IT’S one of the most famous moments in darting history – a piece of sporting drama that ushered in a new age for a pastime previously confined to the pub.
“He’s not just an underdog,” said the commentator Sid Waddell of 23-year-old Keith Deller, “he’s the underpuppy”, as the young unknown from Ipswich proceeded to pull off one of the biggest shocks in the final of the sport’s biggest tournament.
Deller was a qualifier who, on the way to the 1983 World Darts Championship, beat Jocky Wilson and John Lowe, the second and third ranked players in the world. In the final he met the number one player, Eric Bristow, the “Crafty Cockney” himself.
In an incredibly tight match, Deller defied all expectations to lead in the decisive 11th set when Bristow made the fateful decision not to throw for bullseye, believing his inexperienced opponent would not have the nerve to hit 138 to win the title. But Deller calmly stepped up to the oche and checked out with treble 20, treble 18 and double 12 to become champion of the world.
“It’s still the biggest ever viewing figures for a darts match,” says Deller, who will relive the final when he and Bristow play an exhibition match at the Civic Hall in Ormskirk on Saturday, February 1.
“I think 10 million people watched that final and it’s probably the best known game because of me being the underdog coming through to beat the gobby Londoner!”
Despite the heartbreak of his defeat Bristow is now good friends with Deller; they work together as Sky TV pundits and “spotters” and travel the length of the country meeting fans and giving them the opportunity to throw a few arrows with two legends of the sport.
“I love it when Eric is commentating and I’m spotting and it gets to 138 and I can say ‘c’mon Eric you know how this will go’,” says Deller.
“Eric always says it’s the best final he ever lost and that he’s made more money doing shows with me than with any other players. He’s always got an answer and a comeback!”
Deller became a hero to many young dart players following his success with the hope that a non-smoker and occasional drinker could help drag the sport away from its boozy and overweight image.
Compared with such figures as Leighton Rees, Jocky Wilson and John Lowe, Deller seemed a breath of fresh air but despite his whirlwind rise to fame, or perhaps because of it, he struggled to maintain he success, failing to qualify for the World Championships between 1989 and 1993.
In 1992, Deller was one of the many top players who threw their lot in with Sky TV when professional darts suffered the split which still exists today between the British Darts Organisation and the newly created Professional Darts Corporation.
Since then darts has become big business with stars such as Phil “The Power” Taylor and new PDC World Champion Michael van Gerwin helping the sport attract huge viewing figures and fill arenas.
Despite working for Sky, Deller clearly still has a soft spot for the old days but agrees that it is getting harder and harder for players to reject the lure of Sky money.
“I don’t like the politics of it all and I’m not even 100% sure where we are at anymore but they’ll never get together now.
“I know it’s not easy for the lads to leave the BDO but if you want to play in something you should be able to play in it.
“I think Barry Hearne (chairman of the PDC) once offered to buy the BDO out and if they had done that he didn’t want to crucify them but make it the step where you play for your county. It could have worked – you play in the county set up, you learn how to be on stage and under pressure and then progress further into the PDC but it’s not going to happen now.”
With both world championships taking place over the past month, many fans have been able to compare both sets of players.
“Let’s be honest the standard of darts early on in the tournament was poor – you can’t lie,” admits Deller.
“I was getting all this stick on Twitter for saying so and people were saying you should remember where you come from. The bottom line is I was also on Twitter saying there have been some cracking games towards the end of the tournament and there were even some great ladies games.
“Overall though the standard was not good – in the last 32 of the PDC, 28 players had a 90+ average but in the BDO there were six, so I can’t lie and say it was brilliant.”
With two Liverpudlians reaching the semi finals of the BDO, Keith feels it is only a matter of time before Robbie Green and new World Champion Stephen Bunting make the switch to the BDO.
“Robbie played absolutely brilliantly and he threw some fantastic darts. I’ve known him and Stephen a long, long time. There was a lot of pressure on Stephen being the number one seed and he was expected to win because he’s won the Masters.
“They are good guys and now obviously all the talk will be about will they go to the PDC. I think they have to if they’re that good – you’ve got £7m prize money up for grabs and you have to think about the big money the PDC put up.
“If you think you’re good enough why not try and win £250,000 rather than a £100,000? Why can’t darts players be millionaires?
“I used to practice for 6-7 hours a day and Eric was doing the same – it is a tough sport. Until people go up there, they just don’t know. It’s easy to say, ‘Oh I could throw a dart’, but when you’ve got to hit treble 20, 80% of the time that’s when it gets hard.”
Many traditionalists point at the drunken behaviour of the PDC crowds as a reason to stay away but Deller is unapologetic for what Sky has done for darts.
“If you took a PDC audience I guess there’d be 40% darts fans and 60% who have come for a night out and what’s wrong with that? That’s what it is – it’s entertaining, you’re seeing the best players in the world and I can’t see anything wrong.
The Lakeside (the venue for the BDO World Championship) is a very good venue but the other day someone shouted out ‘stand up if you love the darts’ and the referee politely said ‘you’re at the Lakeside now’ which I thought was a bit pompous.”
As a player who got his satisfaction from entertaining the crowd, Deller is looking forward to his trip to West Lancashire.
“I always loved the banter with the crowd”, he adds. “It’s the same when we do these shows. Sometimes they ask if we want a dressing room but I think I’d rather be with the people who’ve come to see us. I’m not good enough anymore to be with the top boys but people who come along to see us are really nice and they appreciate what we did for the sport.”
An Evening with Eric Bristow and Keith Deller is at Ormskirk Civic Hall on Saturday, February 1 at 7.30pm. For tickets call 01695 554 154 or buy online at www.ormskirkcivichall.info