South Yorkshire to host wannabe darts pros

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From former world champions to youngsters who have only just made their pub debut, Barnsley is hosting more than 200 hopefuls wanting to gain the status of pro darts player.

Men and women from around the globe are assembling at the Metrodome this week for the PDC qualifying school, with around 40 gaining the much coveted tour card, allowing them to compete in the pro events.

The four day event kicked off yesterday and with it being open to anyone willing to stump up £200, the range of competitors was immediately apparent.

The 1997 and 2004 world champions Les Wallace and Andy Fordham chatted casually, whilst nervous looking youth players shuffled towards the practice boards.

One man who shed his youngster tag many years ago was 65-year-old Pat Pace who only took up darts two years ago but caused the result of the day.

Facing 2011 world finalist Dean Winstanley in the second round he held his nerve at 5-5, firing in an 11-darter to win the deciding leg, something he put down to his background in martial arts.

“I was calm thanks to my training, I’m a fifth degree black belt and I suppose that was a bit of zen when I hit those 11 darts.

“I get a bit of a head start because people see me and think they’ve won, but by the time they’ve realised I can play, they’re two legs down.”

In what was a well observed atmosphere of quiet at the event, Pat’s win was the only one of the day met by a rousing round of applause.

“Well they love a good old ‘un don’t they,” he said, “I just love darts, and now I’m going to win it!”

The Black Country thrower came unstuck in the next round though, crashing out 6-1 to Joey Palfreyman.

At the other end of the age-range was 21-year-old Stephen Jauch who was playing outside of his Pembrokeshire pub league for the first time and was full of confidence.

“I don’t really mind who I get drawn against,” he said, “the better they play then the better I’ll play.”

Unfortunately for Stephen he couldn’t capitalise on a 2-0 lead, going out in round one to Dutchman Gino Vos 6-3 in round one, but that seemed to spur him on.

“I’m still quite confident, especially if I play like that again, I didn’t think I was going to play that well to be honest.”

The four men who picked up the tour card on Thursday were Tony West, Darren Whittingham, Andy Cornwall and Richie Howson and now will see themselves as PDC professionals.

Howson, a 46-year-old cabinet maker from Essex was beaming after his final win over another Dutchman, Mareno Michels.

“It’s absolutely fantastic, I came here with no expectations of winning and it wasn’t until the last leg of the last game when I was on 80 that I thought, you get this and that’s it.

“I only picked up a set of darts for the first time three-and-a-half years ago, and now I’m a professional darts, it’s unbelievable.”

The rest of the field will remain in Barnsley hoping to win their dream ticket by Sunday when as Winstanley put it: “There’ll be some tears for those who haven’t made it.”

By Phil Haigh