'Decades of tradition wiped out,' as number of Zone 1 boards falls by 25%
DARTS in central London pubs is under threat, with the number of boozers in the Zone 1 area hosting a dartboard falling by 25% in the last 18 months.
That's the finding of arrows expert Justin Irwin, whose survey reveals that more than 30 centre-of-town pubs with darts facilities have either closed down or removed their dart boards since mid-2008, leaving 100 to fly the flag.
"Leagues are being decimated, decades of tradition are being wiped out," said Irwin, author of Capital Arrows, a guide to Zone 1 pubs that still have dart boards.
But, says Irwin, there is no guarantee that any of those 100 survivors will still be around in years to come.
"Fifty years ago there were 200 London pubs with skittle alleys but now there is just one," he said.
The recent decline in darts pubs in London is mirrored nationwide, but has a particular resonance in the capital for historical reasons.
"Darts as we know it comes from London," said Irwin, who is known as the Bachelor of Darts.
"The first National Darts Association tournament under a standard set of rules took place in the Red Lion in Wandsworth in 1926 and the board played on throughout the world is called the London board."
While pub leagues might be struggling, big tournament darts has hit the bullseye.
Two rival world championships pull in thousands of punters and millions of TV viewers every year and tonight, 10,000 fans will be at the O2 to watch the game's top stars begin the darts Premier League season 2010.
Those players, however, came up through the pub leagues.
"The pub is the 'mother' of darts," is how London darts legend Bobby George puts it.
"All players come from the pub and that's where players learn to love the game. So it's cheers to darts in pubs. May the darts always be with them."