I don’t know anything about professional darts. Still, if you ask me if I want to attend an international dart tournament in Warsaw, the answer is unequivocally yes. I don’t need a reason to go anywhere, but it pleases me if I can find an unusual one. For me, the PDC International Dart Tournament fulfilled this completely.
My husband’s friend, Alex, and his fiancé Jen would be flying in from Korea to meet us in Warsaw and attend the dart tournament that night. Alex, a dart fan, was bitter that he only had tickets for the first night, not the finals (they sold out immediately). We didn’t share his concern as newcomers to the game. After brief naps and showers, they tried to shake off their jet lag for the event that evening.
Before we came to Warsaw, I shared the promotional photo on social media to see if anyone had any tips for the city or my first dart tournament. I received none. When I looked at the men in the photo, they looked like they could slam some beers. Men with sausage breath who could fart as long as your leg. Alex told me that once a tournament had fart interference, with the two players blaming each other for the stench. Gary Anderson of Scotland and the Dutchman Wesley Harms claimed to be the smellers and not the fellers, each saying the other interfered in the tournament by stinking the stage up.
We arrived an hour ahead to find an already long line. One thing about PDC darts is the fans are encouraged to wear costumes. The sillier, the better. Sadly, we did not have time to secure any but I love any excuse to wear something ridiculous. Standing in line for admission, there were many people wearing beer hats, hats in the shape of dart boards, Pikachu hats that lit up, sombreros, mouse ears, crowns, and rainbow-hued mohawk wigs. For full-body costumes, there were pigs, tigers, an Elmo, a dinosaur, a crew of escaped prisoners, one convincing Jack Sparrow, the pope, and Mario and crew, to name a few. The crowd was colorful, excited, and happy to be attending that evening, their accessories blinking and glowing in the purple stage light of the stadium’s interior.
When I am in a crush of visibly excited white people bellowing at a sporting event, I get anxious. I am not trying to single out white people here, as I am white. Still, I have flashbacks to whooping and hollering assholes at football games and then back to childhood in the Ozarks when recess was an excellent time for kids to beat the shit out of each other. A ring of clapping and yelling children, egging the takedown on, was all too frequent. If you were the reluctant gladiator in that hillbilly ring of despair more than once, you see the remnants of their joy in the faces of excited adult sports fans. We had already been shoved around in Warsaw upon arrival and in the city center so I braced for an altercation.
My fears were completely unfounded. The crowd was excited, not looking for a fight (they weren’t Americans, after all), and everyone was united in their deep love of darts. I must admit, before the evening ended, I fell in love with darts myself.
The set up for the arena is fans in the bleacher seats and at long tables on the floor, Valhalla-style, drinking beer and sharing in the experience. The announcer arrived with a burst of lights and horns and presented in the manner of Michael Buffer’s “Let’s get ready to rumble.” Throughout the tournament, an announcer growled the scores with the flair of James Brown. Dancing Dimitri Van den Bergh of Belgium entered the event via a fenced chute to the tune of “Happy” by Pharrel Williams. Fans crowded the corridor for high-fives and hugs. Once onstage, Dimitri does a little dance to please the crowd. His opponent, Karel Sedlacek, did not. Other players are more serious, but each has a theme song for entry to the tournament, usually a tune that gets everyone clapping along to the beat.
You immediately sense the intense pressure on the players. The matches move quickly, and the players must maintain precision and focus despite the crowd’s hollering. At the end of each game, no matter who wins, there is a refreshing camaraderie and good sportsmanship as the players shake hands and clap each other on the back. You get the sense they know each other well and would be happy to have a pint together.
“Ah, they’re friends!” I said to my husband.
The crowd chanted, whooped with each favorite player, and clapped their names in unison. The most popular tune to chant to was the bass guitar riff opening for “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes. A large man behind us, his belly swaying over our heads and half out of his shirt, kept spraying spit and starting the chant repeatedly in a deep, gruff baritone. I rose with the crowd each time and chanted along in an approximation of Polish. I still have this riff on replay in my head with the name, Krzystof Ratajski, superimposed. He was a Polish player who won his match, to the crowd’s joy, and spoke movingly about what it was like to win on his home turf.
After a few matches, there is a break, and a dancing skeleton on the big screen encourages everyone to get up and dance. The people at the Valhalla tables rise and dance together, their matching beer and light-up Pikachu hats bouncing as one. There are families, men and women on dates, and groups of dart bros out for a night of fun. While standing in line for a hotdog, I saw a father dressed in a pink pig onesie walking carefully back to his seat while holding eight beers by the rims, pinched in his fingers. His little boy, a fierce tiger, ran ahead of him.
There was one massive drawback to this event. The organizers needed to plan appropriately for the crowds. Long lines formed immediately to limited taps, moved at a glacier speed and were understaffed. My husband bravely stood in line for 50 minutes to secure our only beers and missed out on the first match despite our early arrival. Food was equally tricky.
I stood in what appeared to be a short line of four people for hotdogs for over thirty minutes. Two languid girls worked the stand. No matter how many hotdogs anyone ordered, the hotdog vendor removed them slowly from the packaging, one at a time, and dropped them into the hot water and then stood there staring off into her own world, far beyond the stadium. No more than one hot dog was in process at any moment, as if it were going to be a masterpiece, a one-of-a-kind wiener. The line was resolved to this, and the young women were remarkable in that they never once broke the molasses pace or expressed any interest in the customers.
Even if you know nothing about it, try the championship darts. The events are broadcast live, and if you can get a group of friends together to see it in person, you will not regret the experience. It is intense to watch, and the crowds are fun. Be sure to wear a costume. More than one Pikachu or pope went home that night envisioning themselves as the next dart champion of the world, and the accessibility of the sport levels the playing field enough that, for some, that dream can come true.
- Even if you are allergic to sporting events because of negative past experiences, try attending a competition in a new sport. You may be surprised by how much you enjoy it.
- Attend a sporting event while you are traveling in another country, even just another state. The contrast between what you experience at home and elsewhere may surprise you.
- Go out and grab a pint with your friends and try some darts!
- Learn more about PDC darts here: https://www.pdc.tv/