Decade at the oche

It will have been a decade at the oche for me traveling to Alexandra Palace otherwise known as ‘Ally Pally’ over the festive period in December though to the new year. For the PDC World Darts Championships that take place, where a field of 72 players from 24 countries this year will battle it out to be crowned World Darts Champion.

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While working as a staff photographer for Action Images I somehow ended up with the roll to cover the tournament in its entirety. Which I assume from my fellow colleagues were ‘very very’ happy about! Where previous tournaments at Ally Pally and previously at Circus Tavern would have been spread out with different photographer coming in for few days at time.

Having never watched or had any interesting in the sport other than previously watching ‘Bullseye’ TV show in the either the late 80s early 90s on ITV as a kid. I didn’t know who any of the big players were, how the scoring worked with legs, sets or when “Bully’s Star Prize would come out!

From the period of 2008 – 2014 I cover the tournament in its entirety from every round and every throw of the dart be it majority sat in the press room eating chocolate biscuit or surfing the web ‘I mean editing my pictures to send out of course’ for Action Images. From 2015 to the present now as a freelancer I only cover about half the tournament spread over several days for the Press Association and previous for Backpage Images and also covered a day for PDC as there official photographer Laurence Lustig was unable to cover that day in 2016. I guess after covering 7 tournament I do deserve to get to some daylight in November or the lack of it before 4pm sunset is for a couple of days. Cover other sporting events such as the busy Christmas football fixtures list.

Looking back though my extensive archive of 8,000 images for this post from when I starting shooting darts in 2008 up the present. I’ve see not only my own person development in coverage, where I focused on the action in the early years before expanding my content to include more of the sporting personalities in attendance watching. From footballers, boxers, snooker players, actors and the odd royal to two. Heading into the fans village and showing the venue full of fans and of course the Ally Pally as building in all kinds on weather conditions.

Not forgetting the most important aspect of the tournament being the 3,500 people inside and there involvement with fans dressing up in fancy dress from the basis outfit all the up to full on costume themes. The songs about players the crowds sing for different matches to the banter between those who sit at the tables and those in the terrace sitting. Lastly the oche girls that escort the players to the oche during the walk on before each of the matches. More recently while working for the Press Association, William Hill is a client and therefore needs to be photographed as part of the brief we provide, I just can’t quite find the reason for my extensive coverage for the previous 7 years while working for Action Images other then for myself!

With all sporting events it’s also the TV broadcaster and the increase in viewership that as also risen and expanded over the years from Sky Sport coverage even creating it’s own channel to broadcast the event. For a sport that’s ‘field of play’ is only about 8ft long from player to dartboard and standing still, Sky Sport does have every possible camera position covered. From mounted camera overhead looking down, behind the players focus of the board, side on, looking back towards the players, swinging boom arms and roaming cameras in the crowds. For a short time SKY Sport also used 3D cameras which must have been great the TV viewer but not so great for us photographers with less space to work around. Considering we only have about 3 different official position to work from. To finally the prize money ever increasingly becoming larger and the internationally press coverage that follows with it.

This brings us up the present and this years tournament still continues to bring surprises with previous winners and finalist going out in the early rounds. Jamie Lewis who came from the qualifiers into the preliminary round all the way the semi final. From the current world dart champion Michael van Gerwen taking his semi final match all the way to end at 5-5 in sets and to 5-5 in legs to the sudden death leg to lose to Rob Cross that finished just after midnight. Who in his debut year in the PDC went on to defeat Phil Taylor ‘who would be retiring after this tournament after a 30 year career, 16 world titles to his name as well countless other titles wins’ in the final 7-2 to win his 1st title.

William Hill World Darts Championship - Day Fifteen - Alexandra Palace

So this wraps up a decade of my professional sport photography career at the oche for me and my testimonial, perhaps the powers that be at the PDC for next years tournament I may get wide card entry to complete. If it could happen to Rob Cross on his debut year at this years World Darts Championship. It could quite possible be me in 2019! If not the case here’s to another decade at the Oche at Ally Pally, I would not have it any other way.

Darts Sefie 04a

 

Decade at the oche

Premier League Darts

Photographer Steven Paston covered the preview and play offs of the Premier League Darts this week.

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Gary Anderson, Phil Taylor, Michael van Gerwen and Raymond van Barneveld poses with Premier League trophy Photo steven paston

“I find myself back covering darts again, with the conclusion of the PDC Premier League Darts season. Over the course of sixteen weeks, ten of the game’s top players compete with each other on Thursday nights at venues up and down the country. During this year’s competition, although I haven’t covered every event, I have travelled as far afield as Exeter, Cardiff and Brighton in pursuit of stars such as Phil Taylor, Michael van Gerwen, and Raymond van Barneveld. I do have to leave some darts for my colleagues to shoot!”

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General view of Raymond van Barneveld and Michael van Gerwen during the final steven paston

“The previous week’s match in Brighton determined which of the top four players in the the league table would go through to the play-offs at London’s O2 Arena. The day before the the play-offs, the PDC invited the media to attend the launch with Michael van Gerwen, Raymond van Barneveld, Phil Taylor and Gary Anderson all available for interviews and pictures with the tournament’s trophy.”

General view of a fansteven paston keep
A fan displays a banner wishing Manchester City player Yaya Toura a happy birthday during the play offs. Photo steven paston

 

“I’ve attended events like these before, and they can be a good opportunity to get a set of one on one portraits with the players with and without the trophy. The location for the launch was the head offices of title sponsors Betway in Camden, London. Whilst I didn’t have much room to set up my equipment, I did find a nice couch that I thought could help the players to relax during the shoot. We added a dartboard to the wall behind, and with the trophy on the table I was ready to start.”

Phil Taylor poses with Premier League trophy steven paston keep
Phil Taylor poses with Premier League trophy steven paston keep

“On speaking to the PDC’s press officer Dave Allen, I discovered that I was the only photographer attending the launch so I had a lot more time to plan and shoot each player, which is not usually the case. Whilst wandering the offices I found a neon sign against a wall with the words ‘Everything is possible’ which was ideal for the players to pose under whilst holding the trophy, making for another nice preview image.”

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Raymond van Barneveld celebrates with Premier League trophy. Photo steven paston

“The following day I headed to the O2 Arena, where the crowd attendance exceeded 10,000 people. If you had said that darts would prove that popular ten or fifteen years ago people would have thought you were crazy! It just goes to prove what a great job PDC Chairman Barry Hearn has done, and the contribution that Sky Sports’ coverage has made to the game over the years.”

Raymond van Barneveld celebrates wining Premier League   steven paston keep
Raymond van Barneveld celebrates wining Premier League. Photo steven paston

“In the first match Michael van Gerwen had edged out Gary Anderson 8-7 to book his place in the final, whilst in the other semi final Raymond van Barneveld played long-time rival Phil Taylor. Taylor took an early 3-0 lead but on the 4th leg missed three attempts at double 16, which enabled van Barneveld to fight his way back against 16-time world champion Taylor. From that point he started to win legs against throw, eventually taking the lead and winning the match.”

Mark Selby with his wife Vikki watches steven paston keep
Mark Selby with his wife Vikki watches. Photo steven paston

“Whilst at the darts you never know who is in the crowd, and in VIP area for the play-offs were injured Tottenham Hotspur player Andros Townsend, who sadly will be missing out on this summer’s World Cup with England, and snooker World Champion Mark Selby along with his wife Vikki.”

Raymond van Barneveld celebrates wining Premier League   steven paston keep
Raymond van Barneveld celebrates victory over Micheal van Gerwen in the final Photo steven paston

“The final was an all-Dutch affair as Raymond van Barneveld took on Michael van Gerwen. ‘MVG’ narrowly missed out on a 9 darter in the opening leg, at which point I started to think ‘What a match this could turn out to be’. After a short break in play and photographing some general views of the arena, I headed back to my photo position next to the stage, waiting patiently for one of the players to edge into the lead. In the end van Barneveld powered his way through and ended his nine year drought to lift the Premier League trophy, a huge achievement given that he only entered the competition as a wildcard pick.”

Raymond van Barneveld poses with Premier League trophy steven paston keep
Raymond van Barneveld poses with Premier League trophy. Photo steven paston

“At this point I was particularly happy about the preview shoot the day before, where I shot a lovely picture of Raymond van Barneveld lifting the trophy above his head beneath the neon lettering.”

Premier League Darts

Let’s Play Darts, 2014

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.

General view of Simon Whitlock during the walk on in the Semi-Finals steven paston keep

“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!

Phil Taylor looks dejected during the second round steven paston keep

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.

Peter Wright after winning the Quarter-Finals steven paston keep

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.

Mark Webster celebrates winning against Raymond van Barneveld in the third round steven paston keep

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.

General view of a dancer during the walk on in the second round steven paston keep

General view of fans in fancy dress before the darts steven paston keep

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.

Terry Jenkins celebrates hitting a 9 darter during the first round steven paston keep

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.

SP1_3682.JPG_keepBoxer Carl Froch and his wife Rachael Cordingley in the crowd. Photo: Steven PastonSP1_3657.JPG_keepSnooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan with his son Ronnie Junior.Photo: Steven Paston

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.

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sp DartsWednesdayDay16_37Michael van Gerwen celebrates after winning the final. Photo: Steven Paston

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!

Let’s Play Darts, 2014