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A night to remember with darts legends Bristow, Lowe and Deller

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: November 08, 2012

  • OCHE RIVALS: Woolacombe's Adam Wyatt (left) squared up to former world champion Keith Deller at the Barnstaple Hotel. Pictures: Mike Southon. To order this photograph call 0844 4060 269 and quote Ref: BNMS20121031A-010_C

  • HISTORY BOYS: Lee Bryant (left) joins legends Eric Bristow (centre) and John Lowe. Ref: BNMS20121031A-002_C

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IN THE company of greatness, Adam Wyatt had a night to remember.

First, he shared a stage with the man who caused arguably the biggest sensation in the history of his sport.

Then, back under the spotlight, the North Devon farmer came face to face with a five-time world champion.

This was the Legends of Darts night at the Barnstaple Hotel, in which mere pub players had the chance to measure themselves against former greats of the game.

And, with the exception of 15-time world champion Phil 'The Power' Taylor, they do not come any greater than Eric Bristow, John Lowe and Keith Deller.

Each played a major role during the golden era of darts in the 1980s.

It was an age of record television audiences, unforgettable characters, rags to riches stories and beer-fuelled stars. Darts even had its own weekly game show – Bullseye.

And then there was Bobby George, the London builder who did not pick up a dart until he was 30 but reached the first world final in 1978.

The gold chains, the sequined shirts, the showman image, 'Bobby Dazzler' was soon rich enough to build his own 18-bedroom Essex mansion and drive a Rolls-Royce.

Ask the man in the street to name five darts players and he would probably start with Taylor.

"Then Eric Bristow, Jocky Wilson, John Lowe, then probably Bobby George," said Chris Sargeant, of the Professional Darts Players' Association, as he accompanied the legends on their South West tour.

Bristow, 'The Crafty Cockney', won the world title on five occasions.

Deller did for darts in 1983 what Boris Becker would do for Wimbledon two years later, winning his sport's most-coveted title after coming through young and unseeded.

He said: "The week I won it I was broke and borrowing money off the officials. Three months down the road I bought a house in London with a swimming pool."

Deller was 23 and, if you believed the papers, preferred milk to beer. Hence his first nickname, 'The Milky Bar Kid', although now he goes by the stage name Keith 'Del Boy' Deller.

And, like Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses, Deller was set up for a fall when Wyatt was drawn to play him in the first match.

Aged 21, Wyatt was not even born when Deller beat Bristow 6-5 in a world final watched by nine million viewers.

Interest had been sparked by the overnight sensation with the boyish good looks who had beaten Lowe and Jocky Wilson.

Three decades later, you could get your chance to play Bristow, Deller or 'Old Stoneface' Lowe, a triple world champion, by purchasing raffle tickets and hoping your number would be drawn. Matches would be sudden-death – one leg of 501.

Arriving with fellow players from the Muddi Arrows team, who represent the Muddiford Inn in the Borough Arms Barnstaple League, Wyatt had brought his darts just in case.

"I didn't really expect to get the chance to play," said Wyatt, from Spreacombe. "But I thought I would give it a go and got drawn out first."

Much was made of Deller's 138 checkout against Bristow but now he would lose to a fine finish from a player who, asked his greatest achievement in darts, replied: "I haven't really done a lot."

Pressed to pick a highlight, the local man's reply pointed to a world far from the grand darts stages of Jollees Cabaret Club, Lakeside Country Club, the Circus Tavern and Alexandra Palace.

"Our team won the Barnstaple second division last year and I have come runner-up in the singles for the Barnstaple second division," said Wyatt. "That's about it."

With both players in sight of a finish, Deller had a shot at 69 but failed to take it, while his opponent seized his chance on 70, finishing on double 16.

"Being an exhibition, they do try to make a bit of a show of it and he went 19 then bull but hit 25," said Wyatt.

Deller, now 52, confirmed he had not attempted his normal 69 finish.

"If it was a tournament I wouldn't go that way," he said. "I'd go treble 15, double 12. I hit the 25 then turned around and he took it out, which is brilliant."

But Wyatt had not finished there. Another raffle ticket, another former world champion. This time it was Bristow – still crafty after all these years? "Getting older but I'm still crafty," said Bristow, his face still instantly recognisable at 55.

Not crafty enough, though, for farming's finest.

Despite, like Deller, hitting a 180 along the way, Bristow was beaten as Wyatt held his nerve.

Wyatt missed his first shot at a double ten, leaving Bristow needing a 102 finish to deny him a second chance. But he wasted the opening and Wyatt needed no third shot at the double ten.

"It's a fun night, a mix-and-mingle night," said Bristow. "You don't mean to lose but you give them a shot and, if they hit the double, good luck to them.We win nine out of ten and, if you have a bad night, you might lose a couple."

Although Bristow has struggled with "dartitis" – a mental condition that affects the release of the dart – since the early 1990s, his delivery of one-liners remains gloriously entertaining. That said, none of them is printable here.

Lowe, now 67, holds the distinction of winning his three world titles in different decades. He also achieved the first nine-dart finish live on British television.

Now he would face the first player to register a nine-dart finish in the Devon Superleague.

For Lee Bryant, from Holsworthy, whose place in county history was written in August while playing for Bideford Royals, this was another special night.

He did not need to rely on the raffle as his name was put forward as a local rising star and he joined the legends in their private bar and was invited to take on Lowe over three legs.

Bryant won 2-0, winning each leg with his first shot at a finish. He took the opener with a double 16 and the second with a 119 checkout.

"Lee has got great potential," said Lowe. "After what I have seen he could do very well but there are hundreds of good players around.

"He is a good player, his action is good, his attitude is good, his commitment to the game is good and now it is up to him to progress."

And Bryant's verdict? "I see these guys who pioneered darts and it gives me that extra incentive to be one of them."

In the company of greatness, Lee Bryant, too, had a night to remember.

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