Folk may have seen the odd tweet or two about darts. Please say hello to Mike “The Elephant” Yates in this autobiographical post.
Growing up we always had darts on the tv if it was on. Winmau World Masters, News Of The World, Unipart Home Internationals and of course the Embassy World Professional Championship. World Of Sport sometimes showed Darts and it was on World Of Sport that I saw John Lowe hit the first televised 9 dart finish.
Eric Bristow was the big cheese, cocked little finger, cigarette in hand and big mouth. He was on his way to 5 world titles so could walk the walk as well as talk the talk. John Lowe was the England captain, calm and dignified. Pear shaped flights with unicorns and rainbows on. Still my favourite flight design now. My darting hero was and remains Bob Anderson.
Tall and slim, Bob has an attacking throw and a country & western line in shirts. Softly spoken, his pointing to the board to celebrate a 180 is still the only way (in Yates’ view) to celebrate a maximum. Yates doesn’t hit many but when he does, the finger comes out. Bob’s World Championship win in 1988 was a happy moment for the young Yates. Bob’s League Of Legends victory in 2008 showed he was still a top performer.
A book by Eric Bristow about darts was a Christmas gift one year and it came with a set of 14 gram brass darts. An MY dartboard and two sets of Unicorn darts from Woolworths soon arrived and the family would sometimes play together. Grandfather’s throw was very like Leighton Rees, Grandma’s throw was more Ceri Morgan.
The book suggested a way darts might have evolved as a sport, mentioned the different types of boards and crucially had a list of finishing combinations. One thing the young Yates was good at was mental arithmetic and he devoured this list and its combinations.
“Who needs algebra when it doesn’t have any real life application? – 501 start finish on a double is a real life application of maths” would upset many a maths teacher.
The inner equipment nerd was being indulged, trying different flight and stem styles and combinations. At school Yates was given a few quid to get a dartboard for the common room and Yates would be seen practicing in whatever free time he had.
By college and university a proper dartboard and cabinet were in place and Yates was chucking tungsten. Specifically Bob Anderson 95% Nickel Tungsten Cobalt 24 gram darts. The pub where the uni hockey club hung out had a dartboard and Sky so folk could play and also watch the darts. Yates learned a lot watching and playing folk at the pub. His new Bob Anderson golden titanium tungsten darts looked and felt great.
Adulting raised its ugly head, work and all the essential stuff to become an upstanding member of the community got in the way of a lot of the more fun stuff. Occasional works darts nights got a respectable showing and a few pointed fingers along the way.
And then came the critical illness. One day Yates was laughing and joking with work colleagues, the next he was in an ICU bed expected to die within 72 hours. Not a pleasant experience.
Basic recovery took several months. Included learning to use arms and legs again because muscle memory had mostly gone. Then relearning how to do the essential things like washing, dressing and making tea. Even to this day something will crop up now and then which has to be relearned.
There were a few other nasty and occasionally messy surprises, most notable being that the balance mechanism had become disturbed. Took a year to get a proper diagnosis on that. Recovering enough to get on with work (or so Yates thought) taught a valuable life lesson – never rush back from injury or illness.
Finding out what was and wasn’t possible post-illness took up much spare time, as did coming to terms with what the illness had left behind. The new Yates had slimmer arms and legs, slept a lot more and fell over every now and then. Without needing the assistance of alcohol.
Trying to play pool with some friends for the first time since the illness was horrifying. Shots that would have seen and played with ease previously were now almost impossible. From being half decent Yates was suddenly a hopeless duffer. The muscle memory had gone completely. “I used to be ok at this,” Yates bemoaned to the barman while downing a Bloody Mary. That was something else Yates was to discover. Half a glass of 7-Up and he’s plastered.
For a few years there wasn’t much darting going on. As much watching as he could but no playing. Then came a relative’s birthday bash at his local rugby club. The club had a dartboard and three darts. Not a matching set but similar weights. They were playing the walk on music CD – as Yates picked up the darts “Eye Of The Tiger” came on.
Raymond van Barneveld is a 5 time champion of the world and a lovely chap, much loved in the Yates household. Yates is shorter and not a champion of the world at anything. Even with the right music playing. Stood at the oche, darts in hand the board seemed a whole lot more than 7ft 9 ¼ inches away. Seemed more chance of hitting a barn door from 20 paces.
The darts made it to the board. But like the pool incident there wasn’t much muscle memory left. There was some, enough to make trying to figure out how to hold the dart and throw it troublesome. The little finger sticks out not through any desire to copy Eric Bristow but because a cricket ball smashed it some years previously.
Trying to hold a dart differently proves a problem when the mind finds some muscle memory. But hey, the only dart thrown at D16 hit the target first time of asking. Trouble is it was the last dart thrown in an hour of throwing.
The “I used to be ok at this” moment at the bar was tempting but no. Not this time. Yates used to hit 180s and point to the board in celebration and will again.
As a youngling Yates picked up the darts he had been given and used them. The Bob Anderson titanium tungsten darts, dartboard and kit were lost many years ago in a move, so a new board was sourced and “which darts to get?” became a burning question. Yates discovered that the equipment nerditis he has for cricket also applies to darts. Seriously, if Yates gets stressed he goes and looks at darts and cricket equipment websites.
Giving the equipment some thought. Not sure how to hold the dart. Dodgy balance and tennis elbow don’t help with the throw. Maybe need something lighter than 24 grams after what I saw at the rugby club. Titanium tungsten isn’t the thing so much these days. Flight and stem technology has developed too. Oooh shiny shiny shiny!!! Before Yates went completely doolally and spent shedloads he bought some darts and flights. A couple of freebie extras packs have helped the spares stock.
Got the board and the darts, now it’s time to play the game and work out the best setup. Yates may never become world champion but the journey back/ahead is an exciting one.
And “The Elephant” nickname? That comes from a party trick Yates used to do a long time ago. Well, you can’t have “Grumpy Old Bugger” as a nickname now, can you?