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Dreamy darts at the Lakeside

Ben Dirs | 03:27 UK time, Monday, 12 January 2009

I've often wondered if Ted Hankey rues the day he looked in the mirror and said to Mrs Hankey, "you know what love, I actually look a bit like Dracula, I think I'm going to call myself 'The Count'".

Nicknames can become a terrible burden (it can't be easy attempting to focus on the biggest darts match of your life when you're wondering where you've left your rubber bats and cape) but you've got to respect the silliness.

That's not meant as a jibe, for silliness is a much underrated quality in sport. And one we don't see enough of. True, Andy Murray's meteoric rise has been mightily impressive - but a smile now and then would be nice.

Hankey's thrilling victory over Tony 'Silverback' O'Shea in the BDO World Championship final on Sunday had its fair share of silliness, but it was also the most entertaining thing on our tellies over the weekend.

Ted Hankey

It easily trumped Man Utd's one-sided win over Chelsea and Murray's victory over Andy Roddick in the final of the Qatar Open. As for the Masters snooker, even Ronnie O'Sullivan's got the hump with that. And he's the favourite to win it.

"I feel like I'm in a sport that has had its good days and is on a downward spiral," said the world champion following his first round victory over Joe Perry at Wembley.

"If someone like Barry Hearn came in and started doing with snooker what he has done with darts and made it interesting and lively that might make coming to tournaments and [my] enthusiasm to play a little bit different."

The irony, of course, is that Hearn, who is the genius behind the wildly entertaining PDC World Darts Championship on Sky, was the man who did most to make snooker sexy back in the 1980s.

During snooker's heyday, it was often said that it was the perfect TV sport. A game to make tea to, a game to run a bath to. A game to doze to. From a modern standpoint, it was the perfect TV sport for all the wrong reasons. As my housemate put it, "there'll always be snooker fans about, mostly old people who can't find the remote control".

In stark contrast, you couldn't take your eyes off Hankey v O'Shea, not from the moment 'The Count' appeared on stage in a puff of dry ice and started swishing his cape about to the strains of DJ Zany.

In darts, every leg is a potential mini-classic, and - this is the best bit - it's as exciting when players are scratching around missing doubles as when they're weighing in with back-to-back 180s.

For a while at the Lakeside on Sunday, it looked like Hankey, despite sweating like a vampire in a French restaurant, was going to romp it, with O'Shea struggling with his doubles ("It's amazing how often Tony's third dart goes in," noted BBC commentator David Croft. Over in the PDC event there's a Peter 'One Dart' Manley. Tony 'Three Dart' O'Shea doesn't sound anywhere near as intimidating).

But having forged into a 4-2 lead at the interval, despite looking furious with the oche-side snappers (Hankey, rather appropriately, appears to have the hearing of a bat), he started to let things slip.

Perhaps he had seen the interview during the break, the one where his wife Sarah said she thought he was "quite sexy", while Ted was slouched in the background apparently picking his nose. Or perhaps it was Mrs Walton announcing that her husband John, the 2001 world champion, had a nice backside.

Whatever it was, O'Shea came roaring back, largely due to Hankey's sudden inability to finish. Leading 6-4, Hankey needed single 12 to leave double top for the match, but hit single nine instead. O'Shea took the set before beating his chest like a gorilla. The terrible burden of the nickname once again.

Hankey then contrived to miss six doubles for the title in the next set as O'Shea brought the match back to all square. The Lakeside crowd, sensing a meltdown, went mental.

But Hankey, who's been known to lose it in the past (last year, he exited the Lakeside in a hail of controversy after rowing with members of the crowd and punching the board, before threatening to quit the sport for good) held his nerve in the decider to secure his second world title, nine years after his first.

Dracula never struck me as an emotional kind of bloke, but that didn't stop Hankey from shedding a few tears. In fact, for a moment, it looked like O'Shea had flashed him some rosary beads. Had he lost after missing so many doubles, you suspect he'd have retreated to his coffin and closed the lid for good.

In the post-match interview, Hankey revealed his darts mates had collared him last year and told him to sort his life out. As part of his regime change, he now goes on stage with three pints inside him, instead of 13.

Some might scoff and say "darts isn't a sport, that's still three pints too many". But 'The Count' could have been drinking pints of human blood on stage and I wouldn't have minded. Why find something to complain about when the entertainment's that good?

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