WHENEVER I’ve been to a gig at, say, the Manchester Academy, it’s always taken a while for my ears to readjust to normal sound levels again. Even a busy city centre street can sound incredibly quiet by comparison. If the recent PDC World Darts Championship was a noisy, sweaty gig, then the BDO’s version is the street outside.
And isn’t it noticeable when you watch one after the other? The PDC championship on Sky had the Alexandra Palace, glamour, crazy nicknames, drama, thumping music, ludicrous commentators and even more ludicrous entrances by the players. (Was John Part really led out for the final by a woman dressed as Princess Leia and a bloke in a full Stormtrooper costume? Yes, I think you’ll find he was.)
After all of that, the opening couple of days of the BDO championships on the BBC have felt more like a wake. It looks like a capacity crowd at the Lakeside Centre in Frimley Green, but my goodness they’re quiet.
The commentary’s quieter, too. While Sky have Sid Waddell, the BBC have the knowledgeable but very sensible Tony Green, the chap who suffered the indignity of spending 15 years as Jim Bowen’s straight man on Bullseye. It’s no comparison.
And whereas the PDC crowd built up the atmosphere, the BDO lot – or at least some of them – seem a bit distracted. As I watched 10th seed Martin Atkins’ match against Stoke qualifier Andy Boulton this afternoon, the loudest sound I could hear from the crowd was murmuring. Green, meanwhile, found himself in a meandering conversation with co-commentator Ted Hankey, during which we found out that ‘The Count’ used to live in Stoke, but now lives in Telford.
If you ever watch old episodes of Top Of The Pops on whatever UK Gold is called these days, you’ll spot a major difference in the audience between the 1970s shows and those from the 1980s onwards. In the 1970s, the audience are shuffling and bored, self-consciously looking round to see where the camera is. When the show was revamped in 1980, the audience were told to dance like mad fools, forget the cameras were there, and generally add to the atmosphere.
That, in a nutshell, is the difference between the BDO and PDC World Darts Championships. One is shuffling and a bit self-conscious in front of the camera; the other is practically doing cartwheels across the stage. (OK, there’s a big difference in the prize money, too.)
There doesn’t seem to be much chance for an atmosphere to build at the BDO championships. During the second set of the Atkins v Boulton match, referee Rab Butler got a little agitated with some noise coming from the crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Butler announced. “There’s someone clapping when the players are playing. If you want to clap, please go outside and do it in the car park. Thank you.”
The BDO championship gets more of a kicking every year, as the PDC – backed by Sky’s cash – lures the top players away. Raymond van Barneveld, Mervyn King, Jelle Klaasen, Michael van Gerwen and Vincent van der Voort have all crossed the divide in the last couple of years to join Part and Phil Taylor.
Martin ‘Wolfie’ Adams, last year’s BDO champion and the captain of England, continues to resist offers to join them. He’ll probably retain his title this year, but he’ll pick up £85,000 if he does, compared to the £100,000 Part got last week.
In some respects, I think the BDO championship is unfairly maligned. The standard of play in the early rounds at Frimley Green doesn’t seem any worse than that we saw at the Ally Pally: there were plenty of mistakes and missed doubles in both tournaments.
But it’s in the later stages that we’ll probably see the difference: in terms of the quality of play, the atmosphere and the prizes at stake. And that’s where I feel the BDO don’t help themselves sometimes. Perhaps the car park is the place to be after all.