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Darts mania grips Belfast as Phil 'The Power' Taylor beats the 'The Machine'

By Lesley-Anne Henry

Darts mania gripped Belfast last night when over 7,500 fans turned out to watch players such as Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor and James ‘The Machine’ Wade compete in round three of the Whyte and Mackay Premier League.

Around 35,000 pints of beer were consumed by the crowd during the raucous three-hour tournament — the largest indoor sporting event in the UK.

The atmosphere was absolutely electric with the enthusiastic hordes, some of whom had donned glowing bunny ears and Australian cork hats, belting out theme tunes such as The Fratellis’ ‘Chelsea Dagger’, Black Eyed Peas’ ‘Gotta Feeling’ and Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ as each of the gold-clad, tattooed players made their entrance.

A handful of brave male spectators had even squeezed themselves into leotards especially for the occasion.

The Odyssey almost erupted when five-time World Champion Raymond van Barneveld, aka Barney, took the to stage causing one sports commentator to quip: “When Barney is in Belfast the place goes mad.”

Undoubtedly, however, the biggest cheer of the night reserved for the 15-stone, 15-time World Champion Phil Taylor who strode down the red carpet amid lightning bolts to the sound of Snap’s ‘I’ve Got The Power’.

And Taylor’s eagerly anticipated showdown against defending league champion James Wade didn’t disappoint with an impressive seven 180-score throws.

Speaking after the clash which he won convincingly, Taylor praised the Belfast fans and promised to push the Odyssey as a possible Premier League final venue for next year.

Darts League promoter Dave Allen said the atmosphere in Belfast was always fantastic.

“This is the third successive year that we have come to Belfast. One of the things that all the players have said is what a great atmosphere there has been in previous years in Belfast. The players really look forward to it.”

Mr Allen said there had been a massive increase in the number of darts fans in recent years. Surprisingly for some, there were almost as many women as men among last night’s audience.

“Five years ago we were playing in leisure centres and town hall venues,” Mr Allen said.

“This year we are playing in front of crowds of 10,000 in Wembley and in Belfast there were 7,500 — so that’s an indication of the increase popularity over the years.

“There is a tremendous amount of skill involved in playing darts. Players effectively have to throw three darts onto something the same size as a cigarette butt. Also, the dedication factor to get up to this level. On the physical side of things, while it is not the same as running a marathon some of the games can go on for three hours so to play at that high level, under television lights and in front of an audience you need a tremendous amount of stamina to perform under such pressure.”

Among the thousands of spectators waving their ‘180’ placards was Co Antrim mum-to-be Leanne Watkinson who was excited about seeing her sporting hero Phil Taylor live in action.

“I got into darts about three years ago because my husband Dan watches them. I was really looking forward to seeing Phil Taylor. I love him.

“I’m was also looking forward to seeing James Wade, because he is the reigning champion. It was my first time at the darts and it was a good laugh.”

Alan Henry, who travelled from Ballycastle for the event, said: “It’s great to see such sporting heroes grace the stage in Belfast.”

Last night was the third year the £400,000 Sky Sports televised tournament had visited Belfast. The Premier League final is due to take place on May 23.

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