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Andy Fordham: A New Dart, A New Start

Some darts players are known tinkerers – forever tweaking the barrel design, or the length of their shafts or flight patterns. Others, like Peter Wright have no qualms about swapping to completely different sets even during a tournament.

For others though, the connection between player and dart is akin to snooker players and their cues and cricketers and their bats. Separation anxiety doesn’t even begin to describe it.

2004 BDO World Champion, Andy “The Viking” Fordham, is one such player. Now, having used the same set of darts for more than three decades, the world’s most likeable player is making a change. And it’s a wrench.

I met Andy one grey morning at the end of January. We’d arranged via text message and email to meet up and talk about his new Winmau range of darts. As agreed, I called him when I arrived at Charlton train station and five minutes later he picked me up. It’s a little surreal when a World Champion and legend of the game winds down a car window and calls out “Hello Mate, jump in” but it really happened.

Soon we are sat in a nice, quiet South London pub, appropriately by the dartboard. “I met my wife, Jenny, in this pub 38 years ago,” says Andy. “She was sat over there,” he adds, nodding to a seat across from the bar. “Back in those days I was a bit of a biker and me and my Mates used to meet up in here. She complemented me on a part of my body bikers spend a lot of time sat on!”

As we sit down with our drinks – an alcohol-free beer for Andy – he takes two sets of darts out of his pocket. The first is an incredibly battered set of short, bullet-barrelled darts. The second set is clearly brand new.

“I started playing darts when I was 19 or 20,” says Andy, waving the well-worn set of darts in front of him. “I was a good footballer then. After games and training we used to play darts in the Angerstein Hotel in East Greenwich.

“The darts team was short one for a match and asked me if I would fill in, which I did. I was rubbish but from then on I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough of the game. I played all the time. Even when Jenny and I had a small flat, she’d be watching the telly and I’d be there in the same room throwing darts – thump, thump, thump. Drove her mad,” says Andy with a smile.

Despite that inauspicious start, Andy soon found the technique and form that would go on to win the Winmau World Masters and the BDO World Championship, not to mention countless other tournaments and titles.

But what about the darts – the ones that Andy was still waving around in front of my face?

“I’d been given a set for my 21st birthday but snapped the point off one of them. I was due to play in a county match for Kent up in Wolverhampton – I’m going back probably 35 years ago now – and saw a set of darts for sale on a charity stall. I bought them for £3.

“My first game was against a Scottish international player called Steve Parks. I threw a 13 darter in the first leg and have used them ever since.”

I’ve no reason to doubt the story – Andy is one of the most honest people I have ever met – but a closer inspection of the darts backs him up. They are worn almost smooth in places and the barrels are covered in nicks and dents – battle scars from thousands of games.

“I don’t even know who made them,” says Andy. “Over the years I’ve tried and tried to get a second set without any luck. They started off weighing 21 grams but over the last 30 odd years they’ve worn down to about 18 grams now.”

It sounds a little soppy I know, but sitting in the pub, holding the world championship winning darts across the table from one of the game’s legends is a little humbling. It goes through my mind that Andy’s connection, not to mention success, with his bargain darts must mean that he guards them with his life.

When I put voice to my thoughts, Andy’s reaction is surprising. He bursts out laughing. “You must be joking. I’ve left them stuck in a dartboard, or on tables, for hours, or just thrown them in the corner when I’ve lost a game,” he says. “I’m amazed they haven’t been lost or stolen in the past and thinking about it now makes me go cold.”

So why now then, after years at the top of the game, would Andy want to change the darts that have been an integral part of his success and his career for nearly forty years?

“The truth is that my old darts have just about had it,” says Andy. “They have worn to inconsistent weights and the grip has gone. Chris White, one of my sponsors made me realise that having just one set of darts is crazy given the amount I play all over the country and Europe.”

On our second drink now, I’m left with no doubt how difficult a decision it was for Andy to give up his tried and trusted darts. Absent-mindedly he’s sitting across the table moving them in his hand, gripping and un-gripping them.

Being given the task of providing the replacement darts must have been just as daunting. Here is a player for whom his set of darts have transcended beyond being a piece of equipment. Andy turned to Winmau, his main sponsors for 12 years, and set them the challenge.

“I’ve been involved with a few darts manufacturers over the years, but I’d never move from Winmau. They are like family. When I told them I needed a new set of darts they wanted them to be right every bit as much as I did.”

At last Andy puts down his old darts, gently on the table, and neatly parallel to each other, and picks up the other, new set of darts. Though completely different, the similarities are also immediately obvious. The new darts are 90% military-grade tungsten and are finished in a black Onyx coating. Like the old ones, the barrels are bullet-shaped and the main gripping area – picked out in white – comprises a series of six quite thick bands. Unlike his original darts, a second gripping area made from five much finer shark-tooth bands, is located at the back of the barrel.

Like other professional players in the Winmau stable, Andy has spent countless hours with the company’s technicians perfecting his new darts. “I didn’t realise just how much of my grip holds the back of the dart until I spent some time with Winmau’s boffins,” admits Andy. “As a result, they have made the barrel a few millimetres longer.”

“I have tried other darts in the past, of course I have,” says Andy. “I tried a set with a much longer, more tapered bullet barrel, but they flicked up in the air when they hit the board.”

At this point Andy stands up for the first time and walks to the oche. “I like my darts to strike the board level,” he says between throws, “so I can work above and below the darts in the board. These new darts fly through the air great.”

As if to prove his point, he throws an effortless couple of 140s and a ton then sits down again. “I was never one for a lot of practice,” he says with a laugh.

Though clearly delighted with the end result, Andy admits that breaking the bond with his old darts is tough. “It’s all in the head, I know it is,” he says. “If I threw my old darts away, or lost them and had no choice but to play with the new ones my life would be so much easier.”

However, now, having made the commitment to his new equipment, Andy’s game continues to improve. “I do loads of exhibitions up and down the country and they are a great proving ground. You play lots of games, many of them against good players.”

Currently ranked 30 by the BDO, Andy was unlucky to just miss out on an appearance at the 2017 Lakeside World Championship – a tournament he, not to mention the rest of the darting community, is clearly desperate to participate in again following an absence of 10 years.

The first big test for Andy and his new darts will be the Dutch Open this weekend – an event that Andy was preparing for when we met, and which can be viewed live and for free via Winmau TV on Sunday 5th February from 12:30pm Dutch time: http://www.winmau.com/sec/1391/WINMAU_TV/

“The Dutch Open is an incredibly hard event to win simply because of the huge number of entrants,” he says. “I’ve made the decision to leave my old darts at home so I can focus on competing with the new ones. It’ll be the first time in 35 years that we’ll have been apart!”

Andy’s new steel tip Winmau darts are available in 23 and 25 grams, and 18 grams in soft tip. For more details see http://www.winmau.com/det/2603/andy_fordham/

Written by Richard Saunders of the Wokingham Independent Dart League

Date : 02-02-2017

 

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