Next weekend, darts fans will be treated to the inaugural version of the sport’s Champions League. Yep, anything football can do the arrows can do better (or at least give it a good go) as the PDC’s top eight players do battle over the penultimate weekend in September. The tournament will be held at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena, a venue that has carved out a reputation for producing an electric atmosphere year after year in the sport’s annual Premier League.
This, along with the recent announcement that Las Vegas will also be making a welcome return to the calendar next year, proves that darts is still very much on the crest of a wave. However, let us not digress from the matter in hand, because the Unibet Champions League of Darts – to give it its full and proper title – throws up several interesting talking points.
Arguably the most significant aspect about this latest addition to the circuit is not the fact that it will be making its debut, but that it will be broadcast on the BBC. Yes, the BBC, which is still the proud home of the BDO World Championships, the very organisation from which some of the game’s biggest names decided to walk away back in 1992 in order to form the PDC. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that they did the right thing, as the rival faction has since thrived under the glare of the Sky Sports cameras, with the crowds and prize money growing all the time.
But it’s nice to see that any bad blood has well and truly evaporated, and this could even be the first step towards the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year giving more recognition to darts players (yes, it is a sport!). Unfortunately, one of the other criticisms that’s been aimed at the Beeb concerns their sports coverage being interrupted by repeats of Dad’s Army and other programmes that seem totally unnecessary, especially as these events only last a few days or weeks. Still, who doesn’t love a bit of “Don’t tell him Pike”?
As already mentioned, the Champions league will be contested between the current top eight-ranked players, hence the absence of Raymond van Barneveld, who are split into two groups of four with the top two from each going through to the semi-final stages. Group One is particularly eye-catching, as arguably the two biggest names – Michael van Gerwen and Phil Taylor – are set to do battle. ‘The Power’ once said that he always loved being the first name on a new trophy, but that was when he was still sweeping all before him. Nowadays, the only certainty is that MVG starts as favourite, but even the great Dutchman is susceptible to losses, especially when his other group opponents include Peter Wright and Robert Thornton.
Group Two looks tighter and therefore offers more intrigue. Reigning world champion Gary Anderson was the last of the eight players in question to take to the oche under the BBC spotlight, having crossed over to the PDC in 2009, but the Scot has far too much talent to be in need of omens like that. Mind you, when you have the likes of Adrian Lewis, James Wade and Michael Smith to deal with, it’s usually a good idea to bring your A-game. Incidentally, there’s little love lost between Lewis and Wade, so we’re guaranteed at least one tasty encounter (whatever would Mary Whitehouse say?).
So many questions to be answered in such a short space of time. Who will come out on top? Will the BBC televise it’s first nine-darter since 1990? Will van Gerwen v Taylor be interrupted for an impromptu edition of Gardeners’ World? Tune in on September 24-25 to find out.