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'The trebles are bigger - it makes players look good'

Rob Bartlett
August 31, 2014
Bobby George was the first professional player to offer exhibitions © Getty Images
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"Darts in 1965 … you hit a 180 and you used to get a pint in the pub! With those darts, you needed it."

A lot has changed since Bobby George, the self-proclaimed "King of Darts", won the first professional tournament he ever entered as a player in 1976. The darts were bigger then - and made of brass - while the size of the treble was much smaller.

The game is now accepted by a worldwide audience; the British public are just part of a growing market that continues to expand. George recognises this; now 68, he is due to film new BBC Two show Let's Play Darts in September, which will see celebrities team up with some of the game's best professionals to raise money for Comic Relief.

"Darts is worldwide now - it's not just a British sport," George told ESPN. "Years ago there were no South Africans playing. Twenty five years ago, the Dutch had just started playing. Now Japan's into darts, China's into darts.

"It's all relative. If you got an overseas player you had a bye, we used to say - but you don't now. They're all competitive players. They've all played tournaments and they're used to pressure. Twenty five years ago, they were nervous and you could beat them up easy.

"The throw has got nearer too. We used to play on a wooden board. The trebles and doubles were tiny. They've got bigger trebles today, and bigger doubles - which mean bigger scores.

"It makes the players look really good. They can show how good they are because the target's big and it's probably more entertaining. It's a good thing. The game's changed and now it's completely different.

"I was happy with my day, though. It's a bit of a rat race today. Everyone says to me, 'well, you earn more money today', but it doesn't go as far as our money did. You could buy a decent house for cheap then. You've got to pay a lot of money now, for a half-decent house. The money's better but the value isn't."

The money certainly went a long way back then. In 2002, George retired from the professional game after reaching two world championship finals, one of which he played with a broken back, and winning titles all around the world.

He was the first professional to offer exhibitions to the paying public and did not only build a legacy in the game - but also a 17-bedroom mansion in his native Essex, dubbed "the house that Bobby built."

A lot has changed in darts since the heyday of Bobby George © PA Photos
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That house saw the upbringing of George's son Richie, who now competes on the BDO tour and in 2013 followed his father's footsteps onto the Lakeside stage. George Jr impressed with a remarkable run to the BDO World Championships semi-finals that year, where he was beaten by eventual champion Scott Waites.

"He's good at what he does, he's the only one who followed his dad into a BDO world championship, wasn't he? So he's got a bit of history," George said. "He's brought up with the game, he knows the rules, he knows how to play.

"But he's got to show some promise. It's up to him. It's not exactly about ability, he's got to put himself about more.

"I don't give him any advice now. I've been giving him advice since he was two years old. Just to pick a set of darts up and that he had to play and play as a kid. He's a man now so he does his own thing. When they get to a certain age they know everything. That's the problem! He isn't my little boy anymore."

However, he is now a senior player with the experience of two world championships in his pocket. What would it mean for George to see his son lift the trophy in Frimley Green?

"I'd be proud of him, but then he can give me all his pocket money back, can't he? All that pocket money I've given him, I'm taking it back if he wins," George said. "That's why they call him Richie Rich - he used to spend all my money."

George, who refrained from defecting to the PDC when the organisations split in 1993, may watch his son play the game, but to him it's far from the same sport he contested in his heyday.

The modern-day version is more professional; Phil "The Power" Taylor, a 16-time world champion, claimed to practice eight hours a day in order to gain an advantage over the rest of the field.

So what is it that Richie does differently to his Dad?

"I used to go and play people," George said. "That gave me the timing on the board. It's not how good the opponent is, it's the timing. It's the gap in between the throw. You really need to get someone to play against so you've got the timing.

"Today, Richard probably just practices alone. You can't really go out and practice in a pub, if you've got to drive somewhere. You can't do that now. It's different."

It's not just the practice that is different; it's the fans too. Over 10,000 people packed the First Direct Arena in Leeds to watch Premier League darts last March, the brainchild of PDC owner Barry Hearn.

There has, though, been scepticism over the conduct of a modern-day fan. Ticket prices have risen over the years and, much to the annoyance of several players from both codes, some fans' conduct would not look out of place at a football match.

"They're noisy, I don't like that," George said. "I don't like it when they're not even looking at the board, it isn't my cup of tea at all. It's good for the money coming in, it helps the players, so you can't really say much.

"But I don't think it's good for the game. In 20 years' time, it can only get worse. You can't watch that many people get rowdy, not in a building - maybe on a field. They could throw darts on a football pitch."

That would be a far cry from those days of throwing brass at a piece of wood back in 1965.

Bobby's son Richie George has impressed on the BDO tour © PA Photos
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Bobby George was speaking ahead of filming 'Let's Play Darts', a special knockout tournament featuring celebrities and some of darts' top professionals all in aid of Comic Relief. To book tickets, please click here

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