THIRTY years ago, one of Plymouth’s finest darts players produced arguably his greatest ever achievement when winning the Whitbread Flowers Dartsathlon.
John Goves was one of the entries from 650 Whitbread outlets, that stretched from Warwickshire to Lands End, but won through to compete in the finals which took place on March 27, 1988, at the BAWA Leisure Centre, Bristol.
Representing the Coach House Inn, South Brent, Goves was one of 28 qualifiers, from an original entry approaching 9,000 players, who had come through tough pre-qualifying rounds to earn their place in the line-up.
On the day, Goves was untouchable and brushed aside his opponents one by one before he emerged champion, claiming a winner’s cheque to the value of £500.
BLOOMING: John Goves winning his way to the Whitbread Flowers Dartsathlon in 1988.
In the final he defeated Chris Whiting from Cheltenham who, at the time, was an unbeaten England international and appearing in his fifth Whitbread Flowers Dartsathlon.
Later in the same year, Whiting was to win the British Singles Gold Cup when beating Mike Gregory in the final.
The two losing semi-finalists from the dartsathlon were Ray Butler from Bridgwater and Cornishman Vic Tearle, who hailed from Bodmin.
After an early sporting career in basketball, table tennis and football, John Goves went on to become one of the most influential players on the Plymouth darts scene.
He reached a very high standard at basketball and was an England under-18 trialist, despite being only 5ft 6ins tall.
But it was playing darts that made John come to prominence.
A player of great stature, he won all there was to win locally and has the distinction of being an individual champion in every league he has played in.
Goves was a late starter, unlike the youngsters of today, and did not pick up a dart competitively until the age of . . . 38.
He used to watch another prolific darts player, Cliff “Ticker” Inglis, famous of course for being the first player to win the World Masters in 1974 and it was his prowess that encouraged Goves to take up the sport.
John’s first taste of competitive darts came in the 1978-79 season when he played for the Tamar Inn, Calstock, in the Lamerton and District League.
His skills around the board were soon noticed and in a very short space of time, Goves was playing Cornwall Super League.
He began for the Rifle Volunteer at St Ann’s Chapel, played for various teams in between before representing Torpoint sides The Standard Inn and Bar Mez in the Premier division up until 2010, before representing Torpoint Cons Club in the Cornwall Super League East Division, as recently as 2016.
The marksman won the Cornwall Super League singles crown four times.
In the season of 1982-83, Goves won his first singles trophy when winning the Tavistock Gazette Open, just one of many which were to follow.
It was also in this season that he began playing within the Plymouth leagues and was turning out for Lion and Column B in the Bass Open League.
Despite being a “B” team player, he won the first of three individual titles in his first year with the Column.
Goves has also graced the darts boards within the Courage League, later to become the John Smiths League and the Whitbread League, winning both individual titles on two occasions.
In 1983, Goves first qualified for the World Masters and has played in that high-ranking tournament no fewer than six times.
The following season Goves first represented Cornwall in the British Inter County Championships and made his debut in the 1984-85 campaign against Dorset.
He made 152 appearances for the Duchy, winning 98 of them, playing for the 50th time in the 1990-91 season against Oxfordshire.
His century of county caps came in 1995-96 against Merseyside.
John’s best season on the county scene came in 1991-92 when he won all nine matches, dropping just five legs for the season.
DUCHY'S FINEST: John Goves was an ever present for Cornwall in the British Inter County Championships stretching from 1984-85 through to 2001-2002.
This included a 3-1 victory over Plymouth marksman Glyn Wells when, in February 1992, Cornwall inflicted on Devon one of their heaviest county defeats when they beat them 29-7.
Winning eight from nine, the previous year, Goves put together a winning run of no fewer than 17 matches.
He also claimed eight from nine on two other occasions in 1993-94 and 1999-2000.
He was an ever-present from 1984 and played his last county game against Somerset in the final match of the 2001-02 season.
One of Goves’s best years came in 1985.
It was in this year that he made his first television appearance, when finishing runner-up in the Flowers Dartsathlon, taking his place in the final after coming from 4-1 down against Welsh International Ceri Morgan to win 5-4.
In the same year, Goves won the Devon play-off for the Winners Masters Pub and Club Open, but lost out to another Welsh International, Peter Locke.
He also became the inaugural winner of the Plymouth Herald’s Champion of Champions in 1985 when de defeated Ivor Newman in the final of the competition which is much revered by the top players of Plymouth, 33 years on.
He retained his Champion of Champions title the following year when defeating Robbie Williams and was only stopped from gaining a hat-trick of wins when losing in 1987 to the eventual winner Ivor Newman, who avenged his 1985 defeat.
Goves made the finals again in 1988 and 1990 but was defeated by Flynn Jones and Steve Barnes respectively, before winning again in 1993 with victory against Steve Rice.
His record in the Champion of Champions is only bettered by Simon Stevenson and Flynn Jones who have both lifted the famous trophy on five occasions.
Always on the lookout for a darts competition, Goves has been successful in many Opens – Bournemouth, Torquay and the Scottish Borders to name just three.
One of his better “pay-days” came in 1987 when, from an entry of over 12,000 players, he reached the semi-finals of the John Bull Masters at the Alexandra Pavilion in London.
He went out to the English professional player Peter Evison, who in turn lost to the eventual winner, Rod Harrington, but the top brass in the game had been made aware of the capabilities of John Goves . . . from down Devon way.
The following year, Goves qualified for another televised tournament when he emerged as one of the divisional individual champions of the BDO County Championships.
He took his place among some illustrious names in the British Professional Championships and the tournament of 1988 will be remembered as the first official event, staged by the BDO, where alcohol was banned on stage.
The Plymouth marksman could not have wished for a tougher draw than the World No.1 and World Embassy champion at the time . . . John Lowe.
The best of three legs per set and best of five sets format favoured the top players, but Lowe’s reputation counted for nothing as Goves put Lowe to the sword and won in three straight sets for an emphatic victory.
The British Professional Championships was the only major tournament that Lowe was never to win in an unparalleled career.
In the next round, the format changed to the best of seven sets and Goves again gave a good account of himself but was unlucky to go out to Keith Deller 4-3, despite holding a 3-1 lead.
Goves very nearly became only the second player from the city of Plymouth, after Cliff Inglis, to achieve international honours in 1988, but missed out on the final selection process.
If he had played at the time for London, Essex or Lancashire, he would surely have been capped for his country, but as so often happens in British sport, John lived at the “wrong end” of the country – south of Bristol.
JUST CHAMPION: John Goves was the inaugural winner of the Champion of Champions back in 1985 and won it again on two more occasions.
At various times during his darting career, Goves has beaten in competition, Phil Taylor, Steve Beaton, Les Wallace, Bobby George and Shane Burgess, all seasoned pros and well-respected exponents on the world darts circuit at the time.
In 1989 Goves, partnered with Ralph Lancaster, entered the John Bull Bitter Pairs championships, representing The Lugger, a Devonport hostelry in Plymouth.
They won the South West area play-offs which were held in Bedminster, and qualified for the national finals at Eltham, London, where the top prize carried a winner’s purse of £1,500.
They did not win, but again put Plymouth on the darting map when reaching the semi-finals, no mean feat for a national competition.
Being a coppersmith in Devonport Dockyard, Goves has competed in the Civil Service National Championships on numerous occasions but his crowning glory came in 1991 when he emerged as the national champion, beating several professionals from the other Home countries along the way.
Plymouth won the Civil Service team championships no fewer than eight times between 1992 and 2011 and Goves was a member of the winning side on every occasion.
In the season of 1992-93, whilst playing for the Dog and Duck in the Plymouth City Super League, Goves registered a total of 30 maximum scores of 180 throughout the season, a long-standing record at the time.
Although that mark has been bettered since, Goves’s 30 maximums came in a 12-team league, so the feat was achieved in only 22 matches.
His final pay-day came in 1995 when he was the winner of the Plymouth Open and walked away with a cheque for £300.
John finished his regular playing days representing the undefeated Victory Inn side in the Plymouth City Super League and the Bass Open League.
He has, as recently as this season though, helped out Torpoint Cons Club on a few occasions in the Porters Function Room 501 Top 20 League and back in November, secured his singles 3-1, aided by a leg in 15 and top scored with 14 throws of a ton or more which included an out shot of 120.
Now retired from the Dockyard, and with his best darting days behind him, John enjoys the outdoor life and likes nothing better than walking in the Peak District or across Dartmoor with his wife Dena.