Predictions can be funny things, can’t they? Prior to the 2007 edition of the BDO World Championships, there was much talk about what the present and the future held for Lakeside’s version of the greatest darting show on earth. To listen to some observers, the era of English darting dominance at Frimley Green was all but over, the stars of the show in 2007 and beyond would all be Dutch, and we were poised for the spectacular breakthrough of the next generation of darting talent from the Low Countries, who would sweep aside all comers and make the Lakeside stage their very own. What we would be witnessing, in short, would be the future.
Except, when it came down to it, exactly none of that actually happened. First up on to the Lakeside stage was one of the two Dutch darting darlings, the defending champion, Jelle Klaasen. It was fair to say that Klaasen’s run of form going into the tournament at the Lakeside had been little short of disastrous, not even making the televised stages at Bridlington. His opponent, however, was his fellow countryman Co Stompe, an experienced campaigner and solid player, but also one whom perhaps the television stages have not always brought the best out of. So, how would it go? Pre-match opinion seemed split, with many fans going for Klaasen to bring his best darts out once again on the one stage that has so far shown what he is truly capable of, others again opting for the experience. The first set was pretty level, with not much to choose between them, Co just taking it. Then the wheels came off The Matador’s bandwagon, in the fashion that has been seen so often since that memorable night when he downed van Barneveld. Klaasen simply could not hit the scores required to put pressure on his opponent, the cover shooting fell to pieces, and Stompe closed out the match in fairly quick time, 3-0 in sets, looking as good as at Bridlington and therefore better than has been seen for a good few years.
All in all day 1 was not kind to the Dutch challengers, Mario Robbe being defeated by Ted Hankey in an outcome that would not have been surprising apart from its nature. For Ted, talking up the match as being one of extreme importance for him, played it like a house on fire, hitting 180s and big scores at will and taking out the doubles in very impressive form, looking like the 2001 champion all over again. Then came a much bigger shock, Vincent van der Voort bringing his reputation for horrendous unpredictability to the biggest stage of all as he was downed by perennial qualifier Davy Richardson, who finally made it through the 1st round at the umpteenth attempt. Playing with agonising pain in his ribs after falling whilst putting on his trousers (yes, really), he shrugged off the discomfort to produce some truly excellent darts and send the rapid-fire, inconsistent van der Voort home across the channel on the receiving end of a 3-1 defeat.
That, however, all paled into glorious insignificance next to what was about to happen. Coming into the tournament all the talk had centred on one man. Michael van Gerwen, 17 years old, the youngest ever World Masters Champion, the slayer of giants in his first full year on the senior tour, the most gifted player at his age ever to pick up a set of darts, went into his first ever Lakeside appearance strongly favoured by many to win the entire thing, and even more predicting a move across to the PDC when the tournament was over. With this media-fuelled speculation whirlwind surrounding him, much of the focus seemed to have been taken off his 1st round match with the very experienced Northumbrian Gary Robson. Robson cashed in superbly with some brilliant darts, whilst van Gerwen showed up a great deal of the inconsistency still plaguing his game at this early stage of his professional career. One minute he looked brilliant, the next he was firing the lowest score off three darts in the entire championship, placing them all in the single 1 to record a score of just 3. Robson kept his cool and his consistency, playing excellent and solid darts to take out an enjoyable match 3-2 and record the biggest shock of the championships.
Equally enjoyable, and equally as high in quality, was the match hyped as the best game of round 1, the meeting of Martin Adams and Tony O’Shea. The Silverback played well in this match, with an average of 93, and undoubtedly would have got much further had it not been for his opponent. For Adams, whose collapse at Bridlington against van Gerwen had led to more suggestions of his being unable to hold it all together to win a major event, came out on something pretty close to his top form, averaging in three figures for long periods of the match before finally falling back down to a still superb 99. He blitzed O’Shea 3-0, and together with the awe at Woolfy’s performance was mixed the lingering feeling that it was a great shame these two terrific players had been brought together so early in the proceedings.
Further big names fell, with Gary Anderson and Darryl Fitton both first round casualties, with the conqueror of The Dazzler being of particular interest, the popular Stockport man going down to an unheralded veteran qualifier from the North East of England by the name of Phil Nixon. His time in the tournament was still very much yet to come.
The time had also come for one the less heralded members of the Dutch challenge. With all the attention focused firmly on the likes of Klaasen and van Gerwen, Niels de Ruiter has been able to go through the business of building up the TV performances slowly and steadily, and he moved through to round 2 with a very solid performance, looking much more comfortable than in previous years. That was not, however, something that could be said for one of the other much-heralded youngsters, the 23-year old left-handed Welshman Mark Webster. He had looked superbly impressive earlier on in the year, and was tipped by many to go far, but on the day it just did not happen for Webster as he too fell by the wayside. With Martin Phillips also crashing out, it was not a good year, yet again, to be a darts fan from the Valleys. Much better news for their Scottish compatriots, however, with Paul Hanvidge joined by an impressive looking Mike Veitch, who came back from an edgy start to hit five maximums and a 30+ average on his way past the Swede Goran Klemme.
Excitement at the darts quickly turned to alarm, however, as news filtered through of Andy Fordham. The Viking was rushed to hospital hours before his first-round match with Australia’s Simon Whitlock with breathing difficulties. The match was forfeited, and we can only hope that this latest setback still doesn’t deter Andy from making another full comeback. On behalf of all darts fans, Andy, get well soon.
Into round 2 and things seemed to be motoring along nicely for the remaining big challengers. Although slightly down on his round 1 average, Adams still looked every inch the BDO Number 1, demonstrating excellent prowess on the doubles to go with his customary very heavy scoring, particularly in the number of 140s hit. This combination was far too much for Co Stompe to cope with, the Dutchman falling 4-1 and setting Adams very much on course for the final. His main rival in the top half of the draw now seemed to be Mervyn King, but his path, as has quite often been the case, was shrouded by controversy. His second round clash with Mike Veitch was a bad-tempered affair, with the Scotsman blowing an early lead and going down 4-2, before refusing a handshake at the end over claims that King had been guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct on the oche, shouting out to encourage himself whilst his opponent was throwing. Whatever the truth of what went on, however, the result was the same: King progressed, and Veitch’s comments were fairly quickly forgotten.
Ted Hankey, however, was still determined to ensure that Adams and King didn’t quite take all the glory and interest for themselves, with a second very impressive performance as he downed Davy Richardson in a 4-3 thriller, in which Richardson had thrown some incredible darts and the outcome see-sawed back and forth, finally culminating in a dramatic last-set win for The Count. Hitting nine 180s and some very big scores, could The Count now go all the way, as he had done previously?
A couple of matches in the bottom half of the draw also went down to the seventh-set wire, with John Walton and Gary Robson fighting out a very high quality match, both players averaging over 90 and Walton around the 94 mark. Astonishingly this wasn’t enough to see him home, however, Robson progressing through to the quarter-finals. Also taking his place after a last set clincher was Niels de Ruiter, who perhaps surprisingly took out Whitlock. After the nature of his first round, however, it was perhaps unsurprising that it was not to be for Whitlock. Nevertheless, after a very good year, including that spectacular win against Phil Taylor at the IDL in May, the second-round exit must have been a disappointment for the Australian, who had been tipped by numerous people as a possible candidate for the trophy. With van Gerwen already gone, the bottom half of the draw was now wide open, and those taking advantage were Phil Nixon and Paul Hanvidge, both moving through into the quarters at the expense of Martin Atkins and Albertino Essers respectively.
Into the quarters and two huge matches, Adams vs Hankey and King vs Eccles. First up was Adams and Hankey, and it was an extremely tight and entertaining contest, with almost nothing to separate them on the averages. It was not quite to be for Hankey, however, as Adams hit the doubles when required to seal the win 5-3 and come through what many reckoned to be his biggest test of the week so far. For testing, however, that was nothing compared to Mervyn King, who found himself three sets down before he had time to think against an on-fire Tony Eccles, and suddenly King was staring the exit door straight in the face. Then, however, came the comeback, King having to produce some of his very best darts as he dragged himself up off the canvas. Suddenly the nerves were showing for Eccles, and he started to falter as King first clawed himself back into the match, then managed to level it up at 4-4 and take proceedings into a final dramatic set. Who would clinch it? There was only one answer to that question, and it was the number 5 seed, taking full advantage of the fact that momentum and confidence were now very much with him, pushing past Eccles and his valiant efforts to take the match 5-4 and leave him needing to recover quickly from a difficult match before the Adams showdown.
In the bottom half of the draw things perhaps didn’t quite live up to that, but certainly the magic of the results made up for that. Lakeside was producing yet another of its classic underdog stories, as Phil Nixon came through yet again to move past Hanvidge and take his place in the semi-finals on his very first attempt at the competition. It was a wonderful story, and would get better yet for the likeable 50-year old from Ferryhill. His opponent in the semis would be Niels de Ruiter, the Dutchman enjoying a career-high week as he moved through as well, beating Robson in yet another last-set decider.
Things moved up a gear as the action moved on to primetime television, with the semis forming the backbone of Grandstand on the Saturday. Although both were excellent matches, there was no doubt which most interest surrounding, and that was Adams versus King. Two of the Lakeside’s perennial underachievers, who had both yet to win the BDO’s greatest ever tournament despite having played some darts of the very highest quality during their careers, locked horns for a place in Sunday evening’s final. It was a high quality contest as well, with Adams once again over the 30+ marker as he averaged an impressive 91.6 to King’s mark of just under 90. As was now becoming customary in this tournament, the action went all the way right to the wire, with an eleventh-set decider. It was Adams whose class showed, backing up his higher average with the necessary doubles accuracy to seal the match 6-5 and move through into another Lakeside final, now firmly established as the favourite. Who would he meet there? The answer was the man of the moment, Phil Nixon, who triumphed 6-4 in another closely fought game with Niels de Ruiter. There was certainly no disgrace in de Ruiter’s performance, however, who in just one week had laid to rest all remaining doubts that he was merely a good floor player who fell short on TV and simultaneously catapulted himself firmly into the BDO’s premier league of players. The final berth, however, was not to be his also, going instead to the plucky qualifier Nixon, whose fairytale had chapters more to write yet.
So it was that we went into yet another Lakeside final, on the Sunday evening, able to reflect on what had been a quite truly extraordinary week of darts. Established expectations had been shot to pieces, and what we were about to get was almost the exact opposite of what had been anticipated. Far from talking about the youngest ever winner of the Lakeside, as many had supposed we would have been, we instead prepared ourselves to crown the oldest, as the two 50-year olds prepared to do battle. Instead of witnessing once again the march of the Orange army and seeing more evidence of the increasing Dutch domination of the Lakeside, the final would be contested between two Englishmen. It was Martin Adams against Phil Nixon, the perennial bridesmaid against the classic underdog. Whichever way the match went, it would be a night on which dreams would come true. It was game on.
Unfortunately it seemed, for the first half of the match at least, that it was more a case of “game off” than “game on” as far as Nixon was concerned. He endured a nightmarish start to the match, his average slumping and the nerves showing as Adams raced away. Why Nixon played as he did remains something of a mystery. He should really have felt no nerves, as he had nothing to lose and everything to gain, but it appeared not to show in his body language and in the darts he threw. Perhaps the sheer amount of darts he had played during the week had caught up to him. Whatever the reason, the results were dramatic.
As Nixon slumped Adams soared. The England captain was playing every inch like the number 1 in his organisation, bullying Nixon with relentless accuracy on the treble 20, throwing 100s at will and destroying his opponent on the number of 140+ shots hit. His doubles were superb too, only one bad visit in which he missed some six darts at the doubles in the same leg blotting his copybook. For the rest he was absolutely immense, checking out big scores left, right and centre and hitting the double in one, at most two, darts time after time after time. The World Final was becoming a cruise to glory, and the ordeal for Nixon was broken after less than an hour announcing the mid-game interval. Adams went into the break leading by six sets to nothing, totally in command and averaging about 95. What had been a long, long struggle towards the finishing post, for so many years, seemed to be just a short hop to glory. Down below in the player’s room, Nixon received his encouragement, trying to get something back into his game and give a good account of himself. What happened next was nothing short of extraordinary.
Out they came and once again off went Adams, taking out the first leg without too much trouble as Nixon still failed to fire. In the next few legs, however, Nixon played better, starting to hit the trebles as he needed and taking out the doubles too. There was much more evidence of the player that had been on stage during the rest of the week, when on his first visit to Frimley Green he had pushed allcomers aside. He took the seventh set, and he had achieved his first goal. At least he would not now be whitewashed in a World Final, the most horrible ordeal of all.
From there things started to get stranger. Adams faltered as Nixon put up a mighty surge, recording 2 maximums in one leg as whatever had held him back so horrendously in the first session disappeared and Nixon relaxed into his A game. Not only was his scoring picking up, his double hitting had become quite sensational, taking out most of his possible outshots in one or two darts. 6-1 became 6-2 and then 6-3, and now the nerves were clearly showing on the face of Adams. He had been so close on so many occasions, but surely this time he would not fold? Surely he could not let this slip?
Things, however, soon got worse for the BDO’s number 1, losing the tenth set t make the scoreline 6-4. Now the match had reached its crucial moments, and it was Nixon who had all the momentum. Wolfie’s scoring had dropped away as Nixon’s had improved (by the end he had run up double figures of 180s hit, all bar two of them in that second session). Even worse for Adams, the doubles just were not coming. As his darts bounced out of the board and deflected into the singles beds off the wires, Nixon continued to work his magic, making it 6-5 and then, astonishingly, levelling the match up in a twelfth set of quite unimaginable tension. 6-6. The atmosphere inside the Lakeside was now sensational, as the fans simply watched, scarcely able to believe what it was they were actually seeing. John Part’s verdict from the commentary box summed it all up nicely; “This one’s insane”. Into the thirteenth, deciding set.
Adams came out of the blocks firing but Nixon hit his scores too, although his doubling on this occasion fell short. Adams stepped up and sealed the first leg. Now the qualifier seemed to have shot his bolt, and Adams’ darts just about held together long enough. The second leg went to him as well and, as Nixon realised that his valiant effort had just about run its course, Adams checked out the third leg to seal his first World Championship after a 14-year odyssey of highs, lows, heartbreak and disappointment. There were emotional scenes at the end, but no-one could begrudge Adams his title, thoroughly well deserved as it had been.
It had been a superb tournament at the Lakeside, all of it borne on a sensational subplot of the experienced elder statesmen of the game lashing out with powerful Darts at the younger players who had thought to be sweeping the older guns aside. It had been a week in which the old guard had thoroughly reasserted itself, with the best performances in some considerable time seen from the likes of Hankey, Stompe, Eccles, King and of course the champion. It had been a week for outsiders and those without the burden of expectation on their backs to claim their places in the spotlight. It had been a week for fairytales, most notably the sensational effort of Phil Nixon, whose rags-to-runners up story reminded everyone, for just one week, of sport’s ability to warm the hearts and make dreams come true. And it was a week in which one of the sport’s most recognisable and popular figures finally got his hands on the one trophy that means more to him than any other
Andrew Nowell aka Centurion