“People said that darts had hit a purple patch, if that’s true then it has lasted a hell of a long time. Darts is here to stay.”
That is the view of writer, MC, amateur player and legendary commentator John Gwynne, who has lived every moment of the sports’ success story since the formation of the PDC.
He has commentated for SKY since the inaugural PDC World Championship, a tournament which is now one of the nation’s best-loved sporting events. He spoke to MODUS and reflected on the journey of darts over the past 18 years.
He said: “I’ve been commentating on darts since the very first World Championship, which started in December 1993. Dennis Priestley won the tournament, beating Phil Taylor in the final and the popularity has grown gradually since then.
“At that time it was difficult to attract big crowds, especially in the early rounds of competitions, sometimes to an almost embarrassing extent. Those days are long behind us now and people tend to forget it had been a struggle before some of the major competitions became more established because of the quality of the matches that were being played.”
Gwynne believes that confidence and strength in depth grew in the PDC as more and more players transferred from the BDO to help make the game more popular in the late nineties, but it wasn’t until the turn of the millennium before the sport started to fulfil its true potential.
He said: “The biggest move forward came when Barry Hearn got involved in 2002 and ever since then things have really taken off. I was lucky enough to make nine consecutive trips to Las Vegas to cover the Desert Classic, which were experiences I will never forget. The introduction in 2005 of the Premier League is what I consider to be darts’ biggest success to date. Every player wants to be in that competition and every fan looks forward to it. Another big factor has been the move to the Alexandra Palace which is a fabulous venue and has helped make the PDC World Championship the biggest event in darts ever.
“There are other factors as well. The success of Phil Taylor has been a big part of it, but lots of other players have played their part too. I also think that SKY took coverage to a new level and the viewing experience is fantastic now. Us commentator’s play a role in that too, we are by no means the most important people but we are a necessity and I think we do what we do very well. I’m proud to have been a part of bringing the game to where it is today.”
Gwynne, along with Sid Waddell and Dave Lanning, has commentated on an endless amount of high quality matches over the years. However there is one match that stands out above all the others, the famous 2007 final when Raymond van Barneveld beat The Power.
He said: “Sid (Waddell) and I were commentating on the final sets and he invited me in as Barney hit the winning double. I remember calling “And van Barneveld is the champion of the world” after what had been the most magnificent match ever seen and the pinnacle of darting drama and theatre. That was the most memorable game and there have been lots of brilliant matches, but I think that was the best.”
Gwynne has covered all manor of sports from cricket to clay shooting and he believes that darts is up there with the best of them.
He added: “It’s exactly the same as covering any other sport. Commentating is more than just description. It’s about reacting to events, building up excitement, providing insight and reading the game. I enjoy what I do so I enjoy commentating on whichever sport or event I’m covering at any particular time.
“In terms of darts, there is no question that it is a sport and the darts do the talking on that one. It’s recognised as a sport and it is a fantastic sport at that. I have very little time for the case that it isn’t, of course it doesn’t require a great deal of athleticism but it has every element that a sport should have. One of the greatest things about darts is its competitiveness; there is also an enormous amount of skill involved. We see lots of people from other sports at the darts and they love it and, as I’m often heard saying on the commentary, it is sport at its very best.”
By Chris Murphy