Darts 3: The British Invasion

Although some American servicemen undoubtedly learned to play British style darts during World War II, there was no big postwar boom in that version of the sport. The invasion began about 1960, and was mainly the work of immigrants from England and Ireland, abetted by some American converts.

American Style Dart Board
American Style Dart Board
British style dart board
British style dart board

The Southern California Darts Association (SCDA) was the first organization of English-style darts players. Organized in the late 1950s or early 1960s, it was made up entirely, or almost entirely, of expatriates living in and around Santa Monica. Among its earliest known American members were Tom and Della Fleetwood. With much help from his wife Della, Tom Fleetwood was the leading force in the explosive growth of British darts during the 1970s and into the 1980s.

Tom Fleetwood became an SCDA board member in 1969 and was the organization’s president from 1972 to 1974. He was a co-founder in 1976 of the American Darts Organization (ADO), which became a charter member of the World Darts Federation the following year.

The SCDA inaugurated the North American Open Darts Tournament (NAODT) in 1970, with about $2,000 in total prize money. Fleetwood not only sent information about the tournament to Philadelphia, the center of American-style darts, he sent equipment and advice on how to play the British version of the sport.

The event attracted 250 competitors from four states, California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. By 1974, the number of competitors had doubled and prize money had increased to $10,000. The last NAODT, in 2000, had more than 2,000 entrants annually from a dozen countries. The tournament was then replaced by the Professional Dart Council’s Las Vegas Desert Classic, which offers prize money of more than $200,000.

As noted, some competitors from Pennsylvania took part in the first NAODT, but the beginning of British style darts in Philadelphia is usually dated in the late 1970s, when Charlie Young began promoting it in his Silver Bar. By the early 1980s, Philadelphia area shooters had been pretty thoroughly converted to the British game.

After Southern California, though, Cleveland was the second center of British darts in the United States. The Cleveland Darts Club was founded in 1969. Steve Farkas and Tom Yurcich were among the charter members. In 1973, they began publishing International Spider, which was distributed nationall and helped spread the word. Another CDC member, Steve Warner, also helped with his long essay about darts in the August 1973 Atlantic Monthly.

The growth of British steel-tip darts leveled off in the mid-1980s, when electronics darts machines arrived on the scene, and has since declined. The SCDA hit a peak of about 400 teams with 4,000 members in 1983. Currently, it’s down to about 40 teams and about 300 members. So-called “soft-tip” darting is governed by the National Dart Association, which was founded by the Amusement and Music Operators Association (AMOA), a trade organization of coin-operated vending companies. The NDA has members from 11 countries.

The American Darts Organization has a membership of more than 300 associations with a total of about 75,000 players from all 50 states. It’s the only U. S. organization recognized by the World Darts Federation.

The American Darters Association (ADA), which was founded in 1991, conducts competition in both steel-tip and soft-tip darts. Based in Lake St. Louis, Missouri, the ADA operates the American Dart League for professional players in 25 states.


Darts History

  1. British Style Darts
  2. American Style Darts
  3. The British Invasion