SPEAKING PERSONALLY: Ralph Mellon

Ralph Mellon
Ralph Mellon
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EARLIER this year, we said a sad farewell to one of darts’ greatest figures, Jocky Wilson.

Last week, another was laid to rest – Sid Waddell.

He had been a true collector’s item for decades and there’s a real sadness that those excitable, exuberant tones will not be heard again.

He was right there at the start, when darts lumbered out of the pubs and on to our television screens in the early-mid 1970s – and how lucky we fans were.

To describe Sid as a commentator is rather like saying the Titanic was a boat.

If ever someone’s enthusiasm for a sport rubbed indelibly off on you, Sid was the blueprint.

He was instrumental in bringing ‘The Indoor League’ – with darts and other pub games – to ITV regional screens, while ‘World of Sport’ saw the potential and occasionally screened some of the larger tournaments.

But when the BBC joined the act with the first ever World Championship, in 1978, darts was with us. There were only three terrestrial TV channels and late-night darts was in our homes for the better part of a week.

The subsequent years saw Sid positively radiate with those legendary linguistics. His humour and the viewer’s disbelief at what he/she was hearing soon proved an intoxicating blend.

The players could have hit nine-dart legs every time – but if Sid was commentating, that didn’t matter.

The greatest ‘Sidisms’ have thankfully been recorded in classic anthologies but there are many other cherishable turns of phrase to choose from.

In the days before the lurid shirts, flamboyant showbusiness entrances and mesmerising camera angles, it was difficult to equate the steady, often expressionless action on stage with the wild, unrestrained mayhem going on the commentary box.

The Radio Times once stated the box door had to be removed from its hinges – because Sid kept kicking it in.

A Cambridge graduate in modern history, he became equally well known for peppering his darts dialogue with references to famous figures.

Alexander of Macedonia, William Tell, Elvis Presley and Sigmund Freud were some.

He liked to play around with the Bible too – once suggesting a player recovering from near-certain defeat would be “the biggest comeback since Lazarus”.

On another excited occasion (were there any other kinds?) he reckoned dark forces might be summoned to help an American in need of a big score.

When the thrower, Jerry Umberger, duly hit a 180, Sid proclaimed: “The Devil will be laughing!”

Not being a Sky customer, I hadn’t heard Sid live and unleashed for some time.

Earlier, he’d grown disenchanted with the BBC over the dwindling of its darts coverage to basically just one event a year.

As a big fan in my mid-teens, I remember one phrase he always used when the action warmed up – “It’s a real belter of a darts match!”

Try saying it yourself and packing some exaggerated Geordie convolutions into the syllables. It’s fun – as was Sid.

Ralph Mellon writes in the East Fife Mail.