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The History of Darts

Darts has grown into a popular worldwide sport in recent years - with many of the top players becoming superstars and attracting a huge following. In the world of professional darts, the leading players are often larger-than-life characters, with dedicated fans who follow them to games all over the world.

Televised darts matches even have cheerleaders now to whip up the crowd in between games! While cheerleaders used to be linked mainly to American football, today, you're just as likely to see them dancing with glittering costumes and pom-poms at the world darts championship!

puff darts

© Zahidulla / CC BY-SA 3.0


Early history

Darts hasn't always been a recognised sport. Throwing darts has a fascinating history - although there's a big difference between the act of throwing a dart, compared with playing an organised match.

Early documented evidence reveals a dart used to be a weapon in medieval Europe. With feathers on the blunt end, it would fly in such a way that the pointed end always struck first, causing the most damage to an enemy. The darts were larger and heavier than those used in today's matches. Historians who reconstructed the early weapons claimed they could fly more than 100 metres and were so powerful they could penetrate oak bark.

In the 16th century, the first mention of a dart being used in a game appeared in an old manuscript, unearthed by the famous British antiquarian and engraver Joseph Strutt in 1800. The document described the game of "blow point", which appeared to involve throwing an arrow towards a trunk, where numbers were engraved.

Historians said evidence of the rules of the game was sparse. They felt it was more a game of chance than skill, designed by the people who organised gambling dens to "fleece" customers.


Organised games

The first definitive reference of darts being used in an organised game dates from 1819. Two journals from the era describe a pub game of "puff and dart", when competitors fired darts at a target of rings using a blowpipe. It was more like an archery target than a darts board as we know it.

By the late 19th century, puff and dart had become a parlour game, as well as a pub game. Manufacturers produced domestic versions that were played at family gatherings. It was a popular game among Victorian boys.

Over the years, rather than blowing darts through a pipe, people began throwing them instead. The old game of puff and dart had disappeared by the 1920s and was replaced by the new contemporary version. It became popular as a fairground game in the 1930s: the board was divided into numbered segments, like today's board.

By 1937, manufacturers were producing 10 million darts per year for the English market. It became known as "dart and target", with the dart being made of wood and measuring around six inches long, with a pin attached at one end and paper "feathers" at the other. The board was made of soft wood with the circles painted on and a bull's eye in the centre.


Darts board

The unusual layout of the numbers on the board was first used by the fairground stall-holders who ran the game in the early to mid-20th century. Higher numbers weren't placed next to each other, nor were consecutive numbers.

Modern players feel the design of the board relies more on skill than luck to hit the high numbers. This would fit in with the idea of fairground darts boards, where the people running the stalls wouldn't want unskilled punters to hit three high numbers in one go, simply by throwing the darts in the same general direction.

The highest score from three darts on the modern board is 180, when three treble twenties are scored. The bull's eye is worth 50, the outer rim scores double the number and the inner rim scores triple the number. Each player starts off on 501 and has three darts to throw on each turn. The winner is the first player to get down to zero, ending on a double or the bull's eye.

Various boards were manufactured all over the UK in the mid-20th century, such as the London or standard board and the Burton, Irish, Yorkshire and Lincoln boards, all with similar numerical arrangements.

The first official darts board with the standard numbering arrangement was said to have been designed by Thomas William Buckle of Yorkshire, but there is little documented evidence to support this claim - his son, Thomas Edward Buckle, made the claim in an interview in Darts World in 1992.

Over the years, there were slight regional variations when it came to the boards' numbering layout, but today, the standard board is used for professional darts games.


Professional sport

Established after the end of the Great War in 1918, the first brewery darts leagues quickly grew in popularity. This led to the launch of the National Darts Association in 1925. The first major contest was the News of the World Darts Championship in London in 1927, organised by the NDA. More than 1,000 players entered. In the 1938/39 season, the championship had expanded across most regions of Britain, attracting more than 280,000 entrants.

In 1945, following the Second World War, darts continued in popularity mainly as a pub game. In 1973, the British Darts Organisation was launched. Its managing director, Olly Croft, was the man who transformed darts into a professional sport, attracting sponsors and making sure it attracted widescale TV coverage. By 1979, around five million Brits were playing darts regularly.

During the 1980s, both ITV and the BBC were covering darts matches, while light entertainment programmes such as Bullseye brought darts to a wider audience. During the 1990s, darts became established as a sport, with Sky Television beginning its coverage in 1994. The satellite channel's coverage expanded into the 21st century and added many more events, such as the UK Open, World Matchplay and the Las Vegas Desert Classic. All of these are now televised live.

Darts is played by an estimated 17 million people and is a major televised sport. It is played all over the world and has its own superstars, including the late Eric Bristow and Jocky Wilson and today's leading players Michael van Gerwen, Peter Wright and Phil Taylor.

Scotsman Wright, aged 49, became the Professional Darts Corporation's world champion after beating Dutchman van Gerwen on New Year's Day in a thrilling contest at Alexandra Palace in London. Wright says his next goal is to eclipse van Gerwen as world number one, adding more titles to his tally on the way.

Traditionally a male domain, darts now has an increasing number of female players. In December 2019, Fallon Sherrock, 25, from Milton Keynes, became the first woman to win a match at the PDC World Championship, beating Ted Evetts 3-2 in London. She is only the fifth woman in history to play in the event.

Darts players of all abilities can benefit from Coruba's professional heavy-duty rubber darts mat suitable for pubs, clubs and home use. For the best selection of rubber mats, give us a call on 01702 560194.

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