A fan’s eye view of the FA Cup of Darts

Setting the scene

Bolton Wanderers FC have bittersweet memories of the FA Cup this year having reached the semi final stage before being thumped 5-0 by Stoke.

With the nets taken down for the summer Bolton’s home, The Reebok Stadium, opens its doors to 172 players and a legion of noisy darts fans as the tournament known as the FA Cup of Darts rolls into town.

The UK Open descends on Bolton every June and the open draw format makes it the most unpredictable, and hence, most exciting major on the PDC calendar.

For an indication of the unpredictability of this event a look at Phil Taylor’s record and the finalists of recent years is telling. Played eight, won four makes it Taylor’s worst major PDC event in terms of success; although he’s hit a few 9-darters at The Reebok.

The eight losing finalists since the first staging in 2003 are an unlikely roll call – Shayne Burgess, John Part, Mark Walsh, Barrie Bates, Vincent van der Voort, Gary Mawson, Colin Osborne and (still finding his PDC feet at the time) Gary Anderson. For most it was their first and, to date last, major final.

The nature of the open draw can be cruel or kind; sometimes giving players a comfortable route through the field, and often pairing together a couple of guys who would much rather not meet so early. The round one clash between Jelle Klaasen and Colin Lloyd is this year’s best example.

It is this ‘open’ format that ensures the eight PDC qualifying events, along with sponsors Rileys & SpeedyHire qualifiers, throw up a field where new faces can make their breakthrough and established names are thrown into the bear pit of the early rounds. James Wade, for example, will be tackling a qualifier, Davey Dodds, in round one on Thursday night due to a string of poor results in the regional qualifiers.

First to four in rounds one and two has echoes of the tournaments of yesteryear where games would often be best of three legs; bish bash bosh and off. The whole set up of the UK Open is geared towards thrills, spills and shocks and with the standard of the PDC on the rise this year should be a cracker.

So that is the back story, hopefully it will help you to care about the main characters in this tale. Your intrepid reporter will be in the thick of the action on Friday and Saturday but first a roundup of Thursday’s action.

Night One – Thursday

The first piece of news to report is that my bets were disastrous; I apologise to all the players I jinxed when saddling them with the BlueSquare kiss of death.

I used BSQ as they had the best selection of first round matches that I could find but they became as sloppy as the rest once the opening batch of games were done. Mind you, given my preceding statement it’s probably a good thing.

Two fallen giants were highlights of the main TV stage on night one – Peter Manley and Wayne Mardle have seen their stock fall dramatically over the past couple of years and although they did enough to qualify for this they were prime upset material.

Mardle managed to progress to round two in spite of a poor performance but Manley could have done with one extra dart each throw as he meekly succumbed to qualifier John Bowles. Manley left the stage smiling, prompting speculation that he knows what many suspect; that we might have seen the last on TV of one of the game’s great entertainers?

Mardle didn’t last much longer, going out with a whimper on an outer board, 4-0 to rising youngster Reece Robinson.

Elsewhere, round one saw the premature demise of Jelle Klaasen, Barrie Bates, Alex Roy, Colin Monk, Steve Hine, Kevin McDine and a recently resurgent Dennis Smith.

Some familiar names managed to sidestep potential banana skins and make it through the first two rounds and into the main draw – Colin Lloyd, John Henderson, Michael van Gerwen, Co Stompe, Steve Beaton,  Dennis Priestley, James Wade, Roland Scholten (2004 champion), Kirk Shepherd all made it safely through.

They were joined in the third round draw by a batch of qualifiers and low ranked players; the likes of Peter Hudson, Michael Smith, Sam Hill, William O’Connor, Joe Murnan, Richard North & Andrew Gilding were walking with a spring in their step and doing their shirt sponsors proud, one of whom, Manley conqueror John Bowles, had a couple of business cards taped to his shirt by opportunistic businessmen.

With midnight approaching and the crowd thinning Wor Sid and the Craft Cockney took to the stage to make the third round draw where a number of tasty ties were thrown up.

The DartsMad duo will be reporting all the action from the thick of the action of rounds three, four and five. The boards are reduced from eight to four to two, and the field is reduced from 64 to 32 to 16 as the magic of the cup is cast. We will do our best to avoid falling into the common traps of adding ‘Big’ before any mention of John Henderson and adjoining ‘Colourful’ with Peter Wright. But first some (probably pointless) predictions.

Weekend Predictions

Given the first night’s tipping disaster it is perhaps foolhardy to make any predictions here but in a Chumbawamba Tubthumping spirit we’ll have a go. First prediction is that it will be totally unpredictable. I’ll have £10 on that please.

It is difficult to look past Phil Taylor and Gary Anderson at the moment. That statement has probably sealed them to be drawn together next round but given a reasonable draw it will be difficult to see past these two for the final, as it was in 2010.

James Wade finished the Premier League campaign in great form and could be one to watch this weekend, along with Paul Nicholson fresh from his Pro Tour wins. Barney looks in good touch, as does Wes Newton, although Newton has a tough task against John Henderson.

John Part has had success on the tour this year and if he gets a good draw he could go deep. The man who defeated Part in the 2004 final, Roland Scholten, is his third round opponent.

As we established at the start there is often an unexpected face in the final and from the vast number of candidates we need to have a look at who has the pedigree or the potential, who is playing well, and who is comfortable with the floor format as well as the TV stage.

For instance, Kevin Painter (loves the TV stage) will struggle against Denis Ovens (loves the floor) on a satellite board in round three, while another good floor player, Mark Walsh, would much prefer to play Mervyn King on an outer board rather than board two, the second TV board. None of this four are comfortable with both or are playing particularly well.

Terry Jenkins might go on this shortlist but runs into Adrian Lewis straight away. Wayne Jones could have a run if the draw is favourable, as could the immensely talented Dave Chisnall. Robert Thornton is another who is finding form again and could sneak under the radar if he avoids the big names.

Of the real outsiders and qualifiers, Andrew Gilding looks to be playing well and will fancy it against an under par Andrew Hamilton. Michael Smith is making good progress in the PDC and looks a good bet to beat qualifier Sam Hill. Mark Dudbridge could be vulnerable against local lad Joe Murnan who will have all the support out on board 6.

  • To win: one of Phil Taylor (who else?), Gary Anderson or Paul Nicholson
  • Potential finalist: James Wade, Wes Newton, John Part
  • Outsiders: Robert Thornton, Dave Chisnall
  • Third round tips: Burnett to beat Lloyd, Gilding to beat Hamilton, Hylton to beat Jenkins, Ovens to beat Painter, Murnan to beat Dudbridge.

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