The dream of playing darts on the big stages begins at an events center in the north of England. Conferences, weddings and concerts take place in the Metrodome of Barnsley, a small town in the triangle between Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. There is a bowling center, a fun pool and various other leisure activities. However, the best dart throwers in the world meet here regularly, almost unnoticed, to measure their strength at the so-called Players Championships.
It is a contrasting program to tournaments such as the European Championships, which begin this Thursday evening in Dortmund. More than 23,000 tickets have already been sold in advance for the four days of the event in the Westfalenhalle. It will be loud and there is a lot of money to be made, half a million pounds will be paid out, the tournament will be broadcast by TV stations and streaming services worldwide. In Germany alone, there are two providers with Sport1 and DAZN.
The Players Championship tournaments, on the other hand, are the professionals’ bread-and-butter business. Far away from the public, the 128 tour card holders play their winner in knockout mode. Winning the first round is worth £750, the round of 16 is worth £2000, a semi-final is worth £4000 and winning the tournament is worth £12,000. The PDC organizes 30 of these events per year, 22 of them in Barnsley, and thus offers the players beyond the top 16 a basis for profit.
Tournaments 25, 26, 27 and 28 were held in Barnsley last week and for once it was the Germans who made headlines in the Metrodome at the final tournament on Sunday.
It lasted until the third round, with only 32 players remaining in the competition, before the first of the five German players on the professional tour were eliminated. Martin Schindler and Florian Hempel gave up and lost to two compatriots. With Gabriel Clemens, Max Hopp and Ricardo Pietreczko, three Germans made it into the round of 16, the latter two even in the top eight, and for Pietreczko, who has been on the professional tour since this year, it was only over in the semifinals. From a national perspective, probably the best overall record of all time.
A lot has happened in this country in recent years. The German quintet is now completely in the top 100 of the Order of Merit, the unofficial world ranking calculated on the basis of the prize money won over the past two years.
In July 2022, for the first time in history, two Germans, Gabriel Clemens and Martin Schindler, made it among the 32 participants in the World Matchplay, the most important tournament after the World Cup. At the World Grand Prix, a prestigious major tournament with a field of 32 at the beginning of October, Germany was represented by a duo for the first time thanks to friends Clemens and Schindler. And already in January Clemens achieved a German premiere as a Masters participant.
Respectful successes and development steps that document that the direction is right. In order to put the sport in the spotlight outside of the constantly growing darts scene, German tournament victories or at least triumphs on the big stage against superstars such as the Dutchman Michael van Gerwen, Peter Wright from Scotland or the Welshman Gerwyn Price are required. And they are rare.
Clemens was eliminated from the Masters after his first match, the UK Open took place from the round of 16 without German participation, and the German duo also lost at the start of the World Matchplay and World Grand Prix. While no one could have expected the 26-year-old Schindler to take part in his second year after qualifying again for the professional tour, Clemens continues to live up to his nickname.
The “German Giant” has been Germany’s number one for more than two years. A pattern of consistency that keeps him in the top 25 of the Order of Merit. The 39-year-old rarely disappoints, but consistently misses the step among the top 20 players in the world. A giant, yes, physically and athletically. But only the German one.
Nobody knows better than himself what a big victory can trigger. After Clemens had thrown the defending champion Wright out of the tournament at the World Cup in December 2020 and thus became the first German in World Cup history to reach the round of 16, there was fever in his next match 2 .5 million Germans watched on the screen as the 39-year-old from Saarland lost to Poland’s Krzysztof Ratajski in a dramatic match.
The EM would offer the right stage to create one of those special moments again. Thanks to the label, the attention is higher than at other major tournaments. Although the event, which was played for the first time in 2008, is by no means a classic European championship like in other sports. Rather, the European Darts Championship is the final tournament of the 32 best players on the 13-event European Tour.
The fact that this is actually a better Germany series shows that the home of the “German Giants” has long since arrived at the top of the arrow throwing market, at least as a market. Seven and thus more than half of the tournaments took place between Hildesheim and Munich. And at the last event of the series in Gibraltar the weekend before last, the players celebrated farewell to the monkey rock. The tournament has to give way to another lake location next year: Kiel.
The fact that the “EM” is being held in Dortmund is also no coincidence, but reflects the great interest Germans have in darts. There will be no such thing as a half-empty hall over several evenings in the Ruhr area, as was the case recently at the World Grand Prix in Leicester.
Even if Clemens, number 22 in the world, and Schindler, currently number 37, were able to qualify once again, the favorites are once again the others: “Michael van Gerwen played great darts and the Premier League, the World Matchplay and the World Won a Grand Prix so I guess he’s the favourite, but Gerwyn Price and Peter Wright have also been brilliant at times,” says defending champion Rob Cross: “They’re all in the other half of the draw – but in my half is Luke Humphries, the four European Tour Events, UK Open Champion Danny Noppert and the likes of Nathan Aspinall and Michael Smith who have been in many TV finals this year.”
The two Germans, on the other hand, are not only blatant outsiders for Cross in their opening matches on Friday evening. Schindler meets the Portuguese Jose de Sousa, number six in the Order of Merit. Clemens got it at least as hard with the Welshman Jonny Clayton, seventh in the world rankings.
Max Hopp was responsible for the greatest German success in the history of the European Darts Championship with his entry into the semi-finals four years ago. In 2018, the only two German tournament victories on the PDC tour were achieved. Hopp won the German Darts Open, a European Tour event, in Saarbrücken and the Players Championship 19 in Dublin. It’s been a long time.
Dortmund would be a welcome opportunity to end the four-year losing streak, but it looks as if the German fans will have to be content with the improved quality for the time being.
Thursday, 6.45 p.m.:
Dirk van Duijvenbode (NED) – Madars Razma (LAT)
Ryan Searle (ENG) – Martin Lukeman (ENG)
Danny Noppert (NED) – Andrew Gilding (ENG)
Rob Cross (ENG) – James Wade (ENG)
Luke Humphries (ENG) – Krzysztof Ratajski (POL)
Nathan Aspinall (ENG) – Josh Rock (NIR)
Michael Smith (ENG) – Karel Sedlacek (CZE)
Damon Heta (AUS) – Vincent van der Voort (NED)
Friday, 6.45 p.m.:
Dave Chisnall (ENG) – Stephen Bunting (ENG)
Dimitri van den Bergh (BEL) – Daryl Gurney (NIL)
Joe Cullen (ENG) – Ross Smith (ENG)
José de Sousa (POR) – Martin Schindler (D)
Peter Wright (SCO) – Ryan Meikle (ENG)
Gerwyn Price (WAL) – Rowby-John Rodriguez (AUT)
Michael van Gerwen (NED) – Chris Dobey (ENG)
Jonny Clayton (WAL) – Gabriel Clemens (D)