A few weeks ago Olly Croft presented the trophies to the youngsters playing in the annual BritishTeenage Open and the Inter-County Youth KO Cup. Most of the kids weren’t even a twinkle in their dads eyes when Olly started the BDO in 1973, but they all knew him on that day in Kettering.
I call him God (the Godfather of darts) and they probably call him the Guv’nor because without him they wouldn’t be enjoying the game they love so much today. Right from the very start he recognised that the youth mattered, and he encouraged them to learn their trade for low entry fees or no entry fees at all.
His vision back then (almost 40 years ago) was to make ‘organised darts’ accessible and affordable for everybody, no matter how good, average, mediocre, or useless they were on the oche.
I remember him telling me that he used to go out playing darts (he was a useful player by all accounts) and noticed that everyone in the pubs in and around Muswell Hill loved watching darts – especially good darts being played by ‘ordinary’ but talented players who played for the love of the game.
In those days he was a successful man (some say a millionaire) in the tile-fixing business, but when he go the darts ‘bug’ nothing else mattered. The only thing is, he was frustrated that there didn’t seem to be any proper organisation. Players then used to turn up, put their name on the chalk board and then play the previous winner when their name was shouted.
This was no good to Olly, so he started to turn players into teams and then into leagues and later branched out into counties. All this was done with like-minded darts nuts like Sam Hawkins and Dave Alderman from Olly’s front room in Muswell Hill (the same house where he lives today).
His vision then was to make darts a universal game, and when the BDO was started in 1973, it still wasn’t the end of his ambitions. Far from it! Three years later he founded the World Darts Federation and he and his beloved wife Lorna visited 29 countries spreading the ‘gospel’ of darts – spending their own money and investing their own time to make it happen.
That was (and still is) Olly’s motto: ‘I make things happen’. And he always has.
He has been Secretary General of the WDF for 35 years and today over 60 countries are playing competitive darts thanks to Olly. His proud boast is that not a minute goes by without someone, somewhere, playing darts in the world.
He helped the Kicks family of Winmau Dartboard fame to launch the World Masters in 1974, and is proud that it is now a TV favourite and the oldest established major event in World Darts. Winmau have also been the BDO’s longest serving sponsors, and Winmau boards are endorsed by the BDO and used in all BDO tournaments.
In 1978 he revolutionised televised darts by persuading tobacco giant Embassy to sponsor the very first World Professional Darts Championship, and it has been shown annually on BBC TV ever since. That one tournament has brought countless millions of pounds into our sport, and multi-million audiences have created the massive popularity that darts has enjoyed ever since.
Olly made darts a huge TV sport and as a result the players became household names....Bristow, Wilson, Lowe and even George!
He took the World Pro to Lakeside in 1986, when he and Tony Green persuaded a sceptical Bob Potter that darts was bigger than any of the cabaret shows he put on that famous stage. It’s been there ever since and when tobacco sponsorship was banned by the Labour government in 2003, Bob Potter’s respect for Olly was such that he took over the massive sponsorship and has done so ever since.
As we all know, Lakeside is now the most famous venue in BDO world darts and again, the sport has got Olly Croft to thank for this.
Olly Croft has done it all and got the t-shirt. He put BDO darts tournaments on practically every TV channel. He ‘invented’ the multi-board system and was using music ie. national anthems and flags, Elaine and Lesley Croft were the first ‘walk-on’ girls as such and every other innovation to make darts more watchable.
And don’t forget, he’s the only darts administrator to be awarded the OBE for his services to his sport – which he managed to get officially recognised (unanimously) by the sports councils of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1995.
The man is a legend, but if you are wondering why I am saying all this then I have to go back to those presentations in Kettering, because no one knew then – least of all Olly – that just a few weeks later, at the AGM of his beloved BDO that he would be cast aside with scant respect by the very county representatives that would never have been there without him.
I wasn’t at that meeting, but I do know that Olly has given his entire life to darts. He’s never missed a BDO meeting. He’s never missed a World Pro, World Masters or any other BDO event for that matter, and he has sacrificed his family life to serve the sport he founded and loved.
I was astounded when someone told me that on the very day that his late wife, Lorna, passed away after a long and painful battle against cancer, he was at a BDO meeting.
If that isn’t dedication, then I don’t know what is.
But it doesn’t matter now, because he didn’t even get enough votes from county representatives to remain on the BDO Board he has served for 38 years. How sad is that?
Well, he may be gone from the official side of BDO darts, but he’ll never be forgotten by me and the thousands of players of yesterday, today and tomorrow. His proud legacy is that the BDO and WDF he founded have combined to make darts a global sport.
I just hope he’ll be able to sit back and take things easy from now on, but knowing Olly as I do, I can’t see that happening!
This is my personal way of saying thank you to Olly Croft, OBE.
Arise Sir Olly and Gord Bless you!