Media professionals, celebrity darts fans and many others can often talk a good game. But few can actually find the time or then enthusiasm to throw their own tungsten. Helen Chamberlain is different:
For over two decades, fan Helen Chamberlain was the co-host of Soccer AM on Sky Sports – the irreverent, slightly chaotic, fan-based, and fan-led Saturday morning football show.
However, it’s not just football that ‘Hells Bells’ adores – and in particular Torquay United – the Somerset-born presenter has always loved the arrows.
Her love for tungsten begins as so many others do, Helen said: “I was a child of the 80’s. Growing up in those days, everyone watched the darts on the telly over Christmas.
“We only had three channels back then so the World Darts Championship was a massive event for the family. All the great icons were there – Eric Bristow, John Lowe, Jocky Wilson, Bob Anderson – massive household names.
“I was 15-years old when Keith Deller came from nowhere to beat Eric Bristow in the 1983 final. I thought it was brilliant and taped it on VHS.
“You have to remember, these were the days when there were only a couple of telly tournaments a year – and no YouTube or anything. So you had to tape games you wanted to watch again.
“We did have a board in the house. It hung in the utility room and would be ignored for eleven months of the year until the worlds came round.
“Then, we’d all obsessively play for a few weeks only for it to be abandoned again until the next one.
Helen’s playing days didn’t begin until a few years later whilst living and working in Torquay.
“I was a DJ and one of my regular places was a bar called Rosie O’Gradys. I popped in for a drink one night and the landlady was acting all shifty. She handed me a folded over bar menu hissing “sign this … quick sign this”
“I opened it up and hidden inside was a registration form for the ladies darts league. There was a game that night ready to start but they were two players short and would have to forfeit the game if they didn’t find one more.
“They didn’t know or care if I could play, they just didn’t want to concede the game. So I wandered over with the landlady, who had to pretend I’d been signed up since the start of the season, and said my hellos.
“That league was double in so one of the ladies carefully explained exactly what that meant by running her finger around the outside of the board showing me precisely where I should be aiming. I tried not to laugh, just nodded, then stepped up and plopped my first dart square in the D16.
“Ok, so that was bit of a fluke but I won all the games I was involved in that night – even though I did end up on D1. The team asked me to come back again, so that was that – I was now a league player!
“The following season I was poached. The captain of The Dolphin called and asked if I’d be interested in playing for them. I was flattered, so joined.
“There were various tournaments throughout the season and the singles was the one everyone wanted. A woman called Sheila had won it for years – best player in the league, no one could beat her.
“As the tournament progressed, I kept getting through … and getting though until eventually I was the final…. against Shelia.
“I won the first leg even though I’d completely forgotten they’d made a stupid rule that it was flying start – except the final. I kicked off with 100 and heard ‘no score’ because I didn’t ‘double in’!
“In the second leg, I left 64 for the title. I hit two single 16s then, because I didn’t want to mess it up, deliberately aimed outside of the double wire – but it went straight in D16.
“For two seconds there was absolute silence followed by my team erupting and hollering the place house down whilst Shelia was offering the limpest of handshakes to this 20-year old upstart.
“I would have defended my title a year later if the tournament organisers knew how to work out byes properly. They made a right pigs ear out of it leaving three girl to compete in the final.
“As there were two of us from The Dolphin, they just made us playoff . I lost but was the better player – so I blame the admin for that!
“My team-mate won the final so we retained the trophy at the pub. But it irritated me every time I looked at it as I should have won it back.”
Frustrating indeed. But unperturbed, that chase for further silverware wasn’t too far off the horizon for Helen.
Twenty years had passed since the Dolphin days. So, now living in Surrey with her ark of animals and a darts case gathering dust, Helen decided it was time for a return to the oche. The hunt for a team was on.
And that is how Helen found an eclectic bunch of ladies with a Cara, a Sara, a Shelia (not that Shelia) Marge, Phyllis and brandy swilling Joan.
She said: “After a search around social media, I found West Byfleet Ladies just up the road. They were appealing for players so I went along one night.
“We had a fabulous mix of gorgeous ladies in our team. I loved Phyllis so much – 80 odd-years old and tiny. She she’d been playing darts for about sixty years with her late husband Len.
“Absolutely everyone knew and loved Phyllis. She called everyone darlin’ and for her it was all about the social side of it, chatting to all the people there – even during games.
“Phyllis wasn’t often selected for the singles as we were buggered if she ended up on any double at the top of the board. She couldn’t reach up there, and if she did, the chalker had to pull her darts out.
“My doubles partner at West Byfleet was Joan. Two things you should know about Joan – she would get one in the wall, one in the tyre and one on the board – and really loved her brandy.
“I’d give her a lift home after matches and would have to steady her up the garden path while she was giggling away to herself insisting she hadn’t had many and that it must be tiredness.
“In my second year on the team, I won another singles tournament. You only entered one person from each team so there was a bit of pressure to do well.
“The woman I played in the first round – I’d never seen before. She was really good so when I beat her she turned round and said “I came here to win this.”
“I got to the final and knew my opponent. I also knew I should win – and I did, hitting a 180 in the first leg too. I was the 2012 Woking and District Ladies Single Champion.
“Once again, I was head-hunted! This time by Chobham Ladies who had convinced me they were putting a team together to win the league.
“Our greatest triumph came when we entered the summer league which was an open one. It had a few mixed teams but mainly just men – and we won it.
“I remember at the presentation night, when we were announced there was just a light smattering of applause. I don’t think it went down to well. Ah well.
“I’ve not played for a few years now. But on rehearsal night for the World Seniors up on the Circus Tavern stage, Roland Scholten handed me his darts and I hit a T20 with my first one. So who knows, maybe I’ll be sniffing round for a new team again soon!”
Good for you Helen!
Images: Tip Top/WSDT and Chris Sargeant.
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