Micheal Smith world title caps rich history of darts in St Helens - a long way from £300 in a brown envelope

John Yates recalls how the borough’s darts scene was kick-started in places like Bold Miners’ Club by 1980s world champions paid a few hundred quid.

When Michael Smith was crowned PDC world champion earlier this week, my mind immediately flooded back to the early 1980s - an era in which darts was considered in some quarters as small fry.

But not in the mind of St Helens visionary Frank Cunningham, who spotted its global  potential and launched the UK darts organisation and persuaded world champions, such as John Lowe and Keith Deller, to the Bold Miners’ Club to display their talents against local lads.

I am not suggesting Big Frank, as he was affectionately known in the borough, was the only St Helens darts enthusiast who helped spread the gospel in the borough but he certainly helped its development and had he still been with us today he would have been as pleased as Punch by the massive strides the sport has made in the past couple of decades, crowned by Bull Boy’s 7-4 victory over Dutchman Michael van Gerwen.

Money is now awash in darts but that wasn’t always the case as I know from personal experience. I was left with the task of handing Lowe his fee after one St Helens exhibition night in a sealed envelope containing £300.

Today’s mega rich players would have said ‘thank-you’ and just stuck it in their pocket but not the three-times world champion. Not only did he open the envelope on the spot but counted it three times in front of me to ensure it was all there!

Fast forward to 2023, and more than 1.5 million viewers watched Smith lift the world title at the Alexandra Palace.... and receive prize money of £500k.