ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-EIGHT!
Not your usual darting shout. But that is the vast number of players who will start with a dream of glory at the Cazoo UK Open on Friday at 11am – we’re showing the tournament live on ITV4 and I can’t wait to get down there.
There is not a sight in darts quite like the streams of players and fans pouring around Butlin’s in Minehead.Sometimes it looks more like a Boxing Day sale at Selfridges, just with much more flamboyant shirts being worn.
As a spectacle it is unique. But when it gets down to serious business, the stories unfold in a blur.
If you’ve never sampled the UK Open in its pomp and glory, it’s just pure theatre on television. While it is intoxicating for viewers and all involved, it can be challenging.
It is widely-regarded as one of the toughest sporting events to tackle as a broadcaster. But that adrenaline rush…we love it.
It is always extremely good fun to watch our brilliant reporter Ned Boulting dashing from stage to stage, digging out the backstories of the emerging players as the drama is delivered.
This is when the “FA Cup of darts” tag comes into full view. The bin men, window cleaners and electricians (remember Rob Cross in 2016) beating the big boys of the bullseyes.
There’s nothing quite like it. And there will be shocks, guaranteed.
The football version of the FA Cup has been a classic this season. Middlesbrough beating both Manchester United and Spurs, Nottingham Forest dumping out Arsenal. Kidderminster coming so close to beating West Ham.
That’s what sport is all about.We love a shock giant-killing in any discipline.
It’s so good to be back at Butlin’s in Minehead – last year’s event had to be behind closed doors in Milton Keynes due to the pandemic, though it worked well in the circumstances.
There are always plenty of plots and sub-plots. Gerwyn Price and Peter Wright continue to slug it out for the world number one spot. We could see history being made if the Welshman doesn’t go all the way.
Remarkably, Michael van Gerwen could fall further down the rankings behind Michael Smith and James Wade. Will that motivate the Dutch master to rise to the occasion?
It’s hard to believe that MVG had a 77-game unbeaten streak on ITV lasting four years, finally ended by Jeffrey de Zwaan in the behind-closed-doors UK Open in 2018. Now he’s fighting to regain that dominance.
And what about Wade? The Machine reborn and defending his title from last year. He’d no doubt love to win it again in front of fans this time.
Jonny Clayton is bang on form, Joe Cullen on fire and you Gary Anderson’s always happiest at his local tournament. But there’s that glorious chance of a complete outsider going all the way.
The only predictable element of the UK Open is its unpredictability.
The full ITV4 crew will be on site to see every dart thrown. Chris Mason will be all loud shirts and big opinions alongside the original Iceman, Alan Warriner-Little. Mark Webster will be trying to keeps the lads in order!
It all starts on Friday morning and we’ve an early cracker on the main stage with Barney v Borland.
Six sessions in three days and a live open draw until the final.
There won’t be a dull moment. See you then.
*Jacqui Oatley is a presenter of ITV4 darts coverage