A world record crowd for a darts event will flock to Leeds’ First Direct Arena tomorrow when the Betway Premier League rolls into town.
Remarkably, more than 10,000 tickets have been sold to see the likes of Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, Adrian ‘Jackpot’ Lewis and reigning world champion Michael ‘Mighty Mike’ van Gerwen do their stuff on the big stage.
Perhaps second only to the Tour de France, the darts is one of Leeds’ most eagerly-anticipated sporting occasions of 2014 – and not just by the fancy-dress clad fans who make the Premier League a unique night out.
“I am really looking forward to it,” said two-time world champion Lewis, who will cross swords – or arrows – with Scotland’s Robert Thornton in tomorrow’s second match.
“I have done a couple of exhibitions in Batley with 1,000 people there and they were noisy. With 10,000 in, it is going to be special.”
Unlike the rival BDO, the PDC – which runs the Premier League – encourages audience participation and Lewis is relishing the atmosphere which will be generated tomorrow.
“You just have to stay focused,” he said, of playing in front of a football-style crowd. “The atmosphere makes the Premier League special – it is more like a party atmosphere. We are selling out our arenas and it is always noisy. The fans come to have a few beers and a good night out. It brings the best out in you, you expect them to enjoy themselves and you want to put on a good show for them and have a laugh with them.
“When I started in the 2004-05 season I never expected it to grow the way it has done. It is growing all the time and it is fantastic what Sky TV, Barry Hearn, the PDC and the players have done – it is great for us all.”
The fun in the crowd aside, Premier League is a serious business for the players. Lewis – who won the recent Coral UK Open in Minehead – said: “It’s our second-biggest tournament, in terms of prize money, to the World Championships. I need to beat Robert Thornton and that will make me safe from relegation, then I can look forward to moving into the top-four and staying there.
“The Premier League is a great roadshow, it is good to take it to different cities every week, but you are playing top players all the time and you can’t afford to have a dip in form, otherwise you get turned over.”
Lewis was in Yorkshire last weekend, hitting a nine-dart finish – a perfect leg of 501 darts – in a Players’ Championship at Barnsley. “It was good to win the UK Open,” he said. “That’s the first major of the year and it’s good to get the first one on the board – then I can go on and try and win them all. The nine-darter was nice and I had a couple of chances for a couple more. That shows your form is good, if you are having shots.”
A nine-dart finish – from any of the players on show – would be a perfect way to celebrate Leeds’ Premier League debut. Lewis said: “There hasn’t been one yet, which surprises me, so you never know – it would be good to do one in front of that crowd.”
Lewis and the other players were due to arrive in Leeds today, but they will not be lingering long after tomorrow’s tournament. While the fans nurse any hangovers, the competitors will be heading for their next event in Crawley, Sussex.
Tomorrow’s fixtures are: Dave Chisnall v Simon Whitlock, Robert Thornton v Adrian Lewis, Gary Anderson v Michael van Gerwen, Wes Newton v Phil Taylor, Peter Wright v Raymond van Barneveld.