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Bellies & Bullseyes by Sid Waddell

Release date: 15th September, 2007
Publisher: Ebury Press

List Price: £17.99
Our Price: £10.70
You Save: £7.29 (40%)
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Bellies and Bullseyes
By Sid Waddell
Ebury Press price: £10.70, saving £7.20 (40%) on rrp

Sport has undergone innumerable changes over the past few decades. A combination of sponsorship, broadcaster's cash and wall-to-wall coverage has propelled a variety of sports to the forefront of our national consciousness and created a plethora of opportunities for commentators and 'expert' analysts.

We all have our favourites - from John Murray and Ian Robertson on Five Live to Martin Tyler on Sky - wordsmiths whose descriptions enhance the action - although even these guys must contend with repetitive input from their 'expert' sidekicks. But there is one commentator who requires no accompanying analysis, a "Mincer of the English Language" who has made an indelible mark on a game which, thirty years ago, was limited to local pubs and clubs; it is, of course, the incomparable Sid Waddell.

Having started his career as a television producer, creating that epitome of seventies television, The Indoor League, Waddell's gravely tones, unbridled enthusiasm and dulcet Geordie vocals turned him into the voice of British darts. He has been described as an emir of eloquence, a prince of peroration (actually, he hasn't - but reading this fine book convinces the reviewer he should be), although in truth, he is a man who happened upon his perfect job at the Irish Centre in Leeds.

Sid Waddell's cast of characters and wonderfully pacey narrative make this a book worth snaffling before early Christmas shoppers clear it from the shelves.

His descriptions, laced with wonderfully boozy anecdotes, are a joy. He paints the perfect picture of Welshman Leighton Rees, a man replete with "a Bobby Charlton comb-over, a giant beer belly and a thirst to match" and an ageing Eric Bristow as being "like an old cowboy with his beans and saddle sores on his bum." On being asked to commentate live for the first time, Waddell finds himself "shaking like a novice whippet before its first handicap".

As a Cambridge-educated historian, it was perhaps no surprise that darts' sub-culture, which Waddell began unearthing during the early seventies, fascinated him. It was a time when the game's biggest prize was £400 and a hi-fi, but in between his descriptive memoirs runs an important adjunct to British social history. It might not have the range of E. P. Thompson's History of the English Working Class but Waddell's knowledge of darts and the people who play it qualify this work as the game's first written history.

When he initially appeared on television, critics had no idea of how to cast Waddell. Rugby League commentator Eddie Waring had been accommodated for years, but the role of the man behind the microphone was still limited to those whose received pronunciation ensured they secured the finest commentary jobs. Nor did his opening gig on Sportsnight with Coleman go according to plan; having managed to get references to Shakespeare, Milton and Rod Stewart into his commentary, he was carpeted until the BBC2 Controller applauded him for the finest piece of commentary he had heard in ages.

Towards the end of his autobiography, Waddell declares, "I have always said to anoraks and knockers that darts can be monotone - 180, 140, 180 - and it is up to we voice merchants to joke, extol, bellow or hiss to get over the inherent drama." He is being far too modest, for in a sporting world increasingly populated by 'voice merchants' of indifferent quality, Sid Waddell is right at the (double) top, a veritable viceroy of verbs, a nawab of nouns, the undisputed king of sporting expressions.

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