Wednesday 25 December 2019

Ally Pally trip report & Premier League thoughts

Everyone loves a good trip report, so let's have a bit of waffle about Friday's evening session.

I wasn't initially intending on going to the worlds any time soon, but the Premier League putting out fixtures that sent us down to Brighton during the worlds meant it was a no brainer - take the Friday afternoon off work, watch the darts, stop over in London and then do the football the day after (praying that Sky etc didn't move our game for TV, which they didn't).

Trip down was relatively uneventful, whoever's running Virgin's trains nowadays even having surplus bacon rolls available on my train down which they were giving away outside of first class, which was nice. Quick beer in the Euston Tap on arrival, before checking into hotel by Tottenham Hale tube, then kicking across to Ally Pally.

Quick Victoria/Piccadilly line change up to Wood Green, and there's plenty of people heading up the escalators doing the usual darts chants, mostly German which makes sense, although I wouldn't find out until later just how German-populated the event would be. Work out what bus stop we needed, pile on and after a shortish uphill drive we're dropped right outside the venue. Excessive entry searches ensued (I can only assume in retrospect they were searching for coke and other illicit substances), then once in, I pick up a payment card, grab a beer (£5.50 Amstel, jesus) and some tea, and sit down in the fan village bit with some people who had come over from Gladbach (Rheydt more accurately), before having a wander round. Hills had more or less a full bookies setup, not really sure who wants to come to the darts and then bet on the all weather at Wolverhampton, similarly I'm not sure who would want to pay twenty quid for a photo with Colin Lloyd and a trophy he's never won, but there you do.

Anyway, into the arena, and my seat's nowhere as near to the stage as I thought it was when I booked it, being more or less in the back left corner if you were looking out from the stage. It was on the exact angle where it goes from the seating being side on to being diagonal to the stage, and there is nowhere near enough legroom to compensate. Don't buy tickets anywhere near here if it can be avoided. Was still a good forty minutes before the first game on and fairly sparsely populated at this stage, was a couple of people on my row, I forget exactly where they were from but I seem to recall somewhere between Mannheim and Karlsruhe, a few rows behind me are the guys in the brilliant "car wash" fancy dress which I don't know if it made it to TV (I think it did to German TV, certainly saw both ARD and sport1 floating around near where I was and one of them bagged them), the Oompa Loompas were also nearby. First game kicks off, a few people from Hannover grab the front row right in front of me, was a decent enough game, plenty of people singing along to Aspinall's walk on which he played up a little bit too much for my liking. The Queen downs a pint (if you ever hear the crowd going ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, WHEY! it's someone being challenged to down a pint and then being successful, context of which is never picked up on Sky obv). A couple of lads from Dresden take the spare seats next to me just as the Aspinall game finished, I reload on beers as we get the Cullen/Kurz match starting.

Now from here, it was like playing in Germany. It was a super partisan crowd - well behaved, it wasn't as if people were booing Cullen as we saw for Evetts and Suljovic earlier, but it was certainly extremely pro-Kurz. Similar followed for Hopp against van de Pas, beers were flowing, managed to see one guy get carted out by about eight stewards which is surely included in the price of the ticket, then we get onto the epic Wright/Malicdem game. How Noel didn't manage to finish the game off, I don't know, he just had some sloppy visits in the key moments in the final set when he'd been able to get a lead, but my god, the reaction to the 140 out from Wright was incredible.

Match eventually finishes, grab a bus in the direction of Finsbury Park with the entirety of the top deck singing random songs about potato salad and how half of the Ruhrpott teams are terrible, finally getting back to the hotel for about one. Would definitely say that any darts fan needs to experience it once, but personally I'd much rather go for a European Tour session, where you're getting more games, less downtime, it's cheaper and the crowd's a bit more darts orientated.

To the second part of the post. What the fuck are they going to do about the Premier League this year? Let's post the FRH top 20 as it is right now:

You've got to think that the top five are locks based on a combination of general play and popularity. Then what? Gurney I think surely remains based on possession, having won a Euro Tour, three major semi finals (if you include the Premier League itself), and he seems a popular enough player. Chisnall was looking like he was close to doing enough, having made a major final and having won a Euro Tour, but I kind of get the impression that he needed to do a bit more than he did do at the worlds to seal the deal, so I think he's currently on the outside looking in. If I skip past Wade for a second, Aspinall surely has to be close to a lock having won a major and another TV title, and probably being the most likely player to win his quarter at the worlds right now. Wade? He did it on the tour, but it was all earlier in the year and he's done little on TV. White was getting close having finally made a TV semi final but needed to do a lot more at the worlds.

That just gives us seven right now. Let's look outside the FRH top ten - do they invite back Gary Anderson? Would he take an invite if offered, or concentrate on ranked events? Do they even invite him based on anything other than popularity? If he loses to Aspinall, what's he actually done this year? It's got to be very close for Durrant, he's made three major semis, is still alive, if he can push past Gurney and then (probably) Dobey, it's going to be extremely hard to leave him out. Then who? Suljovic surely played himself out losing to Sherrock. Lewis has done little all year, but at least has been at that level previously, is still alive, and is in a winnable quarter. They surely never invite Ratajski for similar reasons to why they didn't invite Suljovic for ages. Bunting - if he can shock MvG and then win through to the semis, then maybe? Cullen, Whitlock and Clayton all seem hugely unrealistic. Dobey's been doing it on TV, maybe he's in with an outside shot if he makes no mistakes against Sherrock, can turn over the winner of the Durrant match (which doesn't seem completely unrealistic), then hang around with Price in the quarters. Who knows. Other than that, you're more or less looking at someone who's still in the worlds who can make a miracle run. de Zwaan's playing well enough that he could turn over Wright and make a semi. Probably too soon for both Dimitri and Luke Humphries, and I don't think the PDC want to be chucking them in as a result. I can't see anyone else.

So what do they do, unless they pick the likes of Wade and maintain the status quo? I don't think they can seriously repeat the Contenders gimmick without rehashing a lot of players that did it in the previous year, which loses a lot of the novelty. If they were going to do a year where they had a play-in event for eight players that were on the borderline, surely it's this year. I guess they just invite Sherrock and be done with it?

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