"When Bobby started winning," says Gabby, "he'd play a lot of exhibitions in pubs. He had to go up to Scotland on the train once, and he complained that he was gonna be bored. I told him to get a book, and he said, 'I can't read.' He couldn't read or write. People would ask him to sign an autograph To Mandy or To Patricia, and he'd ask me how to spell Mandy or Patricia. He educated himself."
Today George writes a monthly column in Darts World, does color commentary for BBC2 at the Embassy and enjoys—in his spare time—what he calls the "booze, fags and cars" lifestyle that darts has afforded him. He has, in other words, no complaints.
Then again, what is there to complain about? All the arrowmen are staying in a hotel adjacent to the Lakeside supper club. The hotel lobby has two bars. One is called the Lounge Bar. A sign on its door says, THIS BAR IS FOR HOTEL BUSINESS GUESTS ONLY. DARTS PERSONS USE PENINSULAR BAR. THANK YOU. Across the lobby the Peninsular Bar—whose sign has been modified, by Darts Persons, to read PENIS BAR—is full at 11 o'clock in the morning.
When I ask Hankey how he will prepare for his semifinal, he says, "I'm gonna lie in bed with a sandwich and watch the darts on the telly, and if anyone phones up for an interview, I'm gonna tell 'em to f—- off." Fair enough.
Still, the Count graciously agrees to remove his darts shirt—like a bowling shirt, or the shirts once favored by Ferdinand Marcos—and do a brief roll call of his manifold Dracula tattoos. "That's a Drac, that's a Drac, that's a Drac, that's a demon, and that's for me," he says of the tattoo on his right arm that reads DONNA. The full-length Dracula on his back, alas, is but one third complete. (Fordham, in addition to his Reaper tattoo, has, on his right forearm, a skull and the name BOB. I don't ask.)
Fordham versus Hankey is the second semifinal on a Saturday afternoon. The first semi is won by John Walton, whose nom de darts is John Boy Walton. "Fordham wants him banned from darts," emcee Fitzmaurice tells the crowd, "and the reason is—get this!—he doesn't drink." Lusty boos lap up at the stage.
Moments later Walton is serially drinking pints backstage. "I don't drink," he explains, "before matches." Which nevertheless makes him, in darts, a teetotaler.
Walton is the rare arrowman who can abstain before a match and win. "Any one of those guys goes out there without a drink, and he'll do nothing," says Mary Nolan, Gabby's wife. Yet the arrowman must also know when to say when.
"I played Colin Monk here once," notes Fordham, "and I got him drunk beforehand." Fordham won that night.
Such "windups"—the head games played before matches—are often more memorable than the matches. "One that sticks in me mind," says Mike Gregory, who lost the most dramatic Embassy final ever, in 1992, "happened at the Old Nun's Head pub in London." Gregory played all comers in exhibition matches, occasionally for a few quid. "There was this bloke named Jake," he says. "Jake the Snake. He said, 'Before we play, we're gonna have you on a bit.' I thought, O.K., the usual, here come the strippers. But the bloke brings out an albino python and hangs it around me. I'm deathly afraid of snakes. He says, 'You've had the baby, now meet the da,' and he brings out a 13-foot boa. These are the things people do for an advantage."