Spit, sawdust, bullseye! – how we all learned to love darts

I used to laugh at darts. But not any more. This weekend’s PDC world championship final promises all the thrills of a penalty shoot-out – and blessed relief from the vainglories of other sports

When the comedian Mel Smith died in 2013, most of the tributes on TV included his famous “darts sketch”, from the 1980s TV satire show Not the Nine O’Clock News. In the sketch Griff Rhys Jones is Dai “Fat Belly” Gutbucket, competing against Smith, as Tommy “Even Fatter Belly” Belcher. Puffing away on cigs, they stand by a table groaning with bottles of booze, the joke being that instead of throwing doubles, they’re downing doubles; brandy, vodka, and so on.

Oh how we laughed, the young, savvy, Guardian-reading – there, I’ve said it – audience for that show. But in recent years, darts has become much more than a reliable source of cheap laughs for the chattering classes. Its major events sell out fast (darts historian Patrick Chaplin tells me World Championship tickets were the eighth-quickest seller online this year, not far behind Kate Bush and Fleetwood Mac), while TV audiences approach a million on Sky, and top two million for a rival tournament on the BBC.

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