JOE's History of Darts: The 1970s
The noble game of darts has been around for centuries, but it was in the 1970s that the sport really took off.
We don’t recall seeing much mention of double tops and nine-dart finishes in our history books but darts is far from a modern phenomenon. As you might expect, the Greeks are alleged to have had a game involving spears and barrel tops to kill time on the battle field but by the 16th Century we have documentary evidence of the sport as Anne Boleyn is said to have given Henry VIII a set of darts in 1530.
It is no surprise then that it is England we have to thank for the game we all love today. By the early 20th Century there were organised tournaments like the News of the World competition and that was first broadcast on TV in 1970, the birth of televised darts and the beginning of darts as we know it today.
An ideal sport for TV, darts rapidly became hugely popular in the UK, with both ITV and the BBC broadcasting tournaments regularly.
In 1973 the British Darts Organisation (BDO) was formed and with that came some real structure to the sport. Within five years the first World Championship under the auspices of the BDO was held.
The 1978 World Championships were held in Nottingham, with a first prize of £3,000 to the winner. Just for perspective, the 2013 champion of the PDC title, Phil Taylor, won £200,000.
Played in matchplay format over a series of legs - the set format was introduced the following year – Embassy cigarettes sponsored the event, as they would for the next 25 years.
The event was won by Welshman Leighton Rees and he caused a mini sensation when he pulled off a ten-dart leg during the tournament before beating England’s John Lowe in the final. The legendary commentators Sid Waddell and Tony Green were part of the very first event for the BBC and here’s Sid calling the final leg of that 1978 final. As you can see, it was a little less glamourous than what we all watch today.
However, the template was now in place for the sport to become absolutely massive in the 1980s, which will expand on tomorrow.