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Official Review by Sander Kolsloot, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
If you think about sports, several options do come up: Football (either American or the European one), baseball, basketball, athletics, swimming, cycling...name one. But you won’t come up with a pub game called darts. Known as a pub game for the working class, in the years it has developed into a full-fledged sport, similar to snooker. And don't be fooled: the World Darts Championship in Alexandra Palace is the actual holy grail!
Darts is a game normally played head-to-head, each player starting at a score of 501 in a leg. On the darts board, the numbers 1 to 20 are spread around, with the bulls-eye scoring you 50. Other parts of the board are scoring double or triple the number. You get 3 darts to throw and the highest score with 3 darts is therefore (3 darts x triple-20) 180. You have to finish the leg with a "double".
The darts sport has evolved, and as within boxing, you have several organisations organizing championships. The one hand you have the "original" BDO, which holds their championships in the first week of January in the Frimley Green Lakeside Country Club. They are the association that started it all, and basically all the players started to play for the BDO. In the early '90s, several players started to think about taking the sport to a higher, more commercially-orientated level. More sponsors, more show, more money.
Because the BDO blocked the initiative, several players split and formed their own corporation, named the PDC (Professional Darts Council). Two of the best players, Phil Taylor and Eric Bristow (then champion and runner-up) where among the first to join the PDC. Since then, the PDC has hosted its own championship, first in the Circus Tavern in Purfleet, and when it became too big, it moved to its current place, Alexandra Palace.
London has several big venues, including Wembley Stadium, The O2 Arena, and of course Twickenham Stadium, amongst others. When it comes to non-football/non-rugby/non-cricket events, however, there is actually one place to go: Alexandra Palace. Built in 1873, the Palace, located in the North of London, was built as a public centre of recreation and entertainment, then rivaling the Crystal Palace in the other part of London. It was meant to be the "people’s palace" and later got its real nickname: Ally Pally. Now, it is meant as a centre of recreation (there is still an ice rink in operation) and an entertainment venue. During the 2012 London Olympic Games, the Dutch had their "Holland House" in the venue.
When standing outside, you feel really overwhelmed by its greatness and majesty, sitting atop a hill where you can oversee the surrounding area and large parts of the city. The building is made of several grand halls, glass ceilings, a winter garden, and very high ceilings. The building comes to life when lit up at night with its yellow bricks and blue accents.
Walking in, you are in awe. It’s just too big, too high, too majestic. They used one big hall as an entrance for the darts arena. That’s where the food court and some other commercial outlets are located to buy stuff, such as memorabilia, and of course to go betting on the games. Via a long hallway, we could get into the actual playing area, where they had tables lined up as in a Bavarian October Fest. That’s where the party started. We visited the semi finals, featuring 16-time champion Phil "the Power" Taylor, Dutch favourite Raymond "Barney" Van Barneveld (3 time champion), young Dutch talent "Mighty" Michael van Gerwen, and outsider James Wade (the Machine).
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Food and beverage options within the Palace were pretty good. Starting with the drinks, there were several sorts of beer you could chose from, ranging in small, medium, and pitcher size. Besides that, there were ciders, Bacardi rum, and other alcoholic options. You also had soft drinks options. Prices were okay, with a pint of beer going for around £4. A pitcher size (4.5 pints) sold for £17. It's not cheap, but doable.
Food options where several, ranging from sandwiches (pastrami, beef), pizza, pie, and other English goods. Pizzas were reasonably priced, for about £10 (family size), and sandwiches going for around £6- £7. Outside, you could visit the pub around the corner, which was located in another part of the palace. It was priced nicely, and had some food options, ranging from fish and chips to burgers.
What can I say about a PDC darts game? It's all out frenzy! It starts with the introduction of the players, which meant blacking out the whole venue and every player having his own intro tune. During my visit, it featured a few of the best in the game. People were so pumped up, screaming and shouting before, during, and after the game.
Every time a player throws the maximum score, the crowd grabbed the "180" signs in front of them and just put it in the air, standing on the chair or table, or just going wild.
During the first game, Michael van Gerwen did one of the biggest things ever. In darts, the quickest way to do it is in 9 darts (3 throws of 3 darts). He did it one time in nine darts, which is pretty amazing to watch and be part of. Therefore when it happened, the crowd absolutely went NUTS. Beyond crazy, even. And in the next leg, he started off the same, only missing the second nine dart leg by one dart.
People scream during the matches, screaming out their favourite player's name or just shout in joy. It's so much different from a game of football.
During the game, there were several "competitions" going on between the tables and some people in the stands. Singing against each other, games, and so forth. It only added to the already great atmosphere.
The neighborhood is pretty nice, although it's a more working class area of London. You have nice views from the palace terrace, and in the area, there are several bars, restaurants, and so on. It's in the North of London, so somehow distant from the city's centre.
Fans are really knowledgeable of the game. They know all the players, their recent accomplishments, and they show a lot of respect to other fans from other countries. They follow the game with passion, and they really live for the exciting moments during a game of darts. One of the funny things during this championship is the outfits some are wearing. You see Fred Flintstone, sitting next to Batman & Robin, being accompanied by Mighty Mouse, several "jailmen", and some others dressed as bananas. It can't get any crazier than that!
Access is easy, especially when taking the tube to the Wood Green station. From there, buses run every 10 minutes. The latest bus runs until the night, while the latest tube runs until midnight. You can access it by car, but London by car is not recommendable. Parking is located next to the venue, and the venue is wheelchair accessible.
Tickets cost around £60, but the investment was very much worth it. It's basically one big party! If you have your favorite playing the night, it can be one of your best experiences during a game. Just check out the pics and you will see!
This being the historic "People's Palace", the storied history, the ice rink, the look and feel throughout the building...it's all worthy of extra-special mention!
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