Photo by Michael Warren (mike warren; Flickr CC)
Darts in Berlin hasn’t really moved on from its troglodyte phase. It is a game played by grunting men in darkened caves whose extremities are no longer visible through the thick smoke and whose speakers produce such hellishly garish noises it becomes impossible to even remember anything about what music used to be like before you entered the Kneipe. This makes me happy.
There is a culture of boozers in this city that is dying out with its patrons and matriarchs, and it breaks my heart. I’d rather not drink in a bar, or a cafe. It doesn't need to be life affirming, if I wanted that I would be sat in the park looking at the autumnal changing of the colours of the leaves. Instead I choose to watch the beautiful circling yellows and burnt oranges on the tips of the first and second fingers on my right hand. It doesn't need to have “charming” furniture rummaged from the best flea-markets. A good Kneipe needs a couple of tables, a couple of chairs and a crappy plastic dartboard in the corner that mutters away to itself about high scores from the past and games available in a future that none of the patrons within can even bare to imagine. This is darts.
It is different in the West, presumably where darts remains as a hangover to the drunken nights of thousands of British squaddies stationed near towns like Bielefeld. There, their clubhouse holds hundreds for big tournaments and their team is feted across Europe. Well, sort of. But there is a movement in German darts, inexorably creeping to the point when there will be a German champion of some kind at the sport, and it will explode, just like tennis did post-Boris Becker.
Maybe this champion will be Max Hopp – because it is seen as necessary that a darts player not only has a nickname (an entirely laudable goal that is sadly lost from modern professional sport, I think we deserve more nicknames), but it has to be a clunky sounding Americanised Grrrrrrrrrrrrr sort of nickname. He is the Maximizer. Max Hopp looks more like a German 16-year-old boy than anyone I have ever seen before. He has that clumsy, not sure where my extremities are anymore, look about him. He is swathed in puppy fat that will surely turn into manly fat, and has the most indeterminate haircut in Western Europe.
I shouldn't mock him. Max Hopp is not only, according to himself, “Mentally, very strong”, but he has just been the second youngest competitor in this year’s PDC World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace. He qualified by eviscerating a field of German, Dutch and Belgian players at that very club in Bielefeld a few months ago, and even made it to the second round in London after beating the highly rated young South African Charl Pietersen on Monday.
He will be almost certainly be back next year to play in the World Championships, to play in this gurning Valhalla of drunken, idiot Gods who still dress up as Ali G and whose shrieks to spur on their finest arrowsmen involve belching out “Stand up if you love the darts”, instead of actually sitting down and watching the darts. He is a lucky man.
This is a different era for darts. It has to have the skinny women with push up bras, it has to have the theme songs. Even the nicknames are going downhill. But then they all do when one looks at the king of them all, the greatest German darts player who never was, Mario “the Nobody” Masurka. Masurka is remembered only for the fact that in 2008 he was on the verge of something massive during his match against Colin Rice. He was about to hit gold, to break the sound barrier, to win the lottery all at once. He was about to finish a frame in just nine darts.
Masurka was about to play the perfect game.
177 followed 177. “Nobody” sidled back up to the board; he needed 147 from three darts to become only the second man in PDC history at that point to do this in competition. Treble 20? Boff. Treble 17? Thunk. Mario eyed it up, and hit exactly the spot he was aiming for with his final dart, he had made history, he thought, and went mad, screaming with joy, crying with pride and happiness. The crowd though had gone silent. He had landed a double sixteen instead of a double eighteen. He was still four short. He had got the maths wrong.
They tried to change Mario’s nickname after that match, but to me, and to everybody who didn't know he even existed, he will still always be the Nobody. One day Max Hopp could rise above even that.