It was the end of the Darts & Dominoes * season and the Kirk’us team had a lot to celebrate. The Outgate had pipped us to last place in the league that year despite a level of dart throwing by Burton Brovet’s Kirk’us Killers that could probably be best be described as ‘random’. All that was left, to round off the season, was the Special Tournament at the Crown, when each team was invited to enter a singles, a doubles and a doms team for a one-night knock-out. It was billed as a ‘friendly’, but anyone with even the remotest experience of local league Darts & Doms would not be fooled by that. This competition, like any other, would be settled in blood.
The Captain and the Singer paired up for the Doms, the Viking took on the singles and, in the absence of any other volunteers, I teamed up with the Carver for the doubles. When the squad was put together I couldn’t help but notice the odd despairing glance in my direction. It was generally agreed that I could greatly increase my chances of hitting the board by surrounding it with barn doors, but the Carver had a keen eye and could strike a fair double after his third pint on a good night. Led by the Viking who held the captaincy for that year (I voted for the Captain to be captain, simply to avoid confusion), the team embarked in the hired minibus around seven and arrived at the Crown, keyed up and ready for battle.
Entering the main bar, it was clear that the summons had been answered, with the teams already gathered for the fray. Each team, along with its supporters, was huddled together in its own chosen corner, deep in discussion of tactics for the night and studiously ignoring the other teams. The Viking commented that the Sun mob looked a bit ugly, but as the Carver pointed out, this was more genetic than attitudinal. The Outgaters and the Football Clubbers offered a few brief nods of recognition before returning to their deliberations, but nothing from the Ship team. These guys were way beyond competitive, regarding every engagement as a declaration of all-out war. I recall the time when one of their players took his double from 501 before I’d entered the 400’s, and I only discovered afterwards that he had once played professionally – but that’s another story.
The three competitions were set up in separate rooms, and the teams dispersed to do battle. The Viking went down heavily in his singles match to a guy from the Sun who hardly missed a segment – straight down in big numbers to pop the doubles with ridiculous ease; two quick oches and Goodbye Vienna – or Viking in this case. He shouldn’t have felt bad about it; none of the rest of us could have got a sniff at this guy.
Then it was the Carver and me, drawn, would you believe, against the Ship. After a short team huddle during which we eventually decided not to just give up and run screaming into the night, we stepped up to the oche, lobbed a few wild arrows, and lost the first game without too much fuss. With the opening dart in the second oche, the Carver, his hand now in, hit a sweet 85 which wiped the smile of the Shipper’s faces and reduced my knees to jelly. Ignominious defeat in singles is something you get used to, but letting down a partner is truly horrible. Their first thrower put three-in-a-bed - tight grouping, but the bed was the fives and no dart in the double or treble. Now I’m up and feeling none too confident. Going for the nineteens I get the first, drop one in the threes and the last one pops neatly into the treble – 79 points. I walk back to our table trying to look as if I do this every time and suddenly needing to visit the Gents. The Carver gives me a concerned look, but a nod assures him that I am not going to pass out… yet!
The Shippers are not speaking to us. The usual match courtesies are suspended, not that the Shippers were ever really into that sort of thing. With stony face and grim determination, their second man scores a splendid ton and the game is definitely on. A sixty, a twenty and one just off the frame gives the Carver a lovely 80 and the room is beginning to buzz. “Go for it, Kirk’us” some idiot shouts, and the scores on the board drop steadily, our side faster than theirs. My turn – fifty eight to break. Twenty… Yes! Just pop a double nineteen and we’re in for the decider. Second dart just below the wire. Ignore the noise. Don’t break the line. Concentrate… And I split it. Bugger! The Carver has nineteen to break, but the Shippers are still in the hundreds and it’s not a three-dart finish.
The Carver steps up, stretches his neck, stares for a moment at the floor to his right, and throws. A three… The second dart drops a millimetre outside the wire… And the third… Dead centre of the double eight. Brilliant! We have a decider.
The way the crowd roared, you’d think we had just lifted the tournament trophy. It wasn’t that we were particularly popular, more a case of anyone who can knock the Ship off the rostrum. The Shippers wasted no time in stepping up for the start of the third. With a dart in the twenty five they won the lead-off and spent the next several minutes delivering a display of awesome dartsmanship which left us trailing by over 200 points and put us out of the tournament. But we had ‘em in the second!
After that trip to the Gents, we hurried through to the Doms room where the Captain and the Singer were nearing the end their decider. I position myself behind the Captain to watch the play. The score board shows a close game and anybody’s win, but it is the Captain to play and choice of tile is obvious. He plays it – no score. Left round the table to the first opponent, a young chap with galloping acne and who seems more interested in the Singer’s sylph-like physical attributes than the run of the play. He scores a two leaving them just three points short of the finish. The Singer knocks, and the other opponent lays his last tile – no score. The Captain is left with no choice – only one tile in his hand fit to play. He plays it, leaving ends of five and two. The young guy drops a two/four to the two and claims his three points from the scorer. It’s all over.
Back in the lounge bar, the Kirk’us Killers gathered to commiserate with each other, each to announce his retirement from inter-pub competition. It was the usual post-match depression which lasted usually until the next match and would be well buried by the start of the next league season.
“That was a close game” said the Carver to the Singer. “You were dead unlucky.”
“Unlucky, be damned. We could have taken that one.”
“Oh come on, Babe,” I cut in, “I was behind the Captain and he played the right tile there. You were just unlucky.”
“Luck had nothing to do with it.” she said, indignantly. “It was me tits that lost it!”
There followed a long silence. The Singer was tall and slim and seriously fanciable if you liked tall, slim, indignant women. And the point (or points) of her argument was completely lost on the rest of us as we stared at her in dumb confusion.
“Well, it was!” she insisted, pouting slightly and clearly very annoyed at something we could not determine.
Being either very brave or very stupid, I ventured an enquiry whilst ensuring that the table and all the other team members were set firmly between the Singer and me. “It was just a game of doms and you lost it by a few points and a bit of bad luck. What the hell have your… er… got to do with it?”
“Well,” she said, staring into my face as though it was all my fault. “Didn’t you notice that young lad on my right?”
“Yeah. I think he liked you?”
“Right through the game he couldn’t keep his eyes of my tits. If I’d had a decent pair we would have destroyed the bastards!”
* For those unfamiliar with the rules of ‘Local League’ dominoes, the game is ‘fives & threes’. Briefly, as each player lays his tile, he adds together the pip value at each end of the line and scores the number of fives and/or threes that will divide into the total. Hence, a total pips showing of 9 will award 3 points (no fives, but three threes.
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