It’s World Matchplay time in Blackpool again

The Winter Gardens stages its 23rd World Matchplay
The Winter Gardens stages its 23rd World Matchplay
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The Winter Gardens holds a special status as the longest-standing venue used in Professional Darts Corporation tournaments, having staged the BetVictor World Matchplay since the event was introduced in 1994.

The famous barrel-vaulted ceiling of the Empress Ballroom has created a unique atmosphere for the prestigious darts event, which is televised worldwide every year and gets under way for the 23rd time tonight.

Each year sees great competition from players to win places in the 32-man field, in which 16 qualifiers join the top 16 in the world rankings for what many openly admit is their favourite tournament, including the 15-time winner Phil Taylor.

Taylor, 55, is the only player to have appeared in every World Matchplay and he has lost just seven times in 22 years, making the Winter Gardens his second home.

“It’s my favourite,” says Taylor. “I enjoy the World Matchplay more than any other tournament.

“I seem to be relaxed there. It’s close to home for me because I’ve got a place just around the corner and I love the area.

“I love the Winter Gardens. It makes you concentrate and try hard, because the darts fans who come there are very knowledgeable and they know exactly what’s going on, so it’s one of those tournaments you want to play well in.

“The O2 is probably the biggest venue we play in but the Winter Gardens is my favourite of everywhere we’ve been.”

Six-time finalist James Wade, the 2007 champion, echoes those sentiments about a venue where he too has enjoyed great success.

“It’s my favourite tournament and favourite format,” says the world number six.

“The crowds are amazing and so is the venue. It’s a lovely thing to be involved with.

“The crowd are there to have a good time but they have a good time while watching the darts.”

Rod Harrington, now a Sky Sports pundit, was the first back-to-back World Matchplay winner in 1998 and 1999.

“People book holidays to come to Blackpool to watch the darts and it’s a great crowd,” said Harrington. “The arena’s unbelievable – the big, high ceiling and a lot of character and history.

“I love Blackpool. The stage there was always good to me and I’m really looking forward to a good event.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of upsets in the earlier rounds because of the form of all the players.”

Former World Champion Keith Deller, who now manages world number four Adrian Lewis and is part of production team at Sky Sports, who will again televise the event, added: “The venue’s fantastic. The atmosphere is always great and every session is like a final these days.

“It’s a brilliant atmosphere, like a holiday atmosphere. But in the players’ eyes it’s the second-biggest ranking event.

“It’s a massive tournament and a favourite for the players, but you have to remember that you’re not there for a donkey ride or an ice cream – you’ve got to do the job right.”