Let’s celebrate darts maestros and all our local heroes

Hands up who is any good at darts? Yes, I thought as much. About half a dozen of us.
There’s a good reason for this: It’s actually REALLY difficult. Getting that tiny piece of tungsten to land where you are aiming it at on a consistent basis is a dark art that very few can master.
But it seems that, statistically, you have a better chance than most if you have an ST postcode.
You see, there was a time when Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor was considered a freak. (He knows I mean that in the nicest possible way).
But now that his protégé Adrian Lewis has become World Champion for a second time people are starting to question whether there is something in the water in our neck of the woods.
It’s got to the point where they may as well rename the PDC Ladbrokes world championship the Stoke-on-Trent Darts Cup.
Yes, I know that Lewis hails from Cross Heath, which is in Newcastle, but – like most people in the Ancient And Loyal Borough – I bet he still shops up Hanley.
The point is that our city (or the wider North Staffordshire conurbation – if you’re going to be pedantic) now has a unique selling point that doesn’t involve crockery or sinking a big boat.
We are the world capital of darts. Arrows central.
Let me ask you this: In what other sport does one city dominate so utterly that its players consistently contest competition finals? I can’t think of one.
Of course, there are those who will assert that darts is not a sport but a pub game as it lacks athletic prowess.
You certainly never see anyone rolling around on the floor feigning injury, abusing the referee or making racist comments against a portly Dutchman – if that’s what they mean.
I would also suggest that Sky television’s viewing figures for darts knock this argument into a cocked hat.
More importantly, the likes of Lewis, the indefatigable Taylor and this year’s nearly-man Andy Hamilton, from Dresden, are putting the Potteries well and truly on the map.
It’s the kind of publicity money simply can’t buy. The kind of publicity that even a Vale fan like me has to admit Stoke City’s time in the Premier League has given us.
So the question is: Why aren’t we doing more to capitalise on the spectacular success of our darts players?
Why, as my friend suggested, don’t we stage a Stoke-on-Trent versus Rest Of The World match?
We should be making the most of our sporting superstars while they are at their zenith.
But in true Stokie style, we aren’t.
Unable to see beyond our emotional link with our industrial heritage we seem incapable of grasping obvious opportunities for promotion, profile and tourism.
Let me give you some examples.
Arguably the biggest solo music artist on the planet at present is from Stoke-on-Trent yet we have nowhere for his fans to visit. There is no Robbie Williams trail. No museum. No nowt.
The man who created the fighter plane which saved this country from the Nazis and helped to turn the tide of World War Two grew up in Butt Lane.
Not that anyone would know because – apart from the odd street name and an apology of a display tucked away in the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery – we’ve done very little to honour Spitfire designer Reginald Mitchell.
Then there are our darts players. OK, so darts may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you have to admit that it takes some skill and a great deal of dedication to become THAT good at a sport played by millions.
The best players in the world come from North Staffordshire. They are the darts equivalents of Sachin Tendulkar or Pele and they are on our doorstep.
It’s high time we started shouting about them and made a fuss of our other big names and so, to this end, I have a suggestion.
Why don’t we turn the Ceramica building – that mothballed eyesore in the centre of Burslem – into a museum of local heroes?
I dare say tourists are far more interested in looking at superstar memorabilia and finding out about the people I have mentioned here than they ever were in decorating cups and plates.


We’ve seen plenty of ‘The Power’… but what about the glory?

I’m rubbish at darts – as anyone who has taken cover while I’ve slung a few arrows in the Sneyd Arms will testify too.
This is despite the fact that I have an old set of Phil Taylor’s practice darts.
All of this just goes to show that blood doesn’t always run true because I’m told my dad was a bit special in his day.
Some fellas who know about these things tell me that, had he not been working away a lot when I was little, he could easily have played at county level and possibly above.
The multitude of trophies and 180 medals in the cardboard box at the bottom of his wardrobe backs up what they say.
But me? I think I’ll stick to playing pool.
Darts is one of those games that looks unfathomably easy, but is actually really difficult to be good at without practising ’til the cows come home.
And right now, we are fortunate to have in our midst, a world champion at the peak of his Powers (if you’ll pardon the pun).
Phil Taylor is a freak. I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that.
The bloke is a machine. Untouchable. Relentless.
Even people like me, who don’t follow darts, watch in awe as he racks up victory after victory – title after title.
Yet because we see so much of him here in the Potteries, because he’s one of our own, I wonder if we perhaps just take him for granted.
If Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor had come from Liverpool they’d have no doubt based the Capital of Culture celebrations around him and had him singing on stage with Paul McCartney.
There would have been a statue of him erected within spitting distance of the Liver Birds by now and they’d have renamed the Albert Dock Taylor’s Oche.
You wouldn’t be able to turn on the radio without a Scouse voice blathering on about ‘ar Phil’.
As it is, despite his achievements, one of the world’s greatest sportsmen has again failed to make the shortlist for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Awards which is nothing short of a scandal. On their website, Phil is mentioned in passing as having had another ‘incredible year’.
Auntie Beeb ought to wake up and smell the skinny latte.
Phil’s been having ‘incredible years’ for a decade now and it’s about time they were recognised.
I can’t help, but think there’s an element of snobbery behind this apathy towards our darts maestro. After all, some would say, darts isn’t a sport – it’s a pub game.
No. It’s a sport played by millions – so get over it.
And, dare I say it, there are a damn sight more people interested in Phil Taylor’s exploits than a Royal equestrian, an F1 driver or many of Team GB’s Olympic hopefuls.
Fifteen years ago darts was about as sexy as sink full of dirty dishes.
But clever television executives and a certain prolific player from our neck of woods have transformed the sport into a global phenomenon, which now names top celebrities among its fans.
Let’s for a second set aside Phil Taylor’s charity work for the likes of the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice and numerous other worthy causes.
Let’s not focus on the fact that, despite his considerable wealth, he still lives a dart’s throw away from his beloved Stoke-on-Trent.
Let’s ignore the fact that, on impulse, he paid thousands of pounds for Aaron and Andrew Corden – two young lads from Abbey Hulton who came runner-up in Stoke’s Top Talent – to go to dance college and follow their dreams of a career in musical theatre.
Let’s just focus on the sportsman.
I reckon that, in 40 years’ time, people will look back and say: “Hey, that Phil Taylor – 17 (or whatever it will be by then) world titles. What a player he must have been.”
And old fogies like me will answer: “Yeah. I saw him once. He was incredible. Made it look effortless. No-one could live with him.”
Because that’s how good he is.
Sadly, just like all great sportsmen and women, one day he will be shown up to be human. But, right now, he’s the undisputed heavyweight champion of the oche and no-one can touch him.
Thankfully, Phil Taylor’s immortality is assured and long may he continue to entertain and inspire millions with nine-dart finishes, bullseyes and 180s.
More Power to his elbow, I say.