Dockyard employee Ronnie broke the mould of Plymouth having brewery-affiliated darts leagues

IN the early days of darts in Plymouth, the leagues were heavily influenced by the different breweries and the officers were always licensees.

Two of the biggest were the Courage League (formerly Plymouth Breweries) on a Monday, and the Whitbread League (previously Tivvy) played on Tuesdays, and if you played in one league, you were not able to sign on in the other.

There was also the Bass League, which had at its helm, Les Best and Roger Hotchen, licensees at the time of the Waterloo Inn and Duke of Somerset respectively.

But in the early 80s came a shift towards independent leagues and on September 3, 1984, the Bass Open League was created by Ronnie Smith who, at the time was a 34-year-old dockyard employee.

FOUNDER MEMBERS: Lion and Column A were founder members of the Bass Open League back in 1984 and six of them are still playing in the same team today at the Indian, in the Monday Premier League. They are from left to right: Glyn Brooks, Al Rowe, Peter Cornish, Charlie Mitchell, Eddy Bull and the creator of the successful league, Ronnie Smith.

The Bass Open League began with 14 teams and The Rodney were the inaugural champions with The Swan as runners up and Lion and Column A as winners of the Knockout Cup.

Lion and Column B were also prominent, and they clinched the trebles when John Goves, Joey Stokes and Graham Walkling prevailed.

Goves also took the pairs title when partnered with Wally McCory, defeating the Waterloo Inn’s duo of Fred Goldsmith and Dave Bishop but Bishop made up for that disappointment and clinched the singles title with victory against Goves.

In the December of that year, the Evening Herald for the first time, launched its highest checkout of the month competition in my darts column and the Bass Open League provided it’s first winner when Pete Cornish, who was a 33-year-old welder at the time, won with a finish of 131.

The league expanded to 16 teams the following season when the Electricity Social Club joined the ranks alongside Clarks Social Club, whose “big-name” player was none other than the inaugural Winmau World Master, Cliff “Ticker” Inglis (pictured below).

In December 1985 the first ever Bass Open Inter-House Championship was contested at the Prince Regent and won by Dereck Hewlett (Electricity), who defeated Lion and Column’s Charlie Mitchell in the final when taking the decisive leg with a 112 outshot.

The Rodney retained their league title in 1985-86 with Lion and Column A as runners-up. Goves and McCory were again the doubles winners when defeating Inglis and Ray Elliott in the final.

Singles champion for that season was McCory who defeated the Clarks Social Club representative Peter Northam.

Lion and Column A had to settle for runners-up in the following campaign as well but this time the league champions were Electricity Club.

Column A were winners of the Knockout Cup and they had Richard Lynch making history when he became the first player in the league to win the fours, trebles, doubles and singles titles all in the same year.

In the doubles, Lynch and Charlie Mitchell were up against team mates McCory and Goves who were bidding for their third doubles title in as many seasons but from a leg down, Lynch and Mitchell levelled in 16 followed by the decider in 18.

Lynch carried that form into the singles final and defeated Pasty Cain (Clarks A) with a 29.47 average when emerging a 2-0 winner in 18 and 16.

During that season one of the standout matches was when Brunel defeated The Windmill 9-0, inspired by Mike Fluhrer (37.11) who won his singles 2-0 in 13 and 14, having hit a maximum 180 in each leg.

The season of 1987-88 now boasted two divisions and making their debut were The Lugger who were boosted by the likes of Shady Lane, Steve Barnes and Pete Roulston.

Electricity were division A champions but the new boys, Lugger won the division B title as well as the Knockout Cup.

Lugger also took the captain’s cup through Lane and Roulston and Barnes defeated Dave Allen and Kevin Duff of Victory Inn, in the pairs final.

Column’s Lynch successfully defended his individual title when he prevailed 2-0 against Barnes.

Newly promoted Lugger were favourites to take the division A title in the 1988-89 season and now boasted one of the best teams ever to grace the league.

Led by captain Steve Barnes, the side also included Pete Roulston, Shady Lane, John Goves, Ralph Lancaster, Nicky Chapman, Fred Pritchard, Roland Thomas, Colin Coath and Dave Truswell.

But even that formidable line-up was not good enough to take the title and they had to settle for runners-up when they finished four points behind champions Lion and Column A.

The Lugger though, made amends for that disappointment on finals night and won no fewer than five titles.

They took the Fours (Goves, Lancaster, Barnes and Chapman) who won 5-2 against team mates Roulston, Pritchard, Thomas and Truswell and Goves, Barnes and Lancaster won the trebles.

Goves and Lancaster took the doubles crown when beating Steve Vosper and Charlie Mitchell (Lion and Column) before Barnes defeated Mitchell for the Captain’s title.

Barnes took the first leg after scoring 210 pts with his last four darts before clinching the second in 15 with a checkout of 116.

Not surprisingly The Lugger also provided the two individual finalists and despite Goves coming from a leg down to level in 18 with a checkout of 142, Ralph Lancaster prevailed 2-1.

The Lugger made no mistake in the 1989-90 campaign and reversed the first two placings with Lion and Column A having to settle for runners up this time around.

The Devonport side were again prominent on finals night and added to their league championship, a further four titles.

In the Knockout cup, which consisted of a team of nine playing just one leg of 501, Lugger were up against Lion and Column B.

Lancaster hit 140 and three tons in an opening winning leg before Barnes and Roulston made it 3-0 in 15 and 16 respectively. Although Goves was beaten by Mike Killone, wins from Colin Coath and Roland Thomas gave Lugger a league and cup double.

The Lugger side broke up the following season and it was Brunel who finished as champions, going through the season undefeated from their 24 matches with Lion and Column A as runners up.

The Saltash side also claimed the league and cup double when defeating Jolly Miller in the final of the Knockout Cup with wins from Mike Fluhrer, Eddie Webb, Ray Gendle, Colin Kitt and Gary Doney.

Brunel again took centre stage when, on finals night, they produced both pairs of finalists for the doubles title which was won by Richard Lynch and Ralph Lancaster, who emerged 2-0 winners against Webb and Gendle.

The individual title eluded the league champions though when the final was contested by Steve Barnes and John Goves, both team members now of Lion and Column A.

Goves came from a leg down to win 3-1, taking the last two legs in 15 and 16.

The 1991-92 campaign saw the emergence of The Clifton and they defeated reigning champions Brunel twice over the season to claim the title at their first attempt.

Roles were reversed though the following season, but Clifton did have some consolation when winning the Knockout Cup.

Brunel also provided the individual champion of that season when Tony Kingwell defeated Jerry Jewell (Pen and Parchment).

Another formidable side emerged at the start of the 1994-95 campaign and won the league and cup double . . . namely Compton A.

The champions boasted the likes of Frank Beresford, Dave Wyatt, Peter Hancock, Dave Yeoman, Brian Burden, Andy Bates, Alan Ewing, Dave Roberts, Kenny Batten, Terry Rice and Derek Bryce.

Column’s Charlie Mitchell beat Geoff Davis (Duke of Somerset) in the captain’s final before joining forces with Steve Vosper to beat Timmy Green and Robbie Williams (Archer) in the doubles.

Lion and Column were also prominent in the trebles and took the title when the trio of Pete Cornish, Eddie Bull and Steve Vosper prevailed.

The following campaign was the final campaign for the Bass Open League and The Clifton were the last league champions with Compton Inn as runners up.

The last finals and presentation evening was held in the function room of the Victory Inn and one of the league’s founder members, Lion and Column A, were still chasing silverware.

They contested the Knockout Cup final against league runners-up Compton Inn and despite falling behind on three occasions, they fought back to level.

Trailing 4-3, Steve Vosper made it 4-4, winning the deciding leg in 17 darts before Glynn Brooks clinched the decisive point when edging out Terry Rice 2-1.

Al Rowe recorded the season’s top checkout with a mark of 152 and the only other title that the league champions achieved was the landlords crown when George Rosevear defeated Compton's Dave Brown.

Column also won the fours (Richard Lynch, Charlie Mitchell, Steve Vosper, Al Rowe) and the trebles through Lynch, Mitchell and Pete Cornish.

Charlie Mitchell was defeated in the captain’s final by Duchy of Cornwall’s Brian Tritton and Duke of Somerset’s Taff Griffiths lifted the secretaries’ cup when he defeated Derek Williams (Lion and Column B) 2-0.

It was refreshing to the see the emergence of three young players who represented Wheelers of Torpoint throughout the season and between them won the doubles title and the prestigious singles crown.

Dave Collins and Chris Todd, who both played for Cornwall under 21s at the time, became the two youngest players ever to win a league title when, aged 19 and 18 respectively, the duo defeated the experienced Derek Bryce and Taff Griffiths (Duke of Somerset) 2-0 in the doubles final.

The individual final brought together Lion and Column A’s Steve Vosper and Dave Light (pictured above) who contested the title over the best of seven legs of 701.

Light took the opening leg with the help of four tons and was again on target when he won the second in 26.

Vosper had chances to reduce the deficit but a nine-dart salvo of a ton and back to back 140s gave Light his chance and he hit his required double the first time of asking for a comprehensive 3-0 victory and the individual crown which he has now held for . . . 23 years !

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