The TV commentator who elevated darts from tap room to the top in Blackpool will be sadly missed in the resort he loved, as Jacqui Morley reports
PEOPLE came from far and wide to the World Matchplay Darts Championships in Blackpool to see the players – the international kings of oche.
But they also came to hear “magic” Sid Waddell, the Sky TV commentator, whose razor sharp wit hit the bullseye every time.
Sid, 72, who lost his battle against bowel cancer, become the voice of the everyman sport, taking it from the tap room to the top.
Not for him the inanities of the Olympian broadcaster who gushed after one British success: “If you thought the life cycle from tadpole to frog was amazing, it’s nothing compared to the miracle here”.
Nor was he part of the campaign to establish darts at the 2012 Olympics. He conceded it still struggled to win recognition as a sport.
But he did sign up for the campaign for a super casino in Blackpool. “It would give the real working class people the chance of a job and would be brilliant here,” he said. “Manchester has enough stuff there already.”
Waddell was in a wordsmith league of his own. Take such classics as “Bristow reasons; Bristow quickens; aaaah Bristow!” Giant of the sport, Eric Bristow, hails him the “clever, mad Geordie”.
Darts players on the Fylde’s amateur darts circuit have been as keen to pay tribute to Magic Sid as the professional players he helped elevate to household names.
As Layton player Mike Thompson, 69, puts it: “His sense of timing didn’t even let him down at the end. He went out on the biggest sports high we have seen since the World Cup victory in 1966.”
The world of sport lost one of its most distinctive voices at a time when the eyes of the world were upon a London Olympiad.
Here in Blackpool, Sid was in his element, at home in a sport which appealed to the arrows-and-a-pint crowd and a growing legion of big name players such as this year’s World Matchplay winner Phil “The Power” Taylor (who has his own waxwork at Madam Tussauds) and Blackpool-born star Wes Newton, who lives in Fleetwood.
Sid knew Blackpool well, having filmed documentaries here as a TV producer. He helped pioneer the split-screen technique in the 1970s, player and board showed simultaneously. He also produced entertainment and children’s shows in the resort starring Brian Conley and Norman Collier.
Sid knew the World Matchplay would be a massive success here, even at the height of summer.
“Blackpool is the perfect place – and the Winter Gardens is to darts what the Maracana is to Brazilian football!” Blackpool, he said, brought out the “best in the field”.
More than 30 of the world’s top players slugged it out amidst the ornate surrounds of the grade one listed Winter Gardens.
Sid’s battle against cancer became public last year. Yet it’s little more than a year since he was last here, holding court at the Sky TV microphone at the Winter Gardens.
His zest for life showed as he stole some time out to visit York racecourse to promote a Sky card scheme. He also marked the card of Dutch dart player Raymond van Barneveld, who turned up without his darts.
Sid had a soft spot for Blackpool, seeing it as the spiritual home of darts. Nowhere were games “so dramatic” or fans “as knowledgeable”.
Fans reciprocated, applauding him as much as the players. Bristow recalls how Sid had such cachet, Stephen Fry and Andrew Flintoff wanted to sit alongside him.
Sid’s cutting humour had been carved out of his dad’s coal mining roots in Ashington.
His rugby career was cut short by injury. He was also a champion sprinter. But it was his mouth that ran away with him and turned him into a cult commentator.
In Blackpool, in 2000, he became hissing Sid, having strained his vocal chords singing karaoke on the Winter Gardens stage with player Jamie Harvey.
He once almost lost his trousers to an over zealous darts groupie. “She gave me a big hug and as she grabbed hold my trousers started falling down. It’s a wonder I wasn’t arrested.”
Rather than rely on sound bites, his off-the-cuff remarks revealed an intellect honed at Cambridge University. Facts crammed to graduate in history emerged in surreal form. He compared a bemused Bristow to Alexander the Great. “When Alexander of Macedonia was 33 he cried because there were no more worlds to conquer. Bristow’s only 27.”
Blackpool scored a bullseye with the oracle of the oche.
He quipped of the Empress Ballroom: “This place makes the Sistine Chapel look like a scout tent”. He hailed the Winter Gardens a “temple of top tungsten”.
Five years ago, here for the Holsten Premier League Darts, 2,500 fans hung on every word.
A survey showed 37 per cent of men had never thrown a dart. Others headed like arrows to cheer their heroes on and barrack Sid’s fellow presenters who couldn’t, as he put it, “keep up”.
He said of one: “He starts out looking like the man from the Pru. By the time I’ve finished he leaves looking like a tramp.”
jacqui.morley@blackpoolgazette or tweet @ jacquimorley