Photos of fans who came to stick to the World Darts Championship

I found myself in the midst of a mob of Marios, Luisis, horses, jockeys, Santas, 118s, chickens, nuns, Teletubbies, the Beatles and at least three guys disguised as David Seaman that I really became aware of the magnitude of the darts. the gaming phenomenon known as big dart Great Britain.

I’m watching part of the second round of the world championships and current world number one Gervin “The Iceman” Price takes on 50th-ranked Welshman Luke Woodhouse. The price has not been very successful so far, but it has pleased many. English fans hoping to see their compatriots Wodehouse triumph.

The problem, emphasizes Woodhouse in the third round. Clearly overwhelmed by the enormity of what he can do, the player panics and completely misses the mark. Price immediately senses his opponent’s weakness and wins the round, then takes the next set with a shot in the bull’s eye.

His last shot is a magnificent 150 cash. Price lets out a victory cry. The room is on fire. An electric moment, so thrilling it almost becomes theatrical. For the thousandth time tonight, the crowd chants “GET UP IF YOU LOVE DARTS” to the tune of “Go West”. I stand up, I can’t resist. I was already a fan of darts, but this game is undeniably awesome.

It’s important that you understand the agony, ecstasy and absurdity I describe here, because while I think the matches themselves are a small factor in what makes the annual world darts championships at Alexandra Palace so unique, they serve to express it. all in context.

Sporting events, like live music, are vehicles for emotion, freedom, and free-flowing beer and impossible disguises in darts. These world championships, even if they are obviously taken seriously by the professionals (the winner gets £500,000), are fun precisely because they turn an apparently invisible sport into a real spectacle.

It’s kind of funny to watch a guy whose only sport is stand up and shoot arrows at a target come on stage with his voice. Ice Ice Babylike a professional wrestler, everyone was surrounded by cheers.

Darts are often regarded as a discipline taught by Darons at the local PMU. It is practiced late at night, silently and solemnly.

Players, organizers and the public all know this and it’s a big part of what makes the event so great. After all, if it weren’t for competitors like Price or Steve Beaton, you probably wouldn’t have seen the group of guys sitting behind me turn into the Blue Men Group.

It’s this quirky and utterly unique atmosphere that has meant that over the years I’ve heard people from all walks of life – childhood friends, colleagues, friends – talk about darts as a good excuse to have fun and dress terribly (and therefore). best) as much as possible. The estate’s biggest event, the World Championships at Ally Pally, is held between Christmas and New Years.

But the most surprising part of all this is that all these people are my age. Darts are often regarded as a discipline taught by Darons at the local PMU. It is practiced late at night, silently and solemnly. But really, everyone I know who attends live darts events is in their 20s and 30s (most discovered the game through videos shared on social media or played at parties). This is exactly the demographic I encounter when I step off the train at Alexandra Palace station at around 6:45pm on D-Day.

The first thing I saw were two guys in their thirties dressed as wizards. I think about taking a picture, but something else catches my eye: a boy about the same age wearing a hot dog. I follow a hot dog out of the station, only to be greeted by five other hot dogs, all busy checking their phones or catching up with friends. They don’t seem particularly proud or shy. Dressing up is just part of the game.

Once inside, I go to the fan zone where there are many bars food truck. One minute you’re ordering a plate of fries with curry sauce, and the next you’re faced with twelve guys dressed like the Rock’s famous photo, wearing turtlenecks and silver chains.

I ask a few young people why they are there. Michael, 19, wears aviator sunglasses and a nun’s habit. Before I can even finish my question, he says the words “getting drunk.” Tommy, 19, a friend of Michael’s, tells me he’s seen the audience “get younger as they get younger. “. Darts has similarities to student life (masks, free-flowing alcohol), he says, which may explain its popularity among 20-somethings. “In college, we have a lot of parties like this. Students like it,” he says .

Will, 18, James, 19, and their friends are the same age. If I approach them, it’s primarily because their clothes appeal to me: they’re waning like actors in a movie. The Wizard of Oz (Will is the Wizard; James is the Wicked Witch of the West). Only Dorothee is missing, she’s late at the bar.

They traveled for the day and Will, whose interest in darts was born watching the world championships on Sky at home, compares the experience to other sporting events: “It’s like a test match in cricket, but more intense and shorter,” he says. And James just glows with green makeup and repeats over and over, “It’s a happy mess.”

As I try to figure out what makes the group darts so great, their 18-year-old Dorothea appears in a Dylan blue dress, a Judy Garland-style wig, and red sneakers instead of ruby ​​slippers. , holding a pitcher of beer. His mates wave at him to answer me, he’s a darts expert. He sighs solemnly and I feel him peering into my soul. “Come back to me at the end of the game,” he said, “when Price wins. You’ll get your answer there. Dear Dylan, if you’re reading this, you were right.

There is enough light in the central room for TV coverage as the action is shown live on Sky Sports, so it gets very hot. I sympathize with anyone who chooses to dress up as the Grinch. At the front is a dart board, with giant screens on either side for close-ups of the board.

In front of the other three walls are stalls with people dressed as, for example, Slinky the dog from Toy Story (It should be noted that most of the costumes, like the ones mentioned above, are strangely retro and mostly based on costumes. 2000s and 2010s 1990s culture. I imagine that when an event is organized by millennials, you’d expect nostalgia to be a part of it). The tables are located in the center and are divided into three parts.

“Sometimes I get mixed reactions from the fans and it’s not easy, but we have to keep putting on the show. They buy tickets months in advance and this is a great opportunity for them” – Gervin Price.

I’m sitting in the left-hand stand, between a guy in a Ladbrokes T-shirt that says “I’M SEX AND I’M SHOOTING” and a full Spider-Man costume, a German couple on holiday and two completely random friends. of a person I went with (hi Georgia and Chris!). Too few installed and it’s already total chaos.

To my right and left are tables with drink service and lots of guys in very serious looking polo shirts. The biggest competition in the room is not between the players, but between the fans in the stands and those sitting at those tables (the most exclusive and expensive seats).

“We never saw a pint down the table,” we hear between chants in the stands. These slogans should tell the people at the tables how bad they are. A guy sitting at a table held up a sign that said “I bet you’d like to be at the table” in an attempt at an awkward party, and a teenage girl in a gold jumpsuit sat next to me. – and her mother gives me a sip of something bright red and delicious called Bullseye from her jug ​​- leans over and says, “No, we don’t bore old asses like you.”

But it’s in the center of the room where it’s happening: a tornado of polyester suits, pints and badly worn and trampled Santa beards on the floor beneath hundreds of pairs of Stan Smiths.

I’m interested to know what the players think about this atmosphere. Do they think it’s fun or is it part of playing professional darts? After the event, Price himself (!) confirms to me via email that this is the second option. “For us players, it helps bring out the best in us. “Once you get on the stage, you know you have to give it everything, it’s the World Cup after all,” he said.

“Sometimes I get mixed reactions from the fans and it’s not easy, but we have to keep putting on the show. They buy tickets months in advance and this is a great opportunity for them. This is perhaps the only opportunity of the year to participate in a darts competition. They should take advantage of it. »

It’s a sentiment shared by spectators, although I’m told that if you’re there mainly for fun, it’s best to arrive early in the race. I meet Mark, 24, and his friends, all dressed as Harry Potter. “We know we’re going to have a good time,” he explains to me. If you come here early in the tournament, it’s just for fun. »

Ollie, 24, another Harry Potter, another Harry Potter, tells me: “When you’re busy at work or have commitments in life, you see less of each other. So it’s a way to come together… We do it religiously every year. »

I’m not trying to exaggerate the importance of darts – in many ways it’s very similar to other sports and also to people dressing up as Scooby Doo. The main demographic I’m talking to is men in their 20s and 30s who are going on holiday dates with long-lost college or high school friends. Darts are a great reason to meet people you love and haven’t seen for a long time. By the way, this allows you to criticize people at the tables.

As I leave the room, there’s an admittedly well-watered but still very good-natured sense of celebration after Price’s spectacular comeback. Banana suits hang around the waist and shoulders; a few rotten mullet wigs litter the halls of Ally Pally. On the bus, people sing “Gerwyn Price, Price, Price” (eg: “Feeling, hot, hot”) and all the way to Finsbury Park station, a bunch of guys in Christmas sweaters wait arm in arm outside. , their cries echo behind me as I descend the escalator.

Then I think about Mark and Ollie and their friends. Ollie once told me, referring to his group’s traditional meeting at a darts competition, “We have a lot of fun before Christmas. This is especially important for our children. I remember that when he told me this, two of his friends were hugging him. The arm of a low-level Hogwarts suit comes dangerously close to a pint; love was palpable.

Lauren O’Neill works Twitter / Aria Shahrokhshahi is active Instagram.

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