I found out this week that my first ever darts captain, Norman Downs, passed away recently.
Norman was a friend of the family for many years and had played darts with my Dad, since the 1960’s. Norman was the first person to ask me to play for him, at the Bournemouth Parks Club in the Hants and Dorset League – that was about 1986. From then Norman and I moved around various different pubs and clubs in and around Bournemouth and Wimborne together, including CBB Parks, Homeguard, Bournemouth East Con, Merley Social Club and the Shoulder of Mutton.
Norman was pretty inspirational for me in the early days of darts and would pick me up every week for about four years until I had passed my driving test and started driving myself. He had faith in me and put me straight into the starting line-up at 14. I’m not sure how the rest of the team felt about that, but I certainly appreciated his faith.
He was always telling me how good I was and that was quite a lift for me at that age – he’d always play me at number one, presumably in the belief that I would get us off to a good start – and to be fair, I often did – no fear in those days! Another player on the team in those days was Doug Webber – Doug was a massive inspiration as well, always had a kind word and a fair amount of encouragement. “He’s a lovely player that Simon”, he would say, with a cheeky smile. Sadly Doug passed away about seven years ago as well.
Always a Tale to Tell
Norman always had a story ready about a heroic leg or match that he’d been part of recently or in the past – being the Bournemouth singles champion sometime in the 70’s or 80’s was a particular favourite of his. I never got to see Norman play in his pomp, which I imagine would have been in the 80’s, but I wouldn’t mind being half as good now as his stories suggested he was then!
The most impressive thing about Norman’s game was his ability to spin round as the winning dart was on its way to the board and have his hand ready for his opponent to shake! Not cocky or showy, just his way.
It always seemed to me that Norman was never happy not being Captain – I think he might have felt that it was a calling. He would try his best at every fixture to gain as much from the match as was possible, regardless of the odds. He would throw each of his players darts with them and feeling every disappointment with them. We were promoted (and then subsequently relegated) a number of times under Norman’s stewardship on a Thursday night in the Hants and Dorset league. I believe he may have been made a lifetime president of that league.
About five years ago, Norman had a number of mini strokes and became increasingly frail. It was painful watching him throw his darts and at times not even reaching the tyre around the board. At one match in particular, at Colehill cricket club, I remember him tripping over the oche and falling to the floor – he almost hit his head – it could have been really nasty. Shortly after that, my sister went to his house to pick him up for a Wimborne League match. She found him on the driveway – he’d fallen over and wasn’t able to get up because the drive was too icy.
It was soon after that he stopped coming to darts and we all lost contact with him. I found out he moved to live with his son further up the country. I also found out that he was suffering from Alzheimers – I feel bad now that my own troubles and concerns prevented me from contacting Norman and letting him know that he was still remembered with affection at darts.
Sorry for losing touch Norman and I hope you and Doug are chatting over old times now.