I was delighted to speak recently with Paul "Aggie" Arthur who you will see is refreshingly passionate about the kids Darts Academy he has set up.
So "Aggie", The Isle of Man Darts Academy, what is it and how did it come about?
We are trying to get children out of their homes, away from the computer, out enjoying a great sport, also making new friends. Thanks to the Isle of Man Darts Organisation we have the backing to do it. We have been going for four weeks now in Ramsey at the RAOB club. I looked around last week and all the friendships are there building, it's great to see.
It came about as an idea years ago when I saw the standard of the children playing in a world competition I was in and thought "what if we had had this on the Island when I was younger?" Where would I have been now? I then met my wife and had children which put pay to the darts for approx 10 years. I then asked the question on a media page and got in touch with Scottish international Alan Soutar who has been unbelievable regarding help and support. I owe him everything regards our Academy, without him I doubt we would be anywhere near starting, and, backed up by the coaches we already have at Ramsey and the ones willing to give their time for the other sessions it makes me very happy to be part of Manx life and the darts family.
Does the set up for a children's darts games vary from an adults ie is the height of the board and distance from the oche different for various age groups?
There are two groups; juniors and seniors, the juniors are where all the differences are, as the seniors (ages 13-17) throw off the regulation height and oche whereas the juniors (ages 8-12) throw from 5' to the centre of the bull and at the moment we have them throwing from 6'6" oches as the majority haven't ever played darts but we will be stepping them up to regulation oches shortly.
Do Children play as per a normal games of darts ie number of sets of 501 and finish on a double?
Again the differences are mainly in the junior group, they play 301 straight in, straight out, no double required, best of three legs. It's to help the children with the easier finish and make the games quicker as they can easily lose interest and we want them to build confidence. In our first competition we had two lads in the juniors Callan Reed and Louis Faragher who are fantastic players and stars of the future. They were advised afterwards that we feel it in their best interest to step up to the senior competitions as if they were to represent the island that's the throw they would be throwing on and finishing on doubles rather than single outs.
How is the competitions split, if at all ie male/female, age, height?
During our training sessions in the week we run leagues again juniors and seniors where they all get to play each other at least twice. The girls mix with the boys and there are no problems at all, I think it helps because the girls we have had very good basics right from the word go so the lads gave them respect straight away and lets face it this is certainly one sport where a female can play just as good as any male, I think Anastasia Dobromoslova proves that theory.
There are then promotions and relegations from each league. Whilst these games are going on we are helping the other children with as much about the basics as we can. It is very much a case of repetition to become good at the game and that means getting the basics right , which we do in a fun way with great games. Killer is a definite favourite with the kids.
Would you say darts gets as much media coverage as other sports?
I thought this being a new project and with it being children I would have the media and companies throwing themselves at me but no. Apart from manx.net and isleofman.com, who I have to say have been amazing, and the occasional snippet in the paper the media don't seem interested. I can only assume it's the pub culture that is scaring them away. The one thing that really highlighted it to me was the other week 21 people going for a walk gained an entire page whereas on the same week we had our inaugural competition with more entries and we had to wait a week to get a couple of inches. Don't get me wrong, we appreciate any coverage we get as lets be honest we all like to see our name in the paper or on the computer but for kids it means so much more and I can't understand why we don't have a children's sports pull out every week as it would certainly sell so many more papers but it is definitely the pub stigma of the 1970's darts and the pantomime that is SKY's premier league that although the interest from the public is massive the reality is we are considered a joke as a sport even though I feel there is more skill and concentration to darts than archery and shooting. We aren't even a recognised sport on the Island.
Do you feel there are the same celebrities in today's game as compared to past champions such as Eric Bristow, Jockey Wilson and Bobby George?
Good question, celebrities yes, characters no! It's big business now, Phil Taylor signed a 5-year deal to change the supplier of his darts and that alone was worth £3 million to him. The Wayne Mardles that we had at the beginning of the 2000's have gone. Phil Taylor is the best there has ever been in any sport. Adrian Lewis and Michael Van Gerwen are brilliant young players coming through and Peter Wright, with his mad hair, can only be good for the game, but SKY don't help the grass roots and the whole perception of us being a pub game, not a sport. I was only laughed off the other week regarding the chances of us getting into the Manx Youth Games. The gentleman having a phone call, in front of me, laughed at the fact I'd even suggested that darts was a sport. But hopefully my passion for this to succeed and help from Gianni Epifanni we will see it in the games in the future.
What are your hopes for the Academy in the future?
We are already close to getting our second session under way in Douglas and plans are for further sessions in Peel and Castletown. With us being part of the Isle of Man Darts Organisation we get invites to all the major competitions the world has to offer. Winmau World Youth Masters and the European Cup to name two. We want to get our children over to the UK where there are hundreds of Academies and play in open comps for them to gain experience. Me and Alan have discussed starting up a 6 Nations type country competition but as it stands we are taking baby steps so Douglas first then local comps and leagues.