Review: BDO World Trophy Qualifiers

Ahead of the BDO World Trophy next year, we sent Mike Boorman to experience the intensity of the qualifying battle.

Mike Boorman

Last updated: 16th Oct 2014

With the Winmau World Masters on TV at the weekend, we thought it would be a good time to talk darts.

But although the World Masters is the oldest professional tournament on the darting calendar, the real story we were interested in was not up on the big stage under the TV lights, but down on the floor with the hundreds of players scrapping for their lives in the qualifiers.

The British Darts Organisation basically descended on Hull for a week, with qualifying for the World Trophy and World Championship taking place at the Airco Arena, before the circus moved across town to the City Hall for the World Masters at the weekend.

We had such a good time at the inaugural World Trophy last year there was no question that we would return for the 2015 event, so what better way to get in the mood than to witness the dog fight at the qualifiers, where almost 300 players compete for a mere four places in the main event next February.

As you can imagine, it's a pretty chaotic scene, with over 50 boards on the go (see below).

Although there is no grand walk-on music or general fanfare, there's a right buzz about the place, with players, associates and fans milling about, moving from board to board and cheering each other on.

It's quite surreal seeing players who you've grown up watching on TV, so close up, and appearing as merely names on a list among hundreds of others. But it's also good to see their demeanour is exactly the same - they certainly haven't been acting for the cameras.

Twice world champion and back on the BDO tour this season, Ted "The Count" Hankey is an absolute case in point. There he was, a couple of yards away on board 28, swearing at himself, chuntering, face like thunder, but showing the odd streak of brilliance.

It looked at one point like his luck was in, with his first opponent David Brown missing a few darts at doubles to let him off the hook, and then in the next game he saw Sven Groen miss no less than seven darts for the match.

But cheered on by a boisterous Dutch contingent that included former Lakeside semi-finalist Jan Dekker - off duty for the night and safely in the draw for the final stages in February - Groen held it together to win the deciding leg on double 4, with Hankey nowhere, throwing his darts away without even aiming on a couple of occasions.

But that's Ted; an almost perfect technique but with the ability to self-destruct. Never a dull moment. Even though you've never spoken to them, you really feel like you know these guys, especially when you see them up close and see how they are around the venue.

There's just something funny about being able to spot that 2004 World Champion Andy "The Viking" Fordham has dispensed with his trademark Reebok Classics (or maybe he reserves them for TV). The accessible nature of darts makes it possible to find such trivia so easily - there are no layers of minders and media in your way.   

And when he's not winding himself up on the oche, Ted Hankey seems like a genuine bloke. He actually delayed the start of his own game by watching his old mate Co Stompe on another board, which was a nice touch.

Like "The Count", Stompe has also returned to the BDO this season. An interesting move considering he was still in the top 64 of the PDC. Starting at the bottom of the BDO, he'll have to win a lot more games in order to get paid this year.

And also like Hankey, he perished early on. With Ted shouting encouragement from behind the barrier, an increasingly tense Stompe scraped through 3-2 in an absolute thriller against Greg Vonlienen, only to then be completely outplayed by Karel Sedlacek in the next round.

Having been hammered by Lakeside veteran Paul Hogan in his World Championship debut this year, Sedlacek went on to do well in the World Trophy a month later and really showed what he could do here with an 11-dart leg and a bull finish to win three legs to nil.

On the face of it, World Champions and big names being knocked out so early may look surprising, but as players will often remind you during interviews in the major tournaments, it's a different game up on the stage than it is down on the floor. It sounds a bit cliched but you can totally see what they mean once you're there yourself, and the results certainly proved it here.

Andy Fordham was another former champion who was knocked out way before even having a sniff of qualifying. He'd have had to have won six matches to qualify (if it wasn't for a bye in the first round, it would have been seven), but only won two. Although his scoring looked a bit patchy, you'd fancy he'd have done better if it was on the big stage over a longer format.

And it's the format that's a big factor here, as well as the different atmosphere. It's only really on TV that darts is a gruelling marathon played over multiple sets - what you see in the qualifying is more true to what the game of darts generally is.

Best of five legs wins the early qualifying rounds, and the best of seven wins the latter rounds if you get that far. Imagine how gutted you would be to lose 3-0 in the first qualifier? 15 minutes of action if you're lucky, and you may not have even thrown a dart at a double.

When you look around the room and see players representing Japan, USA, Canada, Holland etc., you can only admire the dedication. Some would say it's complete madness, but having seen it first hand, you can understand the attraction. Everyone's in the same boat - there's an obvious camaraderie, probably borne out of not earning enough money to justify it half the time, but just loving the craic.

And if you have a hot streak in the qualifiers - or more precisely, a series of hot streaks in a series of different qualifying tournaments (ideally winning 20-30 games in a season) - and then successfully manage to adapt your game and mindset to cope with the big stage, the TV lights and the long format; then you might just make a living out of it.

Of the four mens' qualifiers (Wayne Warren, Mark McGeeney, Richie Edhouse, Stefaan Deprez), only Mark McGeeney and Wayne Warren have appeared on our TV screens before, so it remains to be seen whether any of this chosen few will make the step up to the big time (see the mens' qualifiers below).

Left to right: Mark McGeeney, Wayne Warren, Stephen Holland (BDO Events Director), Richie Edhouse, Stefaan Deprez

Richie Edhouse looked on fire when he toppled Sven Groen (the man who defeated Ted Hankey and who certainly looks like a feisty enough character to do some damage in a big tournament some day), so we will follow him with particular interest come the World Trophy-proper in February; along with the qualifiers for the ladies' tournament, Rhian Griffiths and Maud Jansson.

Watching darts qualifying is not something that most people would be doing on a school night - it's not something we'd ever done either to be fair - but it's a genuinely unique atmosphere which you just wouldn't find in any other sport, and it's actually quite a bit different from even a day at the TV stages of a major darts tournament.

It gets particularly surreal as you get nearer the final qualifying matches, when 50-odd boards becomes four or five, where you can see players who may literally be playing for their livelihoods having to concentrate above the sound of drunkenness and laughter wafting across from the bar (sometimes from the players who got knocked out earlier).

Even if you don't need to find out what brand of trainers Andy Fordham is wearing these days, there is still plenty to experience from a night at the qualifiers - we could thoroughly recommend it. Now bring on the World Trophy!

Review: Mike Boorman (follow him on twitter here)