DARTS :Cupid^s arrow flies at lonely darts club
Mills & Boon has announced a series of rugby-themed romantic novellas, prepared in collaboration with the RFU and designed to interest women in the game. Why stop at rugby?
Carla pushed open the door to the practice room and slipped inside. She knew she would find him here - alone, long after everyone else had gone home, practising and practising, dart after dart, battling with the restless demons in his soul.
Carla^s senses quickened as her eager ears picked up the soft but unmistakable thud of his tungsten. She would know that sound anywhere. Also that smell - a pungent, musky, overwhelmingly male aroma of warm sweat and aftershave, with just a hint of cheese nachos: the great smell of top-flight professional darts.
She knew better than to disturb him at the oche when the predatory beast that roared inside him was so close to the surface. Yet somehow she could not stop herself.
"Darren?" Darren "The Fitter" Fitman turned slowly around from the board to face her, a 23-gram Unicorn dart with a jocular Bart Simpson flight still gingerly aloft between his powerful fingers. Carla felt a deep and primal ache somewhere around her ribcage.
With a gasp, she noticed that his darts smock was slightly unbuttoned. The splendour of his signature, gold-plated bike chain winked tantalisingly against the luxurious shag-pile of his oil-black chest hair.
Biting down on her lower lip, she heard him say: "Of all the practice rooms on the PDC tour, you have to walk into mine." His voice was gruff, bear-like. A heated flush stole across her skin.
The silence between them stretched until it was painful, vibrating with tension. Finally it was the world No 19 and former Durham county youth champion who couldn^t stand a second more. "I didn^t think I^d be seeing you so soon after Dublin, Carla," he said, sounding distant, withdrawn.
"Can^t we put Dublin behind us, Darren?" Carla pleaded sorrowfully, her eyes stinging with overwhelming emotion.
"I was throwing bags of nails all night, Carla, and you know it." "Forget it, Darren. It was only the Paddy Power World Grand Prix. Start on a double? That^s Mickey Mouse, that is." "It^s ranking points, though, Carla. And I need a whole hatful of them if I^m ever to make it into the automatic slots for the Whyte & Mackay Premier League starting next February."
"You^re forgetting the two wild-card places," Carla exclaimed. "You^re a shoo-in for one of those. The Premier League is unimaginable without you. Who else has Abba for their walk-on music?" The Fitter sighed ruefully.
"They need you, Darren," Carla said, and then she paused. "Though not as much as I do." She noticed that he had distractedly raised the dart to his full lips and was chewing softly on the flight - a childhood reflex. It made him seem so vulnerable, so - in a way - small.
Now he held her eye in his searching, slightly bloodshot gaze. "You^ve got to tell me something, Carla." "Anything, Darren," Carla breathed.
"Was it true that night? About you and Dirk ^The Tricky Dutchman^ van der Pump?" "The Tricky Dutchman? As if!" Carla^s tone was playful now, and lightly scolding. "You can^t believe everything you read on the Planet Darts website, Darren."
Smiling hesitantly, Darren reached out and touched her bare shoulder gently with the tip of his darts case. It was difficult to respond to anything but the raw pleasure of the moment. She longed, as much as she had ever longed for anything in her life, to be enfolded in the ardent, polyester heat of his embrace.
"I^m on 74 here," he protested faintly. "What do you expect me to do about it?" "I^d go for treble 14, leaving 32," Carla whispered urgently. "That way, if you miss the double 16 and get a single, it^s only a minor adjustment for the double eight bed, next door. Otherwise, you^ve got to come right across to the other side of the board. Nightmare."
At that moment, it was as though a tidal wave of relief had simultaneously broken deep inside the pair of them. The significance of what they had been through dawned afresh in the wonder of being together again. "Why, Carla," The Fitter murmured as tears rose in his eyes. "I never knew until now how much I needed you." "Give me the darts, you nut-job," Carla barked. "I^ll do it myself."
Rich owners line up in 4-4-2 formation
Much widespread schadenfreude and general sniggering at the deposing of Roman Abramovich from the top of FourFourTwo magazine^s annual "Football Rich List". On the back of an alleged crunch-based loss of £3 billion in assets, which leaves him struggling to get by on just £7 billion, the Chelsea owner has slipped to third in the table - which, of course, is still worth a Champions League place, but he^ll have to qualify.
The wanly smiling Russian will have been gutted to read this - assuming that he can even afford a copy of FourFourTwo (cover price: £4.10) these days. (If I were charged with trimming Abramovich^s financial operations in line with the new economic realities, magazine subscriptions would be one of the first things I looked at, followed, probably, by yachts - in particular, perhaps, the one with its own submarine.)
But surely, with all owners of football clubs, the fit-and-proper question is not "how much are they worth?" but "how much of what they are worth are they prepared to spend on football?" Lakshmi Mittal, the joint owner of Queens Park Rangers, who rises to second in the list, above Abramovich but behind Sheikh Mansour, the owner of Manchester City, may be valued at £12.5 billion in FourFourTwo^s estimate, but the extent of his investment in the club is a sheepish £200,000 - barely enough to cover peanuts and crisps in the hospitality suites over the 2008-09 season and some way down on the £600 million that Abramovich has spent furnishing Chelsea.
Still worse, though, consider George Gillett Jr, the co-owner of Liverpool, who makes it into the list at No 25, thanks to an estimated personal worth of £300 million, but the American borrowed £185 million to buy Liverpool. Similarly Malcolm Glazer and family (£1.1 billion, and joint tenth in the list) are believed to have run up £667 million-worth of debt in the acquisition of Manchester United.
The sad and dismaying implication is that you can scrimp and beg your way on to football^s rich list these days. Is it too much to ask that a place in this honourable hall of fame should be kept sacrosanct - something you have to buy?
Oh, and one other thing. What^s with the inclusion of "Ashley & Cheryl Cole" at No 96? Come off it, FourFourTwo. Of all the limp excuses to print a picture of Cheryl.
Seeing doubles at the darts
Too busy to keep abreast of the big-name BDO darts action unfolding at the Lakeside Country Club in Frimley Green, Surrey? Too baffled by having to chase the red button to prevent BBC Two^s coverage shutting off for University Challenge? Worry not. Our one-stop catch-up service is here to bring you up to speed and enable you to head confidently and knowledgeably into the final tomorrow.
Basically, the one with the glasses but no beard, the bloke who won last year? He^s gone out. Second round, we think it was. So have quite a lot of the other ones in glasses. But the one with the beard and the glasses - he^s still in there. At least he was the last time we looked. As for the one with the beard but no glasses, we kind of lost track of him somewhere. He could still be in there, or he might not. But you^ll know if you see him.
There you go, then. All set. Let^s play darts! And the very best of order.
Story By: Times Online