Darts’ Christmas party is at the palace.

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By Creative Media News

The abundance of Halloween outfits. There are walk-on singalongs. The suspenseful sporting drama. Cliff Richard donning a Santa suit and tossing tinsel-wrapped tungsten darts on stage might be the only thing that could make the PDC World Darts Championship a clearer indicator of the start of the holiday season.

They flocked by the thousands up Muswell Hill to the arena that is quickly becoming the holiday destination for sports. Some individuals dressed like Santa Claus for the event. Others wore superhero costumes.

Even the world champion, Peter Wright, wore a Grinch costume for his match against Northern Irish veteran Mickey Mansell on Thursday evening.

Darts' christmas party is at the palace.
Darts' christmas party is at the palace.

That is the beauty of this event, which is currently in its thirty-first incarnation. Even the prospect of world No. 88 Mansell taking on Ben Robb, who is not even ranked in the PDC system, had the Alexandra Palace crowd cheering in their thousands.

In contrast to most other sports, where fans only flock in large numbers to see the world’s best and hold off for the early rounds, anything can happen.

In 1994, when the competition began, darts’ entire existence was unclear, and circumstances could not have been any different. The audiences at Purfleet’s Circus Tavern were modest, Skol Lager was the tournament’s sponsor, and the prize money was £64,000. The prize money for this year is £2.5 million, with the winner receiving £500,000.

Party at the palace
Darts' christmas party is at the palace.

Nowadays, darts is a multimillion-dollar industry, with the finest players earning millions of dollars. Even though Michael van Gerwen wasn’t playing on the opening night, green shirts were nearly everywhere you looked.

A tour through the Ally Pally concourses demonstrated how darts have evolved from a niche sport in the 1990s to a money-making machine in the present day. As far as the eye can see, there are product stands, food stands, and, of course, bars. So many bars. Even hospitality tickets for the opening night cost a whopping £250.

Mansell’s 3-1 triumph in the night’s opening match was a nervous one, aided by the crowd’s jeers as he attempted to hit the winning double. This may be the one aspect of this tournament’s expansion that purists dislike, but the truth remains that those in attendance are the ones who increase the prize money and interest through ticket sales.

However, the fact that darts has become a global brand outside of the oche was just as clear on the oche during an exciting evening. Seven players from six different nations competed, including Robb, the New Zealand qualifier, and Grant Sampson, who made a dramatic upset in his world championship debut for South Africa.

Sampson, a little-known 40-year-old from the village of Brackenfell, had to defeat Africa’s other top players in a qualifying match to enter the Alexandra Palace. He had never played in front of a crowd larger than 50.

Nobody gave him a chance against Keane Barry, the No. 40 player in the world, but Sampson astonished him to cause the first upset of the tournament. It is not the last time.

After 22-year-old Nathan Rafferty defeated Jermaine Wattimena, though, it was time for the main event. Rafferty is a reminder that darts are no longer a game for old men. Despite the drama of the first three games, those fortunate enough to obtain a ticket for the opening night came to see Wright, and he did not disappoint.

The grandiose nature of Wright’s walk-on to Pitbull’s Don’t Stop The Party is well-known. Appropriately for the reigning champion, he donned a full Grinch costume, replete with gloves and a festive green Mohican, and soared to unprecedented heights.

If this line doesn’t capture the insanity of this unusual sports event, I don’t know what does.

Wright’s title defense began with a basic introduction, which contrasted with his remarkable appearance and entrance. You questioned if all the pre-game hijinks would throw Wright off his game, even though he will likely face more formidable opponents in the future.

We should have known by now, given Wright’s 3-0 victory, that this would not be the case, as he is a two-time world champion.

For the attendees, Ally Pally is an escape from reality for a few hours and a unique sporting celebration. Darts is a dream factory for players like Sampson, who held back tears after the match and assured himself a minimum £15,000 paycheck with a win here.

In the blink of an eye, lives can change forever. It is a sport, but not in the conventional sense. Sometimes, within these four walls of north London, anything seems conceivable.

There is still a long way to go until the 30th PDC World Championship champion is proclaimed, as the big names have still to enter the fray over the next several days. However, without darts, Christmas would no longer seem like Christmas. This was clear from the moment Thursday’s first dart was tossed.

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