THERE have been some good darts players in Plymouth.
There have been some great darts players in Plymouth.
But there is one player that clearly earns his title as the darts doyen of Plymouth.
I am of course referring to Fred Pritchard.
Fred was the son of Harry Pritchard, a champion in his own right between1925 and 1935.
The family hailed from Herne Bay in Kent and young Fred first found his way around the dartboard at the age of just nine years old.
He took up the sport competitively at 19 and was successful almost immediately in his local leagues.
Fred came to Plymouth aged 28 and his first ever team in the city was The Oxford – a hostelry now long gone, but it was in Claremont Street, just around the corner from where Oxford Place is now.
UNPRECEDENTED: Fred Pritchard pictured with the South West Area News of the World trophy which he won an unprecedented 15 times in the 31 years that he played in the competition.
It was at the Oxford that Fred met his future wife Doreen.
The couple married in 1952, and the loving partnership lasted for 59 years.
The Oxford was also the first team Fred captained and in his two seasons there, he won the league singles and doubles in both years.
As well as the Tivvy League, Pritchard also played in the Plymouth and District Social Clubs League and won three singles and doubles titles . . . the doubles titles being won with three different partners.
The three singles titles were again won in successive years and, as was tradition with some leagues, the committee presented the trophy to Fred to keep. But as the league had no sponsor to buy a replacement cup, the trophy was kindly returned.
On leaving the Oxford, Pritchard moved to the No Place in 1956.
The team played in the Simmonds Brewery League, a forerunner of the Plymouth Brewery League and Courage League and in 1958 he moved to the Wyndham, just walking distance from the No Place.
It was while playing for the No Place that Pritchard had one of his greatest triumphs when he won his way through to become the News of the World Western Area champion.
This enabled Fred to compete in the 1956 grand finals at Earls Court where he got through to the semi-finals before being edged out 2-1 by Derbyshire’s Tom Reddington, who went on to win the title.
Pritchard remembered the game well and told me in an interview I had with him in 1998: “I was really at the top of my game and should have beaten Reddington.
“I had the first darts to win the decider, but clipped the wire, only for Reddington to hit his double at the first time of asking”.
Pritchard is best remembered for his success in the now defunct News of the World, and in it’s heyday, was the most revered darts tournament in the country which began in 1927 and finished in 1997 with Phil Taylor being the last winner.
What made this famous tournament so special was that every tie, even the grand final, was only ever played over the best of three legs of 501.
Fred was the South West area champion 15 times, from his first title in 1953 right through to 1984 when playing for the Seymour Arms.
He made Earls Court again in 1958 and once more progressed to the semi-finals but sadly with the same result.
His opponent was Ernie Burrup, the Welsh champion from Newport, Monmouthshire and again Pritchard went out 2-1, after missing the double in the decider.
Following his impressive showings at Earls Court, Pritchard was offered a contract by Unicorn to turn professional and with it came a house in London, a full exhibition diary and a wage.
His wife Doreen, had only months before given birth to their daughter Maureen and after a lot of deliberation and soul searching, Fred declined the offer.
Pritchard had many successful seasons at the Wyndham in the Tivvy League, winning singles and pairs titles and had a flourishing partnership with Melvin Griffin which lasted 10 years.
In 1959, the pair entered the prestigious Toucan National Pairs Championship, which was sponsored by Guinness, but came under the auspices of the National Darts Association of Great Britain (NDAGB).
After arduous area play-offs Pritchard and Griffin made the grand finals on Saturday, October 8, at the St Pancras Town Hall in London.
They gave a very good account of themselves, but cruelly lost in the grand final when they were defeated by Stan Moore and Charlie Ware who hailed from the Riverside Club in Ebbw Vale.
Many successful seasons were also had at the Queens Dock in the Ind Coope Red Hand League and after moving there in 1967, Fred won the league singles title in three successive seasons.
During his time in the Charlotte Street hostelry, he also won five pairs titles with Ron Harris and another three with John Cunningham.
The season of 1973-74 saw the birth of the BDO Inter-County Championships and Devon were one of just 10 teams who took part in the inaugural competition. The other nine being Cheshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Lancashire, London, Somerset, Surrey, Thames Valley and the West of England (later to become Avon).
Pritchard was chosen to represent the County in their first ever match and was a valued member of the Devon side that won for the first time in 1973, under BDO rules, when they defeated Cheshire, under the captaincy of Torbay’s Bill Miller.
The Devon side consisted of no fewer than seven Plymouth players, namely John “Taff” Griffiths, Tim Green, Fred Pritchard, Paul Romanski, Cliff “Ticker” Inglis, Mike Boaden and Ralph Lancasater.
Lancashire were the first BDO county champions, winning eight of their nine matches.
In the late 1970s, Pritchard moved to the Hyde Park, who were arguably the best team in Plymouth at the time. Their greatest achievement was twice emerging as national team champions.
During his years at the Hyde Park, Pritchard won the league individual title three times and two more pairs titles, this time with Danny Johns.
Pritchard also played in the Devonport and District League and his association with the St Johnston Social Club, spanned 16 years, in which time he claimed four individual titles, the last of which came when he was into his 50s.
In 1984, Fred represented the Seymour Arms, in the Halls League up until 1989, but his final major showing came in 1997 at the age of 71 when, with John Goves, Glyn Wells and Malcolm Johns, the quartet emerged as the British Civil Service team champions at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool.
The Plymouth marksman was also much sought after on the exhibition circuit and gave his final exhibition at The Tiger in Whitleigh.
His great party piece was throwing a dart to take the ash off the end of a cigarette, and with the second dart, pin the cigarette to double 10.
If anybody was brave enough – and there were many – he would take the pre-decimal sixpence off the top of their head and even their tongue. Quite a feat when you consider that the diameter of the coin was just 19mm.
Fred Pritchard died on July 31, 2011, at the age of 85, but is still fondly remembered as one of Plymouth’s all-time great darts players.