Leechy at the PDC William Hill World Championship

All images courtesy of welloffside.com and welloffside.photoshelter.com.

As the end of the year approaches, it’s hard not to think that 2014 may come to be seen as a breakthrough moment of sorts for darts.

Mark Leech - Phil Taylor asks a question to an official.
Mark Leech – Phil Taylor asks a question to an official.

The sport has arguably never been bigger or taken more seriously by its players, spectators and endorsers.

Mark Leech - The faces of previous world champions adorn the walls of the hall.
Mark Leech – The faces of previous world champions adorn the walls of the hall.

But so many of the elements that make up professional darts seem surreal and absurd in the best way possible.

Mark Leech - A general view as Peter Wright plays Gerwyn Price.
Mark Leech – A general view as Peter Wright plays Gerwyn Price.

Firstly, as with any sport elevated to a level of big money competition, the actual details of the game seem out of sync with the prizes and prestige on offer.

Mark Leech - Phil Taylor from a distance.
Mark Leech – Phil Taylor from a distance.

 

Rather than 22 men chasing a ball, it’s two often large and rather robust gentlemen throwing sharp objects at a circle of cork.

Mark Leech - Spectators with dartboard hats.
Mark Leech – Spectators with dartboard hats.

It’s a target, and actual scene of action, that’s nearly impossible to observe from any distance, let alone the back of the huge, aircraft hanger-sized halls that pro darts is today played in.

Mark Leech - Phil Taylor in action.
Mark Leech – Phil Taylor in action.

Then there’s the athletes themselves, whose unquestionable mental strength and skill with a dart are balanced out by the proliferation of decidedly un-sporting physiques.

Mark Leech - Peter Wright in action against Gerwyn Price.
Mark Leech – Peter Wright in action against Gerwyn Price.

Many professional players are middle-aged men of impressive girth, who would be lampooned for daring to play under the label of a sportsmen in almost any other form of sporting contest. Yet in darts, they are giants of their game, and the spirit of the competition is all the better for it.

Mark Leech - Peter Wright comes onto the stage dancing with the girls.
Mark Leech – Peter Wright comes onto the stage dancing with the girls.

Watching them walk out like prize fighters, flanked by beautiful women and scantily-dressed dancers can often feel like a little mini push-back victory of sorts for the rest of us other regular non-Adonis types.

Mark Leech - Peter Wright sporting a christmas tree beard.
Mark Leech – Peter Wright sporting a christmas tree beard.

 

On top of the entrances, there’s the exhibitionist hairstyles and the outfits, leading many competitors to arrive in front of the board like darts-throwing-orientated re-imaginings of pro wrestlers. Forget The Undertaker and Hulk Hogan though. It’s “Mighty Mike” Michael van Gerwen and Phil “The Power” Taylor.

Mark Leech - A spectator dressed as apriest with the face of Ken Barlow, enjoys a beer.
Mark Leech – A spectator dressed as apriest with the face of Ken Barlow, enjoys a beer.
Mark Leech - Spectators enjoying themselves, with their backs to the darts players.
Mark Leech – Spectators enjoying themselves, with their backs to the darts players.

After that there’s the audience, who arrive in their droves dressed like a mix between It’s A Knockout and Oktoberfest, with beer flowing, fancy dress donned and wild antics, cheers and chants booming from the tables and benches beyond the stage.

Mark Leech - Spectators in fancy dress.
Mark Leech – Spectators in fancy dress.
Mark Leech - Spectators get excited.
Mark Leech – Spectators get excited.

Even the deep, gruff voice of the announcers, calling out the scores as they fly in, adds to the weird brilliance of the spectacle. This is a corner of a pub super-sized into such a spectacular, with so much pomp, ceremony, hype and over-the-top pageantry that it can’t fail to feel like a knowing in-joke at times.

This is serious business though, regardless of just how liberating it can all feel. Van Gerwen is almost at a cool £1 million worth of prize money at the top of the PDC rankings and roll of honour, followed at some distance by Taylor who currently resides in second, behind the Dutchman.

Mark Leech - The Wealdstone Raider amongst the spectators.
Mark Leech – The Wealdstone Raider amongst the spectators.

To say darts benefits from its flashes of absurdity isn’t an attempt to denigrate the sport. With so many pundits and fans in other sporting venues complaining of the po-faced lack of fun that has robbed the joy out of the likes of their favourite games, especially football, it should be something to be celebrated.

Mark Leech - Spectators drink at tables, wearing fancy dress.
Mark Leech – Spectators drink at tables, wearing fancy dress.

Access more sporting pictures from Offside Sports Photography at welloffside.com and welloffside.photoshelter.com.

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Author: gregianjohnson

Football writer for The Blizzard, FourFourTwo, The Mirror, Squawka and VICE amongst others. Follow me on Twitter at @gregianjohnson.

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