IS Simon Cunningham the forgotten man of darts?
The left hander was on the brink of making his way up the Professional Darts Corporation’s (PDC) rankings but he cruelly had his ambitions taken away when a tumour appeared in the shoulder of his throwing arm . . . not once, but three times.
His love for the sport was nurtured at the City Social Club, Plymouth, in 1990 and despite being only 16 years of age, showed above average promise for one so young.
He would practice as often as he was allowed and in 1992 was invited to play for the club’s B team on a Monday night in the Plymouth and District Social Clubs League.
The following season he was also playing on a Tuesday for the Stoke Social Club in the Devonport and District League.
SHOOTING: The formidable stance of Simon Cunningham on the oche before he had his
For the 1995/96 season only, Cunningham represented Beacon Park Social Club in the Plymouth and District Social Clubs League and claimed his first piece of silverware when he won the Secretaries’ Cup and the coveted singles title.
Cunningham returned to the City Social in the 1996/97 campaign and now playing for the A team, won the secretaries’ title for the next two seasons.
He then moved to playing in the Plymouth money leagues, namely the Monday Premier League and Plymouth and District Friday League before moving on to the Plymouth City Super League.
It was while playing for City Social in the Monday Premier League that he registered the season’s best game, aided by back to back maximums, with a win in 26 darts, giving him a three-dart average of 115.5.
The 43-year-old was instrumental in starting a new team at the St Johnstone Social Club with Roy and Glyn Wells in the Monday Premier League and that same season, won the individual title
Around the same time, he also represented the St Johnstone in the Devonport and District Social Clubs League, again picking up an individual title and the doubles crown, two years on the bounce, partnered with Ralph Lancaster.
Cunningham moved to the successful Victory side on a Friday before the team had to relocate to the Brookside, where they won the title year on year.
The concept of the 1001 game within the local leagues was changed with the introduction of the Bruce Harrison Builders 501 Top 20 League which incorporated the singles part of the fixture being contested over the best of five legs of 501.
Cunningham’s City Social were one of the 14 teams that played in the inaugural season and he finished as individual runner-up to Adrian Lamerton before winning it outright in the following campaign.
He also claimed the league sponsor’s prizemoney in the singles play-off between the leading players who filled the top eight places in the individual table.
Cunningham’s claim to fame is a proud record of having won the individual title of all the leagues he has played in namely the Plymouth and District Social Clubs League, Devonport and District Social Clubs League, 501 Top 20 League and Plymouth City Super League.
The one title though that has always eluded him is the Champion of Champions, arguably the most coveted singles title in the city, despite two grand final appearances.
In the 2000 final, Cunningham was defeated 4-0 by a rejuvenated Bruce Harrison (28.22) and in 2007 was edged out 4-3 by the eventual winner Steve Marker, despite defeating Adrian Lamerton in the semi-finals, who had won the title the previous two years.
Cunningham came from a 3-1 deficit to level at 3-3, only for Marker to clinch the decisive seventh leg in 18.
Also in 2007, Cunningham represented the St Johnstone Social Club in the Worthington Masters, a competition which was open to pubs and clubs across Devon.
He won the Plymouth final to play against Phil Taylor, arguably the best player ever to throw a dart and did not disgrace himself in front of a packed auditorium of nearly 500 people.
Aided by a maximum 180, he left 15 after just 12 darts, only for Taylor to step up to the oche and finish at the first time of asking from 108 for a win in 15.
Having achieved almost everything there was to achieve within the Plymouth leagues, Cunningham wanted to test himself amongst the best players in the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) and began that quest in 2009.
He was sponsored by Plymouth businesses St Johnston SC, Superior Scaffolding, Marlborough Construction and Cosyheat and although it was a tough baptism in his rookie year, Cunningham won five times on the PDC circuit.
The following year, sponsored by City Social Club and Superior Scaffolding, he caught the eye in the UK Open Qualifiers at Swindon with wins over Tony Clark (6-4) and John McGowan (6-4) before bowing out by the same scoreline to Gary Anderson, having taken him to 4-4.
Cunningham then tried his luck at Crawley and opened his account with a 6-2 success against Tony Clark, he then won 6-4 against Mick McGowan before losing 6-4 to “The Pieman”, Andy Smith, despite being seven darts into a 9-darter in the eighth leg.
On that day at Crawley, the Plymouth marksman recorded no fewer than 11 maximum scores of 180.
He also entered the UK Open qualifier at Wigan and got to the last 32, which was no mean feat.
Cunningham defeated Sean White 6-3, Gary Mawson 6-2, which included an 11-dart leg, Scott Rand 6-3, before bowing out to Gary Anderson who went on to contest the final against the eventual winner James Wade.
Another outstanding performance from the Plymouth marksman came in the same year at the Reebok Stadium in Bolton, winning himself new admirers
after progressing to the money stages of a tournament which boasted the world's top players.
In round one he defeated Warwickshire marksman Prakash Jiwa 6-4, who had previously put out Exeter's John Lakeman in the qualifying round.
Jiwa hit the evening's top checkout of 161, but Cunningham also showed his finishing prowess, hitting no fewer than three checkouts of 120 and an outshot of 121 as he progressed.
In round two he came up against seasoned campaigner Stuart Dutton and despite trailing 2-0, levelled at 2-2, and then edged in front 3-2 after hitting two 180s in leg five.
The Plymouth marksman started leg six with another maximum which gave him the impetus to make it 4-2 and two legs later, Cunningham led 5-3 and just one away from victory.
Dutton levelled at 5-5 with the help of a 148 checkout, but in the deciding 11th leg, the City Social player held his nerve and checked out for an excellent victory.
On the second day of the competition Cunningham was drawn against the 2004 UK Open champion Roland Scholten in round three, but the Dutchman proved too good, and went through 9-3.
Cunningham though pocketed £1,000 in prizemoney and I reported back then that “the experience would be invaluable as he aims to progress up the PDC Order of Merit”.
Sadly, that progress was halted when, just a few months later, Cunningham was told that he had a tumour in the shoulder of his left throwing arm.
Despite having the tumour surgically removed, it returned, not once, but twice and his darting prowess was never the same again.