HAVING grown up watching people try to win speedboats on Bullseye, I have long been a bit of a darts fan.
While the programme is firmly rooted in gameshow history (and re-runs on Challenge), there are now many televised tournaments each year as the sport grows in popularity.
I have been known to throw a few arrows in the pub in my time, with mixed results usually relying on fluke, so decided to join Bolton’s very own darts champion, Lisa Ashton, at the Lord Raglan pub, in Halliwell, for a masterclass on the oche.
It may not involve expensive equipment or years of training, but there is no denying the sport of darts takes skill and accuracy and, as Lisa says, practise, practise, practise.
The 43-year-old mum-of-two, from Johnson Fold, is the current British Darts Organisation (BDO) women's world champion after beating world number one, Deta Hedman, in a nail-biting final at Lakeside, watched by two million viewers on BBC Two last month.
Tonight will see her in action at the BDO World Trophy at Blackpool Tower, facing Welsh player Julie Gore in the first round.
Lisa, who joined her mum’s pub team at the Prince Rupert in Great Lever as a teenager, said: “I started when I was about 16.
“I was late. You learn it as you play it.
“The more you play, the more you learn.
“No matter how long you’ve played, I’m still learning.
“It’s just about practise. As a tournament comes up you will do more. One-and-a-half to two hours a day.
“I can’t stand at a board for four or five hours. If I do, it goes worse.”
Professional live darts is a fast growing game with a huge following all over the world particularly in Europe and Asia, with the women’s game also attracting more viewers.
Lisa, who has played on the Lakeside stage four times, including in the final the past two years, said: “Women are playing like the men; before we never used to.
“I think because the sport has got bigger, more ladies are interested in it so the standard is higher.
“For the final at Lakeside, we got two million viewers which was more than the men’s semi-final received.”
As well as sporting success, Lisa, known as the Lancashire Rose, has enjoyed the social side of darts.
Lisa, who has played for the Lord Raglan pub team for 13 years, which is currently second in the league, said: “It’s the only game that’s free to play in the pub. It’s not expensive. You can get a cheap set and start off learning to throw.
“I enjoy it. It’s the company and the people you meet, friends.
“It’s nice to encourage new players.”
Throughout the tournament at Lakeside, Lisa was suffering with tennis and golfer’s elbow, for which she is having physiotherapy to help her game.
She said: “They don’t know what’s caused it.”
Despite the conditions, she is hoping she can repeat her recent victory and make it to tomorrow’s semi-final and Sunday’s final to win the inaugural World Trophy, being screened on Eurosport.
She said: “Anyone could enter into the qualifying rounds. I used to enter the qualifiers to play the big girls as they called them.
“It gives people the chance who can’t afford to do the circuit.”
And being just up the motorway from her hometown, Lisa said of the crowd: “It’s lovely to have that support and that helps you a lot.
“It gives you the oomph that you need.”
After a very enjoyable masterclass, albeit with some abysmal throws, I left armed with the world champ’s words of wisdom.
I just won’t be winning any speedboats any time soon.
LISA’S TOP TIPS
- Pick the right darts and flights. Lisa’s darts weigh 23 grams but it is a case of trial and error until you find ones that suit you.
- Learn your checkouts
- During a game of 501, professional players know the numbers to aim at in order to checkout in a single turn with three darts. Your winning dart must be a double or the bullseye.
On the oche
- Ladies stand 7ft away from the board in league competitions and for tournaments the distance is 7ft 9 and 3/4 inches for both sexes. However, Lisa always stands behind the oche, at 8ft away.
- Stand where and how you feel comfortable
- Lisa stands with her right leg locked but you can bend your knee.
- Keep your upper body straight. Lisa said: “Try and do it all in your arm movement, full extension of your arm.”
Holding the dart
- There is not a right or wrong grip, everyone holds the dart slightly differently.
- Look at the board. As Bobby George said: “Throw where you're looking and look where you’r throwing.”
- Lisa said: “I used to play really fast but now I’ve slowed down with age.
- She said: “As you’re walking to the oche, breathe out as it relaxes your shoulders.”
- Hold your nerve. “When you’re playing on stage, you’ve got to learn how to control your nerves,” she said.
Going for doubles
- Lisa said she always aims for the outer side of the ring so she is less likely to leave herself with an odd-numbered finish.
ALL ABOUT LISA
- Bolton darts champion Lisa Ashton was born on August 27, 1970.
- She first started throwing darts at the age of six, standing on an upturned crate to reach the board.
- A young Lisa would play against her three older brothers before joining her mum’s team at the age of 16.
- She won the 2008 Women's Zuiderduin Masters, beating Trina Gulliver in the final.
- The mother-of-two reached the final of the 2013 BDO World Darts Championship where she lost to Anastasia Dobromyslova 2–1.
- Lisa won the 2014 BDO World Darts Championship at the Lakeside Country Club, which had 16 women qualifiers for the first time in its history.
- Tonight she will be in action in the first round of the BDO World Trophy, playing Julie Gore at 10pm.