Belittled in some quarters as merely a ‘pub game’, darts has found its home in the sporting calendar during the festive period, and I’m is very much at home there too.
“I’ve been working for Action Images as a photographer for almost 8 years, in which time I’ve covered countless sporting events, worked on both editorial and commercial briefs, travelled to far flung locations up and down the UK, and on overseas trips where I am often the only English speaking photographer in attendance. More recently I have built on my relationship with British Athletics, becoming lead photographer for all of their UK events.
Last year I had the privilege of shooting the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. With the Games taking place in my home city, and having watched the development of the venues over 7 years, it was an event I looked forward to immensely. Although it may appear to be a glamorous assignment, with the Games come long 18+ hour days, travel from one part of London to another with all of my photography kit, early starts and late finishes. However it was all worthwhile to be able to experience the fantastic atmosphere and even better when the British athletes were winning medals!
Many of the sports photographers I speak to have no real concept of time in terms of what day, week or even month it is. One way we do keep track is by which sporting events we are covering at that point in time, and so I know that when I am scheduled for three weeks at the 2014 Ladbrokes World Darts Championship, it’s December!
This is my sixth World Championship in a row, covering the tournament in its entirety from the first match to the last. Darts is an indoor sport with a minimal amount of movement from the ‘athlete’ on the field of play. There is not an endless variety of images to make, and add to the fact this tournament goes on for 16 days, the challenge is in keeping the images fresh and different but almost more importantly keeping me sane! I have found that the best way to approach this is to take my time in shooting the different angles, subject matter and general views, whereas at other events I am under pressure to shoot it all in a couple of hours.
As in previous years the big names to keep an eye on are Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, Adrian ‘Jackpot’ Lewis and Raymond ‘Barney’ van Barneveld, but there is also a new wave of players that have risen to top including Simon ‘The Wizard’ Whitlock and Michael ‘Mighty Mike’ van Gerwen (also known as MVG). This year one player who stood out was Peter ‘Snakebite’ Wright, mainly for his colourful outfit, Mohican hairstyle and the image of a snake painted onto the side of his head by his wife! Think of The Prodigy’s Keith Flint from the Firestarter video in 1996 and you will be halfway there. As a photographer it gives you something to work with as these elements offer something very different to the rest of the players.
The great thing about darts (if you haven’t been to watch it live, or seen it on Sky Sports) is the atmosphere. Barry Hearn, chairman of the PDC (one of the two governing bodies in darts) has added plenty of glitz and glamour, making the sport bigger with increased TV viewing figures and bigger prize funds.
The World Championship takes place at Alexandra Palace in north London, with about two and a half thousand fans attending each session. The players walk on into the arena, escorted by oche girls, to the sound of music, with flashing lights, dancers on stage and the crowd singing along, to add even more buzz to proceedings, and providing different photo opportunities which contribute to the set of images that I will send out for newspapers, magazines and online clients.
Once play begins you are left with two men standing on the spot throwing darts at a dart board over and over again. At this point I look out for details in players’ attire, fans wearing fancy dress, famous faces in the crowd and players’ reactions to winning or losing a leg or set. During a brief pause in the action I head back into the press room to edit my images and transmit them to our picture desk, always keeping a watchful eye on the TV screen to make sure I don’t miss any key moments. Occasionally in darts the players achieve the holy grail of the nine dart finish, the perfect leg using only nine darts to check out from their starting score of 501. In the press room we are only about 20-30 metres from the stage but there is a 30 second delay on the TV feed, so when a player has thrown his fifth or sixth dart on TV, he is already on his eighth or ninth on stage. This usually triggers a sprint to grab a camera and run as fast as you can to capture the reaction. Sometimes there are as many as three or four photographers in a mad scramble, with journalists, PDC staff and off duty TV commentators watching to see if we will make it in time.
This year we had two nine dart finishes on day two, I managed to get there to capture the first one, by Terry ‘The Bull’ Jenkins, but unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough for the second, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Throughout this tournament there have been many potential nine-darters which have failed at the last dart.
This year’s tournament has been fairly eventful as Phil Taylor was knocked out in the second round, Raymond van Barneveld in the third, and Adrian Lewis in the semi final. We have had the Devon Petersen celebration dance moves and of course the colourful Peter Wright who made it all the way to the final.
After 16 days of competition, the final takes place on New Year’s Day between Michael van Gerwen and Peter Wright, meaning we will have a new winner of the trophy this year. On the day of the final I just want get out and shoot the walk on and the early action pictures. Once that’s done I can start to relax a little, occasionally popping out from the press room to shoot player reactions, or looking out for celebrities in the crowd, including Tottenham Hotspur footballer Andros Townsend, boxer Carl Froch and his wife Rachael Cordingley, and snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan with his son.
With Michael van Gerwen leading 4-0 there was a possible whitewash on and also potentially an embarrassed celebration (which we’d had in some of the previous rounds). Luckily Peter Wright came back and made a fight of it so when van Gerwen did win he made his trade mark celebration, which made the photographers happy. That only left the trophy lift, which is shown live on Sky Sports, so once off air we are finally permitted on stage for a posed shot of MVG with the trophy.
That wraps up another year of the World Darts Championship, and without knowing it a year will have passed and I will be back at Alexandra Palace for the beginning of my seventh Championship!