Threw the Keyhole. One of several tricks missed by the Professional Darts Corporation as it brought competitive sport to the bored masses on Friday night, the failure to name its new tournament in homage to the game show that invites viewers to snoop around the houses of unidentified celebrities seemed a comparatively minor oversight by the end of an opening evening that featured more missed notes than doubles.
On the face of it, Darts at Home is a terrific idea. With sports fans already tired of watching bored footballers juggling toilet roll on social media, the PDC hit upon the wheeze of staging a competition with upwards of 130 of the world’s elite tungsten titans facing each other from the sanctuary of their own houses. To paraphrase the former oche announcer Martin Fitzmaurice: “Lets … play … socially … responsible … darts!”
On consecutive nights for the next month, groups of four players will take each other on in a series of round robins with the winners advancing to the next stage. Viewers are invited into their homes by watching live and free of charge on the PDC website. Audience fancy dress and bawdy inebriation is optional but tacitly encouraged.
With mass gatherings banned and physical distancing in force, raucous evenings of televised arena arrows are on hold and so it came to pass that the inaugural Darts at Home match was won in understated silence by the world champion, Peter Wright. Playing in his East Anglian home’s dedicated practice room, he clinched victory by the odd leg of nine against Peter Jacques, who was throwing in the marital bedroom of his home in the West Yorkshire village of Denby Dale. In the following matchup, the evening’s eventual winner, Jamie Lewis, playing in his spare room in Wales, was seen off by Niels Zonneveld from the Netherlands.
It was all good in theory, even if the games were too long and coverage might have been greatly improved by some audience interaction through social media. The screen was split so each player’s board was on view, while the PDC’s often pixelated and occasionally frozen Dan Dawson kept score and provided occasional commentary from a Birmingham bunker.
With the host streaming company apparently oblivious, coverage went live 20 minutes before the first game, capturing an unwitting Dawson puffing on an E-cigarette as the players were asked not to smoke or swear. Meanwhile in the House that Darts Built, Wright could be seen uncorking a bottle of fine wine ahead of his evening’s endeavours.
While darts may well have paid for Wright’s well-appointed domicile, it seems to have stopped short of springing for decent wifi. The world champion is fabled for his colourful mohawk hairstyle and the NHS logo on one side of his shaved head was a clearly visible and heartwarming touch. His dartboard, however, remained a distant blur of seeping yellows, greens and reds, while viewers could hear his projectiles hit it long before they saw them.
With production values at the bare minimum, there were none of the usual closeups to which TV viewers have long been accustomed, this tournament proving a victim of its organisers’ famously slick and comparatively big-budget successes, while in the absence of an announcer, players had to call their own scores. Indeed, the absence of any kind of atmosphere, some staggeringly low three-dart averages and the paucity of 180 maximums meant viewers could have been forgiven for thinking they were watching one of the more well-attended tournaments organised by the PDC’s unloved rival, the BDO.
While Wright, Zonneveld and Jacques went out of the tournament at the first time of asking, their exits were fairly low-key compared to that of Gary Anderson. On Friday afternoon, Sky Sports News solemnly announced the former world champion had been forced to withdraw from the tournament due to the insufficient strength of the broadband in his Somerset home.
Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, Daryl Gurney excused himself in the interests of promoting domestic harmony, explaining that his home setup involved him having to stand in an upstairs corridor with one leg inside the bathroom in a state of affairs that would preclude any of his immediate family from using the toilet.
A commendable idea in theory but ultimately dissatisfying in execution, Darts At Home did little more than demonstrate just how integral the contributions of dancing cheerleaders, gregarious announcers and an inebriated audience roaring bawdily along to Planet Funk’s Chase The Sun are to the televised theatre of the arrow experience. Through no great fault of its organisers, it was conspicuously poorer in the absence of those bells and whistles – more bus fare home than the speedboat or caravan we could have won.