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PDC Home Tour: We look back after Nathan Aspinall was crowned champion
Last Updated: 06/06/20 11:48am
So there it goes, the PDC Home Tour.
A 43-night jamboree that crowned Nathan Aspinall as its champion on Friday night, featured a nine-darter from a kitchen just outside Birmingham, internet struggles on the Isle of Wight and a national appeal for a better Wi-Fi connection for Gary Anderson.
Lockdown has confined most people to their homes, shorn of sporting entertainment and often in need of something new to watch - how many box sets can anyone actually sit through?
Darts has been a sport that has embraced the new normal, the virtual world and online interaction even before the trickle turned to a mini-flood of sporting returns over the last seven days.
It was perhaps fitting that on the day the PDC announced the World Matchplay would be taking place, the Home Tour reached its conclusion after 43 nights, 258 matches featuring 101 players and one heroic presenter.
Confirmation of the Matchplay venue and any hope for a crowd will come by early July as further government guidance is needed before serious plans for darts can be made but the last month-and-a-half has delivered in spades.
There were teething problems, but who hasn't taken themselves off mute in this current climate, whose internet hasn't buckled under the weight of expectation and who hasn't taken a bit of time to adjust to new technologies.
Darts players are notorious creatures of habit, but those from Australia, Canada, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Sweden and Hong Kong have joined the traditional hotbeds of England, Scotland, Wales and Holland.
It has provided memorable moments. From the world champion Peter Wright crashing out on night one, only to return on night 32 to progress to the second phase.
Luke Woodhouse's memorable nine-darter ensured the Home Tour's opening weekend had plenty of darting headlines for those onlookers intrigued by the prospect of some sport, any sport being on offer in lockdown.
The hardcore stuck with it too. Who could forget Kai Fan Leung and his dog 'Bauble' at almost 5am in Hong Kong, Ian White and James Wilson dueling on a night that featured more than 100 missed doubles.
Rowby John Rodriguez needing his neighbour's permission in Austria to play beyond a certain hour while Glen Durrant and Justin Pipe provided riotous entertainment as they mocked and laughed their way through the action.
Heroic NHS worker, and world No 30, Keegan Brown returned for a second crack after his internet packed up on Night 25. His return on Night 31 came after a night shift in a blood laboratory on the Isle of Wight and very little sleep.
As the tournament progressed the standard improved. Players grew increasingly comfortable with the set-up. None more so that Anderson who lost just once, but that defeat, to the champion Aspinall was to prove crucial.
Anderson's appearance on the final night also brough the revelation, that has been a touch urban legend until now, that his first nine darts thrown - ever - were 180, 140, 180.
As much as delays over the internet impacted on conversation for erstwhile host Dan Dawson, 100+ averages became the norm and by Wednesday we had our final eight. They included three former world champions, six of the world's top 16 and perhaps fittingly for a tournament of surprises, the little-known Belgian Mike De Decker.
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Championship night on Friday brought the title for Aspinall, with a high quality match against Gary Anderson in Game Four the deciding factor. The Asp still needed to win his final match and with every crucial 180, with every double pinned, the 'Come Ons' grew louder, showing you can't take the competitiveness out of a sportsman, even if he is in his kitchen.
Aspinall, who had been introduced by his daughter on semi-final night - take note John McDonald - embraced the spirit, enscribing his own kitchen plate with the tournament winner and threatening to return to his hot tub at gone 10.30pm to celebrate.
Online darts has thrived, from the Modus leagues that have brought us some of the sports rising stars and legends, to the bookmaker initiatives on soft tip boards that had brought in money for deserving charities.
Early in lockdown Dart Connect reported unprecedented levels of participation in online darts, players like Chris Dobey, Dave Chisnall and Aspinall have embraced the competitive practice nature of what this unlikely opportunity has presented.
Matt Porter, the PDC chief executive, told the Darts Show podcast in April they could have just produced a Premier League type event, selecting the best players, provided the selected few with top-of-the-range equipment and making something that might have looked better.
But they had a duty to all of their players during a period of unprecedented uncertainty across the globe. The spirit of the competition, its unique nature, and its hitches were all in keeping with the world we are all currently living in.
The PDC Home Tour captured the spirit of that. The interaction, the desire to just get on with things and, as with any sportsperson, the desire to win a title.
But more than just that, the concept won over the sceptics and kept everyone entertained - just ask Aspinall - looking on from his hot tub with kitchen plate sat alongside his UK Open and US Darts Masters title.
Some sports have seen their competitions perish, so darts should be applauded for finding a way. A way to keep its staff busy, its players engaging and its fans entertained - and journalists occupied.