The ‘fruitcake factor’

A first experience of darts as an arena sport

Walk through Manchester’s bustling Northern Quarter and you’ll witness a vibrant mix of people: unique clothes, alternative music — just a little ‘different’.

However, when I arrived at Manchester Arena ahead of March’s Darts Premiership matches I saw an even more diverse and unexpected range.

I was surrounded by teletubbies at the box office, a group of bananas at the bar, and five jockeys taking their seats inside the arena.

In fact, I felt a little underdressed in jeans and a jumper — maybe something more colourful and incorporating a wig would’ve been better.

I’d never been to see a single darts event in my life — not even in a pub — so I didn’t know what to expect of the evening ahead.

And it turned out to be a really fun evening!

Unavoidable atmosphere

The chanting, singing and ‘one hundred and eighty’ ringing throughout the 21,000 capacity arena was completely infectious.

If I’m honest, I picked up the lyrics to a lot of the songs after about five minutes.

It felt like I’d been warmly welcomed into a big party full of families, groups of friends and happy couples.

And the nicest part?

Not everyone was necessarily a huge darts fanatic.

I think that was the main source of enjoyment for me.

Not once did I feel I couldn’t enjoy myself because I didn’t understand darts, or know who many of the competitors were.

Initially, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but when I chatted to master caller John McDonald he described its appeal perfectly.

‘It’s a great success story, I can’t put it down to one thing. It’s like a fruitcake — if you took the butter or the sugar out of it, it wouldn’t taste as good — you need all of the ingredients to make it what it is.’

And that was it, explicitly.

Remove any single element from the evening and it wouldn’t have worked.

The action, the fun, the drinks — everything added to the atmosphere.

And the result?

An arena absolutely packed with happy people.

All part of the fun

I’m a big sports fan in general, and have been to a variety of matches and events.

But with the darts, I couldn’t help but notice how different the interaction between the players and spectators was, compared to other sports.

Before taking to the stage the players were chatting and taking pictures with fans, laughing and joking like old friends.

It removed the ‘barrier’ between spectator and sportsperson, proving the ‘fruitcake factor’ which John McDonald had explained earlier.

I can’t imagine the night feeling the same if the contestants had distanced themselves from us, the audience.

I’ll admit some doubt before attending — ‘am I the right kind of person to be going to the darts?’ was my initial thought.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I don’t think I’d say I was a spectator at the darts that night — more like a guest at the biggest party in Manchester.

When the strobes stopped, the lights game up and we bundled outside across the dartboard mask covered floor.

But the night didn’t end there — it was time to extend the party to the bars and pubs of Manchester, right on the doorstep of the arena.

Will I go again?

Absolutely — but I think I’ll be raiding the fancy dress box before I do!

Experience the unique atmosphere for yourself — Premier League Darts ticket and hotel breaks available now.