments and attache more sponsors. This led to a major dispute between the BDO and WDC, and a court case was brought against the WDC. The resulting factor was a name change for the WDC, and the name they then chose was the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC). The PDC now runs elite professional dart competitions, with annual prize money exceeding £15m annually.
Notable players like Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld captured the public's imagination with their prowess and personality, and today the sport is dominated by a new era of players, such as Michael van Gerwen, Micahel Smith, Gerwyn Price and Pter Wright to name just a few.
Darts have become a staple of televised sports, with major tournaments broadcasted globally. The advent of digital technology has allowed matches to be streamed live, enabling fans from all corners of the globe to tune in and cheer for their favourite players.
The media coverage of darts has increased its visibility and expanded its fan base. The tournaments' high-stakes nature, the players' precision, and the matches' captivating atmosphere have all contributed to the game's appeal.
The journey of darts from a simple pastime to a globally recognised sport is a testament to its enduring appeal. The game's rich history and popularity surge in recent years reflect its ability to bring people together, regardless of their background or skill level. It is a game that truly has something for everyone, from the casual pub player to the professional competitor, and it continues to hit the bullseye in the hearts of millions worldwide.