Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Meeting my Childhood Heroes: Andy 'The Viking' Fordham, Richie 'The Prince of Wales' Burnett and Me

Apologies to those who are not conoisseurs of the darting world for my back-to-back blog posts on this fine sport but it has indeed very much been a darting weekend for me.

As I mentioned yesterday, Jamie Lewis' wonderful weekend in qualifying for the full PDC circuit for the next 2 years is great news for us who know him here in his native Cardigan.

As it happens, on the 3rd day of that 4-day Q School in Barnsley, I was safely ensconced in another darting environment whilst keeping a close eye on his progress all-the-same.

Worthingtons Scarlets Darts Masters
To be precise, I'd been given time off for good behaviour to attend the inaugural darts masters at Llanelli's Parc Y Scarlets.

As a big fan of darts since I was a child, this was my opportunity to meet superstars of the game such as Phil 'The Power' Taylor, Simon Whitlock, James Wade and Mark Webster whilst also brushing shoulders with boyhood heroes of mine such as Co Stompe, Richie Burnett and Andy Fordham in what was a 5-Nations darting exhibition.

Having bought VIP tickets early on for the event, we got to enjoy a splendid (and it really was) 3-course meal prior to the event whilst greeting the above mentioned stars including Vincent van der Voort, John Henderson, Robert Thornton, Paul Nicholson and Barry Bates.

But whilst the 10 playing darters were introduced to us rather briefly, the two guest darters Fordham and Burnett arrived much earlier and were hanging around the bar at leisure talking to fans and signing

Andy 'The Viking' Fordham
At this point, the 15 year old in me got all excited and along with my friend Eleri who was with me and who was no less enthused, went over to wait in the impromptu Andy Fordham queue.

One of the most popular players on the circuit, Andy Fordham famously broke a run of losing in 4 BDO World Championship semi-finals when he won the crown in 2004 in his only appearance in the final. By now a postgraduate student in Aberystwyth University, I was still an avid darts fan and was delighted at what was a famously popular victory for the likeable Fordham.

His battle with his weight has been well known. He was known to consume some 25 bottles of lager before playing a dars match and at one stage weighed 31 stone. He's make great strides to lose much weight after that 2004 win having been told by doctors that his liver was 75% dead. He entered the TV programme Celebrity Fit Club and in time, he managed to lose some 15 stone.

But unbeknowns to me, a difficult personal year for my hero had led to him putting back on the weight. He has shot back up from 16 stone to 24 stone and when he signed my programme on Saturday (see above photo), he looked it. This wasn't the fitter, leaner Andy Fordham, but much more like that famous figure that lifted that famous trophy back in 2004. I didn't really take it in at the time as I was just too excited to see him and indeed, this was the image of the man that I had grown up with. But thinking back, with the sight of him drinking what seemed to be a watered down lager, it is a great concern. He said to me, "You don't mind I sit down do you?" and who was I to argue with this legend of the oche?

But it is a concern and I hope that he returns to full health soon as he has stated that he intends to do.

Richie 'The Prince of Wales' Burnett
Whilst waiting to see Andy, there at the bar standing a few feet away from us was Burnett, sipping a pint and chatting to fellow fans. I was a big fan of his when he reached 3 BDO World finals and won the crown in that first final in 1995 - Wales' first BDO win since Leighton Rees in 1978. He's making a worthy comeback on the PDC circuit and happily posed for photos with us and signed our programmes. What a star!

At this point I must add that Eleri was getting ridiculously excited! For me, Andy was the more iconic of the two stars but it was clear that Eleri hero-worshipped Richie!

The Darts
In the competition itself, it was a joy to watch from our VIP oche-side seats, the 15-time World Champion Phil Taylor in action. I've never seen the greatest dart player there has ever been play live before, but I have now. He and James Wade comfortably despatched Mark Webster and Barry Bates in the semi-final whilst Australia's Simon Whitlock and Paul Nicholson defeated Scotland's John Henderson and Robert Thornton after the latter had knocked-out the Dutch duo Co Stompe and Vincent van der Voort in a preliminary round.

In the final, despite leading 'The Machine' 3-0 in legs, Paul Nicholson lost 4 on the spin to James Wade who gave England the first rubber. 'The Power' then defeated Simon Whitlock to avoid the necessity of a doubles decider. The tournament victory then was England's and Rupert Moon of the Scarlets led the presentation ceremony in front of a packed 2,000 strong crowd in the Delme Thomas Centre.

It was a great night watching some of the world's present best darters competing for national pride and also some older blasts from the past. Speaking of which, before the final, Burnett and Fordham played a best of 3 legs exhibition match which Richie won 2-1.

The crowd lapped it all up. The walk-ons were fantastic fun! With every player coming on to their own chosen anthem, it gave the whole room plenty to get animated about! Many (and I would have to add myself to this list!) would be standing on their chairs and clapping manically to the beat as for example Phil Taylor came on to his iconic theme 'The Power' by Snap, Simon Whitlock came on to 'The Land Down Under' by Men at Work, Robert Thornton entered to the strains of The Proclaimers' 'I would Walk (500 Miles)', whilst the Welsh crowd went wild for Mark Webster's entry to The Stereophonics' hit 'The Bartender and the Thief'.

The one thing I did disapprove of were the Walk On Girls. At the Lakeside, the BDO don't demean women by using them as eye-candy whilst leading on the players but the PDC have clearly got a different philosophy on such things. Personally, it's not to my taste.

Apart from that, it was a brilliant night. I hope to see these darting giants again in the future but for now, I can at least say that I've seen and met some of my childhood heroes and can personally state that Richie and Andy were gentlemen - happy to meet their adoring fans and re-inforcing in this one at least that status of hero worship which they deserve and which I'm pleased to say, was not mis-placed.

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