Darts fans made their eagerly awaited return for one night only on Tuesday, to take in the World Championship action at Alexandra Palace just before London enters tier three of the Covid-19 restrictions.
Darts halls have been empty all year and void of their usual high-octane party atmosphere due to the outbreak and spread of coronavirus in Britain.
In strange fashion fans returned in their dribs and drabs on Tuesday, to watch reigning champion Peter Wright and Co. in action before the doors are closed once more.
Wright certainly didn’t disappoint, making the most of the fleeting return of fans to make a big statement. Ever the showman, Wright entered the famous area dressed as none other than the Grinch, before sticking to the script and stealing Christmas from Steve West with a convincing 3-1 victory.
Fans return during day one of the William Hill World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace
The revered darts venue looked very unfamiliar with its spaced-out table and partitions
Reigning world champion Peter Wright stole the show by turning up dressed as the Grinch
Renowned for his showmanship, Wright surprised the audience and caused ripples of laughter
The 50-year-old held off the threat of a Steve West comeback to secure a convincing 3-1 win
He surged into a 2-0 lead before West, who had already beaten Amit Gilitwala in the first round earlier in the evening, threatened a comeback by taking the third set on Wright’s throw.
But the 50-year-old, who has been playing with a rib injury, regained his composure and hit straight back, fittingly winning with a double 10 – just as he did in the 2020 final on New Year’s Day.
London’s switch to tier three, as determined by the Government, means large gatherings for spectator sports are not permitted, along with a suspension on drinking in bars, restaurants and sporting establishments.
Photographers were on hand to capture the action on Tuesday, as fans filtered into the venue and were met with very unfamiliar sights.
The usual hustle and bustle of Alexandra Palace has been replaced with socially distanced spacing, one-way systems and sanitary zones.
Fans were permitted in for Tuesday’s action but cannot attend once London enters tier three
Fans were asked to remain seated throughout, though could consume alcohol as usual
The usual frantic energy and atmosphere was lacking as darts made a slow return to action
Fans were permitted to sit together in the small groups of those they had traveled with and consume alcohol and other beverages, with tables widely spaced out and in some cases cordoned off by sponsorship hoardings.
Top of the billing was reigning champion Wright, who recently admitted he has struggled hugely this year without the input of a live audience, while defending his title in darts’ isolated bubble.
The 50-year-old’s 2020 started with a bang as he won his maiden world crown, but he has spent the majority of his year as defending champion by playing in sterile bubbles in Milton Keynes and Coventry due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With his eccentric dress sense, which usually has a festive theme at this tournament, unique mohawk hairstyle and energetic walk-on, Wright is every inch the showman and feeds off playing in front of crowds.
He was looking forward to the prospect of returning to Alexandra Palace to defend his World Championship title in front of an audience, albeit not the usual sell-out.
But those hopes were ended with the news the capital and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire will face Tier 3 restrictions from Wednesday following ‘very sharp, exponential rises’ in coronavirus cases.
Reigning champion Peter Wright topped the bill, and admits he’s struggled without the fans
It means the event, which begun on Tuesday, will be played out to its completion behind closed doors and Wright, speaking before Monday’s development, said: ‘I am definitely looking forward to it, defending champion as well is going to be pretty special.
‘I have been down and miserable throughout this Covid. It is the same for all the players, we have all had to be in it and deal with it, being in the bubble and being tested every week, having sticks shoved down your neck and up your nose.
‘It is horrible doing that and the hotel do their best by mixing up their food, but you are just having the same food all of the time, it just drives you nuts. You are not allowed out.
‘I didn’t handle it really well, I was glad on the last day of the three weeks there, I was glad to go home, I was going nuts.
‘We had a little crowd in the European Championship but I won that, it was only 250 people but they inspired me because I wanted to go out and entertain them. I needed the adrenaline.