Whoever would have thought that toeing the oche and chucking a few arrows at a dartboard could make you a millionaire?
Time was when players like Leighton Rees, the first world champion in 1978, earned more by playing money matches down their local club than they did in national competitions.
A few handshakes, a few more pints of beer and a couple of quid in the back pocket were deemed a right royal reward by men who were happy just playing in the Pub
Rich pickings: Champion Adrian Lewis had a bumper pay day in an event full of Christmas glamour
Even when the likes of Eric Bristow, John Lowe and Jocky Wilson enjoyed the 1980s terrestrial television heyday, fame far outstripped fortune.
Welcome to the new sporting gentry. As the Ally Pally throws open its doors to herald the seasonal opening of a latter-day Christmas tradition — the Ladbrokes PDC World Darts Championship — those stepping up on stage to the strains of all manner of walk-on anthems now earn more than the majority of the fans bellowing their support.
Total prize money on the PDC tour stands at £5million a year. Back in 1993 when the world’s leading 16 players set up the organisation to arrest the decline being presided over by the sport’s governing body, the BDO, they were lucky to share £100,000 between them in 12 months.
It means they need be electricians, publicans and tree fellers no more. Well, not unless they want to be — like Mark Webster. A semi-finalist for the past two years, the 28-year-old Welshman still works part-time as a gas-registered plumber in Denbigh. While money is the only thing most of his competitors would like to smell in their day jobs, Webster finds unblocking drains and pipes rewarding.
Almost giving up the day job: 2008 BDO champion Mark Webster is still a practising plumber
‘I don’t work as frequently now, maybe four or five days a month, but it’s a nice distraction,’ Webster said. ‘When you’re having a bad time on the dart board, as I did for a few months this year, it can stress you out. Doing the plumbing makes me forget about the darts.
‘I’ve been quite comfortable this year with my darts earnings, but I always tell myself there is something to fall back on. That helps.’
Webster, the 2008 BDO world champion, appreciates the financial struggles others have fought in order to give darts its nouveau-riche status.
One of those is fellow Welshman and another BDO champion Richie Burnett, whose chronic decline in form in the years which followed his 1995 success ultimately led him to the dole queue. The two men face each other in the pick of the first-round matches.
Getting in the spirit: The event last year was full of Christmas glamour
Webster said: ‘I remember Dennis Priestley telling me how in the first world championship after they broke from the BDO, they struggled to get 24 players. The prize money was quite low then, but the gamble paid off because the money in the PDC is unreal now. I’m one of the lucky ones. I came into the sport at the right time.
‘It’s great at the minute. The viewing figures say that, apart from Premier League football, darts gets the best viewing figures on Sky. You can’t ignore that. Hopefully it will keep going and going.’
Webster will be privately thankful he is in the bottom half of the draw — the one without Phil Taylor in it. His main rivals for a place in the final for the first time appear to be the enigmatic James Wade and defending champion Adrian Lewis, who has rarely repeated the form which saw him throw a perfect nine-dart leg when winning the title 12 months ago.
Taylor, beaten by Webster at the quarter-final stage last year, once again bestrides the event. Only once since his first world title in 1990 has he gone more than a year without recapturing his crown.
His 15 world titles during that span will never be matched but, even at the age of 51, he is still favourite to add to that tally in the darting fiesta which takes in Christmas and the New Year before the winner walks away with another £200,000.