Unsung Heroes – Lionel Smith.

Lionel Smith: Bronze Bully Winner & Stafforshire Legend 

Lionel Smith was a legendary Staffordshire (UK) darts player who is fondly remembered by many who played, and followed the game, in its first glorious era. Lionel was still playing county darts for Staffordshire (A) at the grand old age of seventy-five.  

Lionel (left) with Pat Chaps.

Lionel, born in July of 1928, lived to the ripe old age of 91, was an influence on generations of Staffordshire players latterly including the two Marks, Frost and Hylton. 

Although his success at the elite level was limited to a couple of last 32 defeats, in the World Masters & British Professional Championships, though he claimed the British Internationals title in 1981. 

His defeats, at the above events, were at the hands of ‘Big Cliff’ Lazerenko and Dave Whitcombe who could both be said to be at the peak of their powers the time. 

Perhaps his most famed achievement was in winning the Bronze Bully in on the darts TV show Bullseye. This involved a professional (or highly regarded) player attempting to score more than 301 in nine darts. If they managed this the money was doubled and given to charity. Lionel scored 365 in his nine darts during the 1986-7 run of the show. He was also (comically) introduced as Eric Bristow’s Grandad!  

Smith’s high standards of play, and conduct, over so many years endeared him to many. In 2012 Hylton paid tribute to his former mentor: 

 “Despite passing away in 2001 Lionel has often been in my thoughts since I joined the PDC. It was he who really encouraged me to take darts seriously and apply myself. Lionel represented England and twice reached the last 32 of the English Professional Darts Championships during the 1980’s golden era, he was defeated by Dave Whitcomb & Cliff Lazarenko respectively.”

“I played with Lionel for The Thorn Club in the early 1990’s, he was a gentleman and a darting great.” 

For a number of years, after Lionel’s death, the Staffordshire Open was known as The Lionel Smith Open in tribute. Hylton continued: 

 “It gave me great pleasure to win the Staffordshire Open on many occasions and it would be lovely to think that it could once again carry the name of my friend Lionel Smith.” 

Further evidence of Smith’s influence can be seen when even Martin Adams cites Lionel as an inspiration, this time because Lionel was still representing Staffordshire County A in 2001 at the age of 75!  

I’ll leave it to three-time World Champion, fifty-eight at the time, to sum up Lionel Smith. Adams was quoted as saying: 

“I’ll keep playing as long as possible. I look at a guy called Lionel Smith, who played top county darts for Staffordshire at the age of 75. If Lionel can do it, I can do it……” 


Unsung Heroes aims to give credit to those who missed darts great golden era’s or who have been undervalued or slipped under the radar, with the passing of the years. We add a new hero every month and hop to build an outstanding archive of those who have contributed to our game.

(Lionel Smith’s edition first appeared in issue number 560 of Darts World magazine.)

Unsung Heroes – Chris Thompson, The Hitman

Darts World’s regular look at those players whose career or contribution to the sport of darts may have been overlooked, under-credited or faded with time.

During a recent interview with Darts World magazine, three-time World Champion Glen Durrant raised an eyebrow or two when he stated that a certain player was in fact “a far better player than me”.

Although Durrant added that it was some time ago that he had battled with Chris Thompson, it was still a very generous compliment. So, who is ‘The Hitman’?

The story starts at the 1985 Yorkshire Boys Club Championships in Hunslet. Thompson, then aged just 13, was persuaded to enter and emerged as the champion, without dropping a leg!

A very talented young player, at the age of 16 and already standing over 6 feet tall, Thompson ventured into the pub leagues in York. He soon claimed the York individual title, beating a host of top local players including Barry Noble and Stuart Holden, earning himself an invitation to the Yorkshire Super League in the process.

After a couple of successful seasons, Mick Nixon, captain of Humberside, recruited Thompson to his county squad. This proved excellent experience for Thompson as he had the opportunity to play alongside high quality players such as Vijay Kumar and John Pickering. After a further season in the Yorkshire Super League, Thompson was then invited to join the full Yorkshire squad and he lent on his fellow player and friend, Stuart Holden, for advice:

“By this time Stuart Holden had become a close friend and advisor. He thought that it was too early for me to join Yorkshire and encouraged me to remain with Humberside. I took this advice and ended up playing over 50 games for Humberside. After a few more invites from Yorkshire, Stuart eventually advised me that the time was right for me to join the “big boys” at Yorkshire”.

Following six consecutive wins in the Yorkshire B Team, Thompson was promoted to the Yorkshire A-Team, a huge landmark in his career. He eventually went on to play over a hundred matches for Yorkshire and was made captain of a team that included the likes of John ‘Boy‘ Walton, Scott Waites, Martin Atkins and Garry Thompson, under the famed management of Peter Senior.

Thompson’s next career milestone was qualifying for the News of the World Grand Finals, beating Lancashire’s Paul Williams in the final qualifier, thus making his television debut.

In 2000 Thompson claimed the Yorkshire Classic beating John Walton in the final, whilst he also struck up a very successful pairs partnership with Martin Atkins, with whom he remains close, both as a player and a friend.

Whilst progressing in the BDO, Thompson had kept a close eye on the PDC circuit and in 2007 he ultimately decided that the prize money available was too enticing to ignore:

“I decided to leave the BDO circuit and concentrate on the PDC, this was the best move I ever made”.

In his second season in the PDC, Thompson reached the quarter-finals of the UK Open, losing out 10-5 to Vincent Van Der Voort. This proved a springboard to further success as he went on to reach eight pro-tour semi-finals, including “the most memorable day” of his darting career in Las Vegas. On that day he defeated Gary Mawson, Kirk Shepherd, Mark Walsh, Terry Jenkins, and Andy Hamilton.

In the quarter final the invincible Phil Taylor awaited. Thompson states that he “played the game of my life” in beating the ‘The Power’ 6-5, with an average of over 114 before losing to Simon Whitlock in the semi-final. The next day Taylor took his revenge beating Thompson 6-0, costing him a place at the World Matchplay.

Later that year ‘The Hitman’ reached the World Championships for the first time. His first-round opponent at the Alexandra Palace was Darts World columnist Colin Osborne who showed his experience in defeating the York man 3-1.

Subsequently, Thompson’s form dipped and he struggled, eventually losing his tour card. Sadly, efforts to try and win a new tour card were unsuccessful and he took the difficult decision to quit his career within the PDC.

‘The Hitman’ still plays locally once a week at his local pub The Green Tree in York and says:

“I really enjoy the social aspect of the local league again.

However, my will to win has never deserted me, and my opponent, whoever they are, will always get 100% from me, I have always played to win no matter what the circumstances.

People always ask me if I miss the darts and my response is always “a bit, but I miss the friends I have made, and the crack we had, a lot more”.


  • JR Lott with Chris Thompson
  • Pix: PDC
  • Originally published in Darts World Magazine (569) April 2020
  • JEGL

Unsung Heroes – Evans ‘The Arrow’

Darts World’s regular look at those players whose career or contribution to the sport of darts may have been overlooked, under-credited or faded with time.

alanevansdarts

In the current era of professional darts, we often take it for granted that players at the top of the game are privileged to earn a very good living. However, that wasn’t always the case; many top players from the past have had the tricky task of juggling top level darts with maintaining other professions.

The man who lays claim to have been the first professional is the late Alan Evans, or ‘Evans the Arrow’ as he was affectionately known. A natural showman, Evans made a living from the exhibition tour and by taking on all-comers for big money in the working men’s clubs of South Wales.

Those readers with long memories or YouTube addictions will recall seeing the diminutive Welshman in gripping, not always friendly, struggles with some of the legendary names in darts across the ’70s and ’80s. However, most will not be aware of the sustained contribution made to the game by this fiercely competitive and highly talented player. 

Amongst Evans’ playing achievements were appearances in the finals of The News of the World (1972) and The Indoor League (1973 and 1974). These were amongst the first televised events on ITV, whilst Evans also made the final of the first event to be screened on the BBC, The 1975 British Open. During that same year, he claimed the World Masters title, arguably the most prestigious title in darts at the time. Evans was also an integral part of the Welsh Team that won both the team championship and overall championship at the inaugural Darts World Cup in 1977. 

Unfortunately for Evans, these tremendous results arrived in the years just prior to the beginning of darts’ first golden era; he may well have peaked a little too soon. Evans was twice defeated at the semi-final stage of the World Championships, firstly 3-1 by his compatriot Leighton Rees in 1979. Just a few months later, Evans was to receive a 12-month ban from the BDO for allegedly assaulting an official; this robbed him of the chance to win tournaments when he was at or near his peak. After his suspension, Evans seemed to play a secondary role on the biggest stages and never quite hit the very highest level again. However, he did manage to roll back the years with another run to the World Championship semi-finals in 1987, where ‘Rhonnda Legend’ was soundly beaten 5-0 by Eric Bristow.

Evans has a few other claims to fame, he scored 401 in 9 darts (doubled to £802 for charity) in the television show Bullseye’s guest professional round. Nobody ever scored higher. It was also reported and witnessed that, at an exhibition event in Scotland, Evans hit 8 separate 150 checkouts going the 3 x bullseye route. Evans even played Muhammed Ali in a special “World Championship” match. 

alanevans
Evans (Front) battles fellow Welsh legend Leighton Rees.

Evans was a serious competitor and, at his best, a sensational player. It is a shame that television viewers did not have the chance to witness his best over a sustained period. His contribution to our game should not be underestimated. Perhaps the best indication of his impact on audiences were the tributes paid by the late, great commentator Sid Waddell. Waddell would refer to the “Alan Evans Shot” if a player needed 150 to finish a leg and would often use him to illustrate fighting qualities or sudden spells of blistering form. Waddell had seen players come and go for decades yet very rarely awarded players this type of acclaim. When Evans tragically passed away in 1999 at the age of just 49, Waddell wrote a glowing tribute.  

Phrases including “the balance of Nureyev” are not often equated with darts players but perhaps only the combination of Waddell and ‘Evans the Arrow’ could produce them with sincerity. 

Like many unsung heroes, Alan Evans didn’t enjoy the full rewards of what he helped to create, but his role should always be remembered. 


First submitted for Darts World Magazine (Print/Digital) – March 2020. JEGL

Unsung Heroes – You Know FullWell!

Nick Fullwell, 50, is a familiar name on the darts circuit, but 2019 saw the man known as ‘Hero’ become known to many more darts fans and he is not finished yet! 

Nick has previous. Having played many PDC majors, his experience should stand him in good stead.
PIC: PDC L Lustig

Nick Fullwell has been playing professional darts for almost fifteen years, but his results in 2019 across both codes were the best of his career. A televised appearance appearance at the World Masters against Scott Waites was followed by immediate qualification for the BDO World Championships where Fullwell became the latest addition to the band of dual-code World Championship contestants after playing in the PDC version in 2009. Fullwell lost a tight game 3-2 to David Evans in the last 32 at the O2, but he can be very proud of his recent progression.

It is, perhaps, at the level just below that Fullwell, the former Pro Tour finalist and West Midlands County player, has demonstrated the most improvement. He claimed a PDC Challenge Tour title at Peterborough, but was not quite consistent enough to challenge in the Order of Merit. Yet, having begun to enter more and more BDO events, he started to pick up other titles and record consistently strong results. 

Winning is beginning to come easier to the Black country player!
Pic: PDC

Fullwell claimed the Toremelinos Classic and reached a clutch of other finals last year, including the very competitive Lincolnshire Open. In what was to prove a common trend, he also reached the semi-finals of the English Nationals in June as his run of success kicked in. 

Fullwell achieved all of this despite finding himself in a tough spot back in 2015. In April of that year, Nick had simply had enough. An extended poor run of form had resulted in very few earnings or ranking points on the PDC Challenge Tour, with things seemingly going from bad to worse. Not a man to give up easily, as his kickboxing belt would indicate, Fullwell sought out some assistance on the oche. For the next twelve months, he dramatically increased his practice time and worked with a coach/mentor to see if he could change the tide.

With a change of darts and a stronger mindset, Fullwell’s hard work began to pay off. Just over twelve months on from his worst performances, he claimed his first PDC title when winning a Challenge Tour event in May 2016. He was also showing superb form in open events and, together with his ‘partner in crime’ Ian ‘Whippet’ Jones, was reaching the latter stages of almost every tournament he entered. 

Tragedy, however, was imminent. At the same time that this superb turnaround in Fullwell’s form was taking place, his wife, and childhood sweetheart, Sharon, was diagnosed with cancer. Showing remarkable courage, the couple managed Sharon’s illness as best as they could whilst raising money for various cancer charities and trying to ensure that their two children were spared as much trauma as possible. Tragically, after a courageous and lengthy fight, Sharon passed away. 

Fullwell’s focus and energies were then almost entirely devoted to ensuring that his children were comforted and helped through school, college and many other of life’s journeys. His form on the oche was put in to perspective. When time allowed, he did pick up his darts and played for the sheer enjoyment of playing, mainly in local events, county matches and a memorial event in honour of his wife.

Slowly over the next couple of years, Fullwell built up the next stage of his life and began to place more time and effort into the game he loves. He now plays for Lincolnshire and has been playing BDO events frequently, as well as the PDC Challenge Tour. The rewards unquestionably arrived in 2019. 

A few years back Fullwell was encouraged to be aggressive and almost angry when he played as it was thought that this might get the best out of him. However, he has resisted this and instead tries to be as relaxed as possible and enjoy the game. In short, he refused to be who he was not and remained true to himself. 

So, when you next see Nick Fullwell stride on to a darts stage, spare a thought and perhaps a cheer, for one of the nicest people in the game of darts. Few have worked as hard, suffered such misfortune or deserve success more than he. 

He really should keep a closer eye on those darts though!
Pic – PDC

JEGL

Unsung Heroes : “Mile High” Leaves A Vapour Trail.

Darts World’s regular look at those players whose career or contribution to the sport of darts may have been overlooked, under-credited or faded with time.

In February 2010, Mark “Mile High” Hylton embarked on what was to be a brief, but highly significant, escapade into the world of PDC darts. An airline cabin manager for 15 years, Hylton quit at the age of 42 to become a full-time arrowsmith. A majestic take-off was followed by a turbulent spell cruising at altitude, before a steep descent took him away from our view. 

Hylton enjoyed a high flying start to his PDC Career.
PIC;L Lustig/PDC

Born and raised in Staffordshire, Mark Hylton had been a familiar name in amateur darts for quite some time, including a notable television appearance at the the 2007 UK Open, before he decided to turn professional. His first few months on the tour proved a steep learning curve, but he was soon to rise rapidly through the PDC Order of Merit.

In early 2010, Hylton was playing superbly behind the scenes, cleaning up in non-professional events all over the UK. His management and coaching team decided to fund trips to Australia and Canada that summer to see if their hunch was right that he could compete with the best in the game. Hylton responded with a dazzling run to the final of the PDC Australian Open in Sydney, where he was defeated 6-3 by Dennis Priestley. The prize money, £3,000, ensured he would qualify for the 2011 World Championships. 

Hylton’s success continued with a string of very consistent results on the PDC Pro Tour, resulting in qualification for the lucrative Grand Slam of Darts. Despite not progressing from the group stage, the experience of such a huge, televised event was not wasted on Hylton, who was confident of a good showing at the Alexandra Palace.

Hylton and his team prepared meticulously for the 2011 World Championship. He played in all conditions and as often as possible, including on borrowed stages with friends acting as officials. When Hylton drew the legendary Steve Beaton in the first round, practice partners were hand-picked to try and mirror Beaton’s style and pace. Likely second and third round opponents were also calculated.

The venue was scouted, the weather anticipated (which was extreme) and complications allowed for. Despite some early nerves, and the silky skills of his opponent, the vigorous preparation paid off as Hylton ran out a 3-2 winner in a tense final set, where he held his nerve well. Hylton’s reward was a second round date with former PDC world number one, Colin Lloyd.

During the days before the match, Team Hylton again prepared diligently. Their man was less nervous than previously and was given these simple instructions by his coach: 

“you are the best kept secret in world darts, now go and show these people why”

Despite Lloyd edging in to a narrow lead in the fifth set, Hylton reeled off a remarkable 6 legs in a row to win 4-2 at a canter. By the end of the game Lloyd was shaking his head in disbelief as Hylton averaged over 115 in his purple patch and became the event’s leading 180 hitter.  

Sadly, Hylton could not produce a similar level in his last-16 match against welshman Mark Webster who defeated Hylton 4-1 on his way to a run to the semi-finals. Despite this, Hylton had served notice that he was a player to be taken seriously. He was awarded the PDC’s New Player of the Year award, a lucrative dart sponsorship and went on to achieve success in more major events in 2011, reaching the quarter-finals of the UK Open and the Grand Prix, rising to number 32 in the world in the process. He also frightened the life out of Phil Taylor in a thrilling 10-8 defeat at the World Matchplay in Blackpool.

Although he is no longer playing high profile darts Hylton left a trail that inspired others to even greater heights.
Pic – L Lustig/PDC

Although Hylton has slipped from view since those halcyon days, his efforts should not be forgotten. To become a professional at 42 with no top flight experience, and to hit the heights he did, was remarkable. Indeed, the vapour-trail Hylton left guided many. You don’t need to be a big name to win big.

Just ask Rob Cross! 


A version of this article appeared in The Ultimate Guide to the PDC World Championship – https://appsolutely.dev/darts/
JEGL

Unsung Heroes – Tony Ayres, The T-Man

Darts World’s regular look at those players whose career or contribution to the sport of darts may have been overlooked, under-credited or faded with time.

The UK Open of 2010 is fast fading in the mists of time. In many ways, events in Bolton that week panned out as one typically might expect; Phil Taylor won the title and Gary Anderson reached the final. However, the most memorable performance from the tournament came from another man, his name was Tony “T-Man” Ayres. 

In the years prior to 2010, the PDC had been a little predictable. Phil Taylor and Raymond Van Barneveld enjoyed a fascinating rivalry, whilst John Part, Peter Manley, Wayne Mardle, James Wade and a few others comprised the supporting cast. With the exception of Kirk Shepherd’s appearance in the 2008 World Championship final, very few outsider or underdog tales had caught the imagination of darts fans. If major shocks did occur, they were generally in the early rounds and the player causing the upset did not get much further. Tony Ayres defied that trend.

The T-Man was hardly an unknown in 2010; previous wins on the World Championship stage and elsewhere, had helped him reach the low fifties in the PDC Order of Merit, but many would have described him as a darts journeyman, at best. Entering the UK Open at the last 96 stage, Ayres reeled off victories against Paul Whitworth, Peter Fisher, Mark Walsh and Alan Tabern to reach the quarter-finals. Many surprise packages tend to fall at this stage as big stage matches and the associated prize money are assured, live television coverage is guaranteed and fatigue or self-satisfaction can set in. Players such as Chris Thompson, Steve Hine and, later, Mark Hylton and Barry Lynn have fallen at this hurdle. 

There was no such issue for Ayres, his dramatic sudden death 10-9 victory over James Wade was arguably the highlight of the whole event. After staying with Wade for most of the game Ayres found himself a leg down with two to play. Wade had three darts at double for the match when leading 9-8, but surprisingly missed. Ayres stepped up under huge pressure and checked out 152 to take the match to a deciding leg, which he took comfortably against the darts to record a famous victory.

Say it quietly because they are tough to find, but the T-Man’s signature dart, made by Red Dragon, is an absolute masterpiece. A sublime combination of a gold and atomised barrel with no real grip, check out the YouTube review of them here (tiny.cc/920pfz). 

Sadly, for the neutral and for his supporters, Ayres could not lift himself to those heights again in the semi-final and he was defeated handily by Gary Anderson. However, he had provided a shining example for many to follow and the UK Open has been targeted by up and coming players, or those with something to prove, ever since. The open draw, middle length format, close crowd and quick-fire nature provides a perfect storm for shocks and, every year without fail, the event provides greater exposure for lesser-known players. 

As for the T-Man himself, sadly it is a tale of what might have been. Later in 2010 he missed out on a World Championship place at the final qualification hurdle. Had he been able to add even early round prize money to his UK Open returns he would have been much higher in the Order of Merit when the tour card system arrived. If he could have solidified his ranking, then maybe a career at the highest level could have followed, but sadly Ayres was to drop off the tour completely in 2012.

In many ways Ayres pioneered a route for other seasoned campaigners looking to make a success of PDC darts, but who did not fit the stereotype. We know of at least two players who were inspired specifically by Ayres to make the move to professional darts.

Perhaps we haven’t quite heard the last from Tony ‘T -Man’ Ayers, his recent county performances for Sussex have been very impressive and who knows what the future holds?


This article first appeared in the Darts World Magazine Issue 564. JEGL

Unsung Heroes: Paul Cook – The Shy Major Champion.

Darts World’s regular look at those players whose career or contribution to the sport of darts may have been overlooked, under-credited or faded with time.

Psul Cook (right) with Johnny Haines (left) picking up yet another trophy!

To those supposedly “in the know”, Bobby George is the only person to win The News of the World event without dropping a leg.

Some folk from Swindon, quite a few darters from around the country, and a few friends of Paul Cook will tell you differently. 

Cookie, as he is known, won the News of the World tournament in 1990, defeating Steve Hudson 2-0 in the final. For many years it was assumed that Paul would be remembered as the last ever winner. Indeed, many consider him to be just that. The 1997 reboot lasted one year and was certainly not a continuation of a great run spanning 1948 – 1990. 

The News of The World: Darts’ Original
People’s Championship.

Many testify that he puts down his darts after a game or event and does not pick them up again until the next event. Sometimes this appears to be a ten-year wait! Not many would be able to think this or have the confidence to carry it out. 

It is quite shocking, but typical of Cookie, that his record (on dartsdatabase.com) begins with that major triumph at the News of the World event. He seems to appear from thin air and disappear just as quickly! So far, his career is 27 years long and runs to just one page of event results. Following his sensational 1990 win, there is a six-year gap where he appears not to have thrown a competitive dart! 

Cookie resurfaces at the 1996 Antwerp Open and reaches the last 16. The eight players who reached the qtr finals were basically the best in the world, including the winner Bob Anderson, Dennis Priestley and more, so it seems safe to assume Cookie was again in superb shape. In the next fifteen months, Cookie reached the last 40 of the World Matchplay twice, and the last eight of the world pairs with long-time friend Dennis Smith. Late in 1997, Cook disappeared again. 

Cookie claiming another Open title.

A decade later, in 2007, Paul reappeared in the qualifying stages of the Las Vegas Classic and a handful of other events. He managed to qualify for the UK Open in 2009, where he was defeated by Mark Lawrence, who reached the Qtr finals. For the next few years, only a few open events are recorded – with mixed results. 

Randomly, in 2015, up pops Paul again, with a win in the Plymouth Open. Attempts at a higher level appear to fail after a few attempts at BDO qualifications. Not to be written off, Paul entered Q School in 2017. After taking a while to settle he embarked on a thrilling run on the final day. He finally bowed out in the last 16 after being defeated by Paul Nicholson who gained his tour card by winning his next game. 

I certainly hope we have not seen or heard the last of Cookie, perhaps the most unsung major champion of them all. He is a truly lovely man and an incredibly talented player. If you’re lucky enough to bump into him, ask him to tell you the tale of what happened when they came looking to reclaim his News of the World Trophy. 

Look out for sightings at opens in the South West or just about any other event; you never know where he will pop up next! 


JR Lott writes for Darts World and other publications.

Unsung Heroes debuted in Darts World Magazine issue 563. A new edition will appear monthly. Grab your copy or a subscription (Print/Digital) here: http://www.dartsworld.com/product/magazine/