IT’S never as glossy as it looks on the telly.
Go to The Lakeside Club in Surrey, they said.
Report on the 2009 World Darts Final between Tony O’Shea and Ted Hankey.
And avoid drinking one-hundred-and-eighteee pints of Frimley Green’s finest lager.
As I was both driving and writing to a late evening deadline, my alcohol intake remained at zero.
The reporting bit was going to be a bit more problematical.
How do you sum up the phenomenon that is the BDO World Darts Final?
Like me, you may have seen it on TV and thought it was a rather lively event.
Nothing can prepare you for the reality.
I’ve covered big sporting finals at Wembley and Wimbledon.
Been on battleships, lifeboats and swooping military helicopters.
Stood at the sharp end of major stories from royal weddings and funerals to bombings via the shock departure of Mrs Thatcher from Downing Street and eventual later arrival of Tony Blair.
And stared serial killers like the Yorkshire Ripper in the face at historic Old Bailey trials.
But I will never forget the noise inside The Lakeside Club.
Deafening does not do it justice.
With a 1,400-strong audience just the right side of hysteria.
As you can read in today’s MEN news story here, they were queuing for hours before the doors opened at 4pm yesterday ahead of the 6pm final.
You can also see a photo gallery here.
I gave up noting down the different types of fancy dress after the four guys dressed as Thunderbirds’ characters walked in just behind several Mexican bandits, the girl cowboys and a number of escaped convicts.
By 5pm the club staff were already busy keeping things tidy in the arena, returning mile high stacks of now empty plastic glasses to the bars.
The Lakeside – not to be confused with a shopping complex in Essex – is a 1970s’ time capsule from the days when your cabaret came with chicken in a basket.
Looking around the room, perhaps it still does.
Upcoming attractions later this month include “Cornish King of Comedy” Jethro and The South of England Magic Convention.
Half close your eyes and you can almost see Gene Hunt standing by the bar, pulling fabricated evidence from a hat.
Before settling down to steak followed by Black Forest Gateau, washed down with a vat of Mateus Rose.
This was its big night of the year, under the eye of some three million TV viewers.
As the tables filled with people and the temperature soared, the trays of lager grew even wider.
With the booming music turned up to maximum.
Look towards the stage under the golden chandeliers and you could just make out a dartboard.
Framed by a set which appeared to be modelled on a once popular circular children’s memory game.
Even those sat near the players would have problems seeing them score.
Hence the need for five big screens dotted around the arena, relaying the main BBC2 coverage.
Presenter Ray Stubbs sat with darts legend Bobby George at a table in the middle of the audience to introduce the final on camera.
The television team soon found themselves hemmed in by placard-waving fans.
Then handing over to Master of Ceremonies Martin Fitzmaurice, microphone in hand on stage.
It was left to him to whip up the final frenzy.
Calling out to the crowd: “Are you ready?”
Everyone joining in with him as he completed the mantra: “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s…play….darts!”
The arrival of the two finalists was pure panto for grown ups.
Especially the theatrical entrance of Ted, dressed in his usual Dracula outfit.
Those lucky enough to have tickets for this night, sold out almost a year in advance, were already on double top of the world.
Before even a single dart had been thrown in the final.
There are plenty of critics who fail to see the point of darts.
It’s a pub game, they wail – firing slings and arrows in its general direction.
Tell that to anyone inside The Lakeside last night.
Like a cricket Test match, five set tennis thriller or snooker marathon, darts repays the investment of your time.
Drawing you into the drama.
With even hardened sports reporters in the press room on the edge of their seats as the final went down to the wire.
Immediately outside was the Players’ Lounge – again, not as glossy as it sounds.
Basically a bar, some fading carpet and several dartboards in a line on the wall.
It reminded me of The Rovers Return in the final days of Annie Walker’s reign.
It was there that I grabbed Tony for an interview just moments after he came off stage.
By now sporting a Stockport County scarf around his neck, he acknowledged the best player on the night had won.
While world champion Ted nipped out the fire exit for a smoke.
The once packed press room was almost empty when I took my leave at 10pm.
As was the deserted Lakeside arena, aside from workmen de-rigging TV lights and other equipment.
The party had moved on, with taxis queuing outside to collect the final few stragglers.
All I’d had to drink was several cups of water.
But walking through the darkness of the car park, I had a huge smile on my face.
So let’s raise a glass to a sport that knows how to enjoy itself.
With doubles and trebles all round.
Click on the link to today’s TV feature below, which also features a pic gallery and audio files, plus scroll down on this page to see more images.