Here's the rub, though: Sometimes the healthiest thing a body can do is get out of the sunshine, off the green grass, out of the fresh air and breathe in the opposite—air that is equal parts smoke, tension and BO. Only then will you rediscover what first drew you, as a child, to games. "A sense of 'umor is what's missing from sports, don't you think?" says Bobby George, the King of Darts, aspirating his h's in the Cockney accent of London's East End. "The footballers over 'ere 'ave all become prima donnas. Same in America: You don't get the 'umor in sports. Americans 'ave to win everything. Darts aren't about that. Darts are about 'avin' fun. Darts are about the craic, [the good time you have] with your mates down at the pub."
So they are. So come with me. It's a beautiful day—much too lovely to spend outdoors.
"You can walk into most any pub, get a free set of darts from behind the bar and make friends for life," says Irish publican Gabriel (Gabby) Nolan, who left Galway for England when he turned 21, in 1968, to pursue his dream of driving a red London double-decker bus. He did so for four years, and it was a great gas. But then Gabby aspired to manage a pub, and he took classes and wound up pulling pints at the King George in Essex. Which is where he became mates with Bobby George, who sat at the bar for much of the mid-'70s, occasionally answering the telephone just to make it stop ringing.
"King George?" the callers would say.
"Speaking!" George liked to reply.
"And that's how I got my nickname," George says. "The King. King of Darts."
Indeed, George was, for some time, the King of Darts, a two-time winner of the News of the World world championship, a tournament—now defunct—that once drew 17,000 spectators to the Agricultural Hall in north London. By the late 1970s the News of the World had moved to a raucous London dance hall, the rough-and-tumble Alexandra Palace. Soon the News was usurped, in prestige and prize money, by the Embassy worlds, where players and spectators alike can (and do) bet at the on-site bookmakers.
"Dennis were an 80-to-1 shot when he won the Embassy in 1991," says Alan Critchlow, manager of the great arrowman Dennis Priestly. "He got �24,000 for winning. And I won �28,000 betting on him. The next day the bookie sent a big Rolls Royce 'round, and the driver took us to Ascot. They were trying to get their money back. They took a right canin' on that one."
Every face and every place in darts appears lifted from a Guy Ritchie film. George, 55, never threw a dart until he was 29. "I dug tunnels and laid granite floors," he says. That explains his square physique, which supports three pounds of gold jewelry, including a ring on each finger of his left (or nondarting) hand. The chain around his neck would be more suitable on the tires of a snowplow. Not surprisingly, George is up for a role on the soap opera EastEnders. "They want him to play a character," says Gabby Nolan, "who is like himself." Which is to say, a working-class hero, for George is universally considered—in the vernacular of the East End—"a good guv'nor."
That's how he fell into darts. "One night a guy in a pub was bein' a bit of a bully," says George. "He was bullyin' people who couldn't play darts, and I said to 'im, 'You're a bit of a bully. You're out of order.' He said, 'Oh, yeah, can you play?' I said, I never played the game in me life. I'll play you for �50.' The guy was the best player in Barkingside. I beat him. Within a year I was the local masters champion. I had a gift."