Eric Bristow Exhibition – Hyde FC Social Club, December 2nd 2011

With Hyde setting the pace at the top of the Blue Square Bet North league there was a chance to take a breather from the rigours of non league football and an enthusiastic crowd turned up for a fun evening of arrers with a bona fide legend of the game.

Thirty years on from his heyday Eric Bristow still requires no introduction, even those who don’t follow the darts know all about The Crafty Cockney.

His powers on the oche may have waned with age and the effects of the dreaded darttitis but the cheeky arrogance is still in attendance and his rapport with the crowd began even before proceedings started.

If you have never been to one of these nights then I suggest you give it a try some time. You will get to meet, mingle and chat with a true darting legend and if you are brave enough to buy a raffle ticket or ten you have every chance of being drawn out to take to the stage (with your very own walk on music) and tackle the man himself at a leg of 501.

This is precisely what happened to sixteen lucky punters on Friday night and Eric saw off all but three of them. More of that shortly but let’s just say your intrepid reporter has something to dine out on for a long while.

Paul Booth was our accomplished host for the night and our MC kept the action moving throughout proceedings with the emphasis on having fun. There could have been five people in the room and they would still all have left at the end of the night having thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

With the bar queue revolving like a carousel the draw for the first half of the night was made and would you believe yours truly was drawn three times out of the first four tickets..! Having initiated and organised the night the cries of “fix” rang out and my ticket was put back for an end of night auction for those who weren’t fortunate enough to be drawn. Darting chivalry at its finest I like to think.

And so, Eric was officially introduced to the audience and the action got under way to a quip from the back of “it’s just like watching UK Gold”.

We got the full spectrum of darting abilities from the sublime to the ridiculous. We were treated to a 180, there were plenty of 26’s, and a peculiarly high amount of 45’s. In fact one punter managed to hit 45 virtually every throw before being put out of his misery by some dead eye finishing from the Crafty Cockney.

In the early stages it was Eric’s finishing that was the difference and the old adage of ‘scoring for show, doubles for dough’ was born true as punters missed and Eric hit. He’s still deadly around the double 8 and 16 which were given a little kiss on more than one occasion.

At the break it was 7-1 to Eric with only one local pub team player canning his nerves and getting the better of the challenge. He will have a story to tell the rest of his darts team and I’m sure it will be a story they will hear more than once.

Speaking of which, two other punters have their own little story to tell, one of which Eric will be hoping to forget all about.

It is arguable that the second half challengers had a slightly easier task as the pints of Guinness bought for Eric began to line up. But let that take nothing away from the efforts of one lady who, although she threw her darts like Fatima Whitbread, somehow managed to take out The Crafty Cockney with an exhibition finish of her own.

With both players creeping down to a finish it was Eric who arrived first but blew a number of darts to leave himself on Mad House.

Some creative scoring by our MC had enabled ‘Fatima’ to find herself on 40. Double Top is the finish in this position, of course. Unless that is you prefer the exhibition checkout of double 18, double 2; which is precisely what she did to have the place in uproar and Eric stunned..!

It took some time for Fatima to come down from the ceiling and for the crowd to get over what had just happened but that is the beauty of darts. It’s all about hitting the double and if you miss, even a Tess Sanderson impersonator can sneak in and win.

When the second half line up was drawn would you believe your intrepid reporter was drawn out again?! This time there was no escaping it and I was persuaded to tackle Eric in my own 501 shootout.

An opening 45 was bettered by Eric’s 60 and within a few visits we had traded a couple of tons and some 85’s to sit on the verge of a finish. I had 190 left and set up my finish with a booming 140 that could easily have been a maximum.

Eric was first to the double though and had one dart at double 16. “Don’t miss, Eric” came a shout from the crowd. “Nah, no chance” replied Eric who promptly missed.

Up I stepped (with Eric’s own darts in my hand) for my own small moment of glory. “Don’t worry, he won’t hit this” came the crafty, cocky quip from my opponent who was poised for the kill.

I’d been contemplating going straight for the bull, inspired by Fatima Whitbread’s earlier antics and now goaded by Eric, but I opted for the sensible finish of single 18, double 16 – Eric’s favourite double of course. Bang, bang, thanks and good game Eric.

Checking out 190 in five darts is pretty good going at any time and even Eric was impressed (I know because he told me, whispered of course) so I’ll be dining out on it for a while. As will the two other victorious challengers, especially Fatima who told me that she, along with her husband, hold Eric up as a true idol.

The truth of these nights is that everybody is a winner. A cracking night’s entertainment is guaranteed and, win or lose, if you get up on the oche you will have shared it with one of the great names of darts.

After grabbing last minute photo and autograph opportunities the smiling crowd drifted away into the Hyde night, off to spread the word and looking forward, like me, to the next evening with The Crafty Cockney.

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