PLYMOUTH darts leagues have produced the likes of Cliff Inglis, John Goves, Simon Stevenson and more recently Keelan Kay who have all performed in major competitions around the world, but one Plymouth marksman who always had the ability to perform at a higher level and never did was Bruce Harrison.
As a self-employed businessman and company director, work always had to take priority and Harrison would rarely be seen around the Plymouth boards on any other night than a Friday.
He began playing darts in the Yelverton and District League at the age of 19, playing for the Glenholt Country Club and within the first two seasons had won his first individual title.
Harrison then moved to The Herbert before joining the Kings Arms at Oreston where the side won the Plymouth and District Friday League in three successive seasons before moving to the Plymouth City Super League.
They were instantly successful in that league as well and in 1991, their first season, took the title by a huge 24-point margin.
KINGS OF THE OCHE: The Kings Arms side that took the Plymouth City Super League title in 1991 by a 24-point margin. From left to right: Brian Harvey, Chris Shaw, Martin Hindmarsh, Phil Byatt, Bruce Harrison, Ray Palmer and Richard Lee.
They also won the doubles, trebles and sixes but all that was topped by their “tour de force” Bruce Harrison, who clinched the individual title, going through the season with 28 victories from as many games.
In the 1991-92 season, Harrison and Kings Arms team mate Phil Byatt were both chosen to represent Devon in the British Inter County Championships and it was in the same year that he moved to the Barbican Arms (now known as Porters).
In his first season at that hostelry, he threw one of the best games of the season in the Plymouth City Super League when winning in 28, earning himself a 35.75 average.
In 2000, Bruce was playing at the Black Prince and it was from this pub, that he entered the Champion of Champions for that year.
Harrison had been an entrant in the very first Champion of Champions in 1985 and as an up-and-coming 23-year-old, was cheered on by his parents Madeline and Rex, he made it through to the semi-finals, before bowing out to the inaugural champion, John Goves.
His Dad Rex was a big influence throughout his sporting years in both rugby and darts but sadly, he missed out on one of his son’s greatest achievements when he died just two months before Bruce was to lift the 2000 Champion of Champions title.
His performance on that emotional night was impeccable as he swept through the field without dropping a single leg.
In the quarter-finals he defeated the 1997 champion, Tony Turner 3-0 in 19, 14 and 17.
In the semi-final, Alun Brunton stood in his way of progress but, aided by 10 three-figure stores and a best leg of 16, the Victory Inn representative was also ousted in straight legs.
Simon Cunningham was Harrison’s opponent in the final and after a scrappy opening leg, Harrison blew the City Social player away with legs in 17, 16 and 14 to emerge a 4-0 winner with an average of 28.22
In all the years of Champion of Champions, there will never be a more emotional night.
In the moments that followed Harrison hitting the winning double, he shook his opponent’s hand and just broke down in tears.
With the trophy now proudly sitting in his arms, Harrison dedicated his win to his father Rex and said: “I won it for Dad, he was with me all the way”.
In September 2001, a strong contingent of Plymouth based players made their presence felt at the Launceston Darts Open.
Held at the Eagle House, and sponsored by the Launceston and District Darts League, the Plymouth boys were outstanding.
Eight boards were in play throughout the day and no fewer than seven Plymouth players made the board finals.
Harrison had defeated Cornishman Baz Allen 4-1 in his board final and then repeated the winning scoreline against John Yelland in the last eight.
Yelland had a claim to fame that he was a former winner of the Westward TV Invitational tournament and clinched the title 22 years earlier in 1979.
The famous competition was the first televised darts tournament to be broadcast in the UK and shown to ITV viewers in the South West of England.
It began in 1962 and returned to the screen in 1996, running every year thereafter until 1980, until the station lost its licence.
Some formidable players to have won that famous tournament were Cornishmen Denby Parkin in 1969 and 1977, Paul Gosling in 1973, and Plymouth brothers Joe and George Bishop in 1966 and 1971 respectively.
Three Plymouth players made up the semi-finals of that Launceston Open and after Harrison had beaten Ants Clarke 4-0 he took the title with a 4-1 defeat of Mark Turner, despite being “slightly inebriated”.
CHAMPIONS LAUNCH: As the winner of the 2000 Champion of Champions title, Bruce Harrison helped to launch the tournament the following year from the grounds of the charity.
In 2002, Harrison now represented The Clifton in the Plymouth City Super League and not surprisingly put in some decent performances for the Greenbank outfit.
He threw the best game of the season with a win in 27 darts (37.07) and later in the campaign, recorded 17 tons in one match, aided by a single’s win in 28 (35.75).
One of Bruce’s finest achievements came in October 2004 when, playing for the Friary Vaults in the Plymouth City Super League, broke a record that had stood for 28 years.
Bobby Hillon had recorded a 24-dart 1001 in 1976 while playing for the Ferryboat in the old Les Best League but that mark was bettered by Harrison when he threw 95-140-140-85-180-100-180 before finishing in two from 81for a win in 23 darts.
Harrison came out of the record breaking leg with an average per dart of 43.52 and 130.56 a visit. The feat was published in Darts World and Harrison was chosen by sponsors Winmau as their “star player of the month”.
To put that gargantuan feat into perspective, it was only four darts off the world record of 19, set by another Plymothian, Cliff “Ticker” Inglis on November 11, 1975, a record which still stands today.
Friary Social Club became Friary Vaults in 2005 and Harrison was still the backbone of the team.
In one fixture he finished the team game with an outshot of 118, inspired his trebles and doubles games to be won in 32 and 33 respectively before taking his singles in 31, aided by three maximums.
The same year, but at the start of a new campaign, Harrison set the mark for the season’s top checkout in the opening match when he finished at the first time of asking from 155.
In 2008, I approached Bruce Harrison with regards to sponsoring a new darts league.
My concept was to change from the 1001 format, in order to get back to the grassroots game of 501 and the singles element of each match was to be played over the best of five legs of 501.
Thankfully, he liked the idea and the Bruce Harrison Builders 501 Top 20 League was launched with the company being the sole sponsors for the first 10 seasons.
When he could, Harrison also competed in the league for the Kings Arms and in once such match, after a long lay-off, made up the numbers and produced a 3-0 singles victory in 13, 15 and 16 for a single dart average of 34.16.
The new format was welcomed with open arms by the city’s top players and is now used in both the Monday Premier League and the Plymouth City Super League and is considered by many to be the best league in Plymouth, now under the banner of the Porters Function Room 501 Top 20 League.
Another of Bruce’s finest achievements came in the May of 2011 when he won the right to compete in the UK Open, affectionately known as the FA Cup of Darts.
It was being sponsored by Speedy Hire and he came across entry details by chance when visiting the builder’s merchants Plymouth branch.
After a day of arduous qualifying rounds in Bristol, Harrison was to take his place amongst the world’s top players at the Reebok Stadium, Bolton.
His first opponent in the televised event was Curtis Hammond, who had reached the last 16 of the PDC Under 21 World Championships in January.
The youngster from Ipswich was swept aside 4-0 by Harrison who won plaudits from the TV commentators and the 2004 BDO World Champion Andy Fordham.
Harrison now had to face Tony Eccles. Known as The Viper, he was a seasoned campaigner on the PDC circuit and four years earlier had won both the German World Cup and Norway Open.
Unfortunately for Harrison, Eccles showed his pedigree and defeated the Plymouth marksman 4-0.
WELL DONE: Former BDO World Champion Andy Fordham congratulates Bruce Harrison on a fine performance in the opening round of the televised Speedy Hire UK Open which took place at the Reebok Stadium, Bolton in 2011.
But the memories were savoured by Harrison who enjoyed every moment of the competition which was eventually won by James Wade.
In 2012 after a long lay-off he came back in one fixture in his own-sponsored league and emerged a 3-0 winner in 17, 16 and 14 and the following season reversed those legs when winning in 14, 16 and 17, both times securing an average of 31.98.
Thirteen years on from when Harrison first won the Champion of Champions his final appearance in the competition came in 2013 and he was still good enough to make the last eight.
In the last 16, he emerged a 3-1 winner against Wayne Tucker, when beating the then Devon County player in 17, 19 and 18.
Harrison unfortunately found Dan Johnson too good on finals night, but the young pretender proved that his win over the former champion was no fluke when going on to clinch the title and Johnson was also a grand finalist in the two years following.
As reported earlier, Harrison’s business takes priority and for many seasons, he was just not able to compete, but whenever he did, he could pick up his darts and play at a very high standard even months after he had thrown his last dart.