There is no doubt professional darts’ gravitation from big pub environments to packed sporting arenas has been a major plus for the sport over the last 20 years.
It has opened the game to more casual fans who want to make top-class darts part of a night out. The positives certainly outweigh the negatives, but the odd negative nevertheless exists.
Top players have become accustomed to playing in front of rowdy audiences. Most actively enjoy and encourage it. But there are a section of fans who take it too far, with a number of players complaining about isolated whistles and shouts just as they are about to throw this year alone.
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Gerwyn Price, during the World Series, and Kim Huybrechts, at the World Cup, have spoken out about distracting conduct from a minority of the audience. Jonny Clayton was targeted with whistles during Aberdeen night in the Premier League.
One player who has been targeted more than most is Price, which saddens respected pundit and former professional Chris Mason, who is full of admiration for what the Iceman has achieved in the sport.
“You’ve got a pantomime villain in Gezzy Price, who is an unbelievable player,” Mason told Daily Star Sport. “For a guy who eight years ago was a rugby player, to now being a world number one, a world champion, a multiple major winner is such a feel-good story.
“Because he does it a little bit differently, he gets some stick, which I don’t really like. You don’t mind a few pantomime boos on the walk-on but I wish the players were allowed to perform at their best. If I was paying money to go and watch sport, I want to see it played at its best and sometimes the players are unable to do that.
“But that’s the price you pay for its popularity and the fact people go there to have a party. One goes in hand with the other unfortunately but that doesn’t make it right. The outcome of snooker is decided by who’s the best player, and darts should be the same.”
That said, Mason acknowledges the benefits of the sport’s burgeoning popularity outweigh the negatives.
“People say it didn’t happen years ago but back then you maybe only had to deal with 1200 people who were either players themselves or serious fans,” added Mason.
“They’ve attracted a different demographic now which means they can fill those 10,000-seater arenas. A lot of them come from maybe a football background, where cheering and singing songs is part and parcel of it.
“But what would we rather have, playing in silence in front of 800, 900 people earning peanuts or what they’ve got now? One doesn’t come without the other.”
Do you agree with Chris Mason? Have your say in the comments section below.
Mason believes the sport is in rude health thanks to immense competition and the number of quality players in the game.
“You’ve got Gezzy, Peter Wright and Michael [Van Gerwen]. You’ve also got Michael Smith in the mix, Nathan Aspinall, Luke Humphries, Jonny Clayton,” he said.
“Where there was just a ‘one’ [in Phil Taylor] and then another ‘one’ in MVG, we’ve now got this influx of players that are all of similar ability.
“They’re trying to get an advantage in the mind games, which makes the sport absolutely fantastic. You’ve got the battle for the number one in the world rankings and the question of who is the best player in the world?
“It makes fascinating ingredients for the broadcasters and the media and, of course, the fans because they all have their favourites.”
Chris Mason was speaking to the Daily Star in conjunction with the MODUS Super Series.
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