When I tell someone I love darts, the standard response is either “dance? As in ballroom?” or “Wonnnn Huuuuundred and Eeeeiiighteeee!”
Somewhere in the darting timeline, referees came to personify the essence of darts – fun, enthusiastic and eccentric. There are people that have never watched darts who are still able to mimic the gravelly tones of Russ Bray. Referees have become a staple in the darting world, not just for their quick maths, but for their personalities and quirks. Despite this, few people actually know how important they really are.
I caught up with Huw Ware, the youngest referee ever to referee a World Championship, at just 18 years of age. He is part of the new generation of referees coming through the ranks, and by the sounds of things, he’s not a bad darts player either.
“I was playing for my County youth side but the regular caller didn’t turn up, so I volunteered to help out,” he tells me. That was when he was 14 – by age 17 he was doing televised tournaments.
It’s easy to watch the darts on TV and forget about the referee. The pressure they might be under is often overlooked, because usually they deal with it very well, but it’s clear from talking to Huw that it isn’t as easy as it looks.
“For the Lakeside I’ll do some vocal preparations two weeks before the tournament and directly before a match it’ll be a case of preparing mentally,” he explains. It sounds remarkably similar to a player’s pre-match routine.
So what exactly does the referee do? Is it all about quick maths and a loud voice?
“The job itself requires a lot more than just maths,” says Huw, “It requires the style and authority that may be needed from time to time. Aside from calling the scores, we have to ensure the rules are abided by, and make sure nothing interferes with the player’s throwing, like shouts from the crowd.”
I was also interested to learn more about spotting. For those of you who may not know, the spotter is the person who tells the cameramen where the player is going to throw next. The likes of Eric Bristow and Keith Deller are regular spotters for the big tournaments.
“It’s a massive part of covering darts and is often understated… it involves knowing all the different ways that different players like to go.”
Huw also explains to me that poor camera work isn’t always the spotter’s fault. “A spotter can say ‘Double 16’ all he likes, but if the director cuts and the camera is pointing to Double 4, that’s not the spotter’s fault.”
In most sports, the referee is doing a good job if no one notices there’s a referee. They are there to silently monitor the game, intervening only when required. Darts is different. The referee has become a key character in the darting world, with personalities as exuberant as the players themselves. They should be noticed, but only for the right reasons.
“I think the worse thing is when the player miscalculates, because you’re more likely to question yourself first than the player,” Huw adds.
It is a sentence that neatly summarises the kind of pressure the job involves. When hundreds of thousands of pounds are on the line, the referees are still telling the players which double they need, still entertaining the crowd, and still making darts the sport it is today.
Credit for the interview goes to Live Darts.