AFTER a span of 36 years, The Herald is sadly losing its darts correspondent due to his continuing poor health with stage four metastatic prostate cancer.
Steve Chapman, (pictured below with his wife Margaret) and who will be 70 on New Year’s Eve, has made the hard decision to put down his pen and relinquish his ties with the popular column that was first published on Tuesday, September 25, 1984.
He has though a link with the Herald that stretches back 53 years and began a five-year apprenticeship as a compositor on Monday, March 6, 1967.
Herald Sports Editor Stuart James said: “I am really saddened that Steve has taken the decision to step down, but his reasons for doing so are entirely understandable.
“Steve’s columns would always arrive well in advance of deadline and always include pictures which, in the modern age, are so important.
“I must admit, I was unaware of just how far back Steve’s association with the Herald stretches until he told me. But it is a mark of the man that he has provided such accurate and detailed reports throughout that time, always on time and without fail.
“I cannot speak highly enough of Steve. I thank him on behalf of the Herald and its Sports Editors throughout those 36 years and I wish him all the very best for the future”.
It was as early as 1969 that Steve wrote his first darts report and several more followed over the years but it was not until 1984 that Steve got asked if he would be keen to have his own darts column by the sports editor at the time David Chapple.
Steve told me that he had the pleasure to cover three “darts dynastys” in Plymouth over the years.
The first included Cliff “Ticker” Inglis who was the first player to win the Winmau World Masters in 1974, Fred Pritchard who played in the city from 1953 to 1984 and was South West Area News of the World champion no fewer than 15 times.
The third player from that era was Timmy Green who began playing in 1966 and finished in the mid 80’s and won the Golden Games at the Top Rank Suite on March 28, 1976, in front of a packed audience and the cameras of Westward Television. He defeated Eric Bristow to win the top prize of £500 which was a tidy sum in 1976.
The second darts era that Steve covered featured the likes of John Goves who did not start playing until he was 38 but in 1988, he was the winner of the Whitbread Dartsathlon from an entry of more than 650 players. John was also the inaugural winner of the much-coveted Champion of Champions tournament, he appeared in five finals in total and won the title on another two occasions.
Flynn Jones arrived in Plymouth in 1988 and won five Champion of Champions crowns as well as numerous individual titles while making up the trio from that era is Ralph Lancaster. Ralph began playing in 1967 and is still throwing at a very good standard today.
In 1989, Lancaster and Goves reached the semi-final of a very big national doubles event at the time called the John Bull Bitter Pairs.
More recently Maria O’Brien has carried the flag for both Plymouth and Devon across Europe and as well as winning an unparalleled number of individual trophies in her early years has also emerged the winner of the Romanian Classic and in 2018 was rewarded for her efforts when she was selected to represent her country.
Simon Stevenson, a winner of five Champion of Champions titles and the first Plymouth darts player to win a PDC Tour card and is still playing on the professional circuit.
Steve said the most recent player to come to the fore is Keelan Kay, who could go on to do wonders. He won his first darts title at the age of 14 and his rise to stardom has included him claiming the singles and doubles titles at the 2019 World Youth Championships.
Still only 18, Keelan is currently playing on the PDC Development Tour.
Steve is probably best known for starting the Champion of Champions darts tournament. It is played for every year for a local charity and Steve ran it for 27 years before first contracting prostate cancer in 2011.
Champion of Champions was born out of the Herald having a big publicity push for the Plymouth and District Leukaemia Fund in 1984. The Herald editor in chief at the time Alan Goode, asked Steve whether he could do any fund raising through his darts column for the charity and Champion of Champions was born.
Steve raised thousands of pounds over his 27-year tenure and included Plymouth charities like St Luke’s Hospice, Jeremiah’s Journey, Devon Air Ambulance, Plymouth Lifeboats, Guide Dogs for the Blind and various departments of Derriford Hospital including the Intensive Care Unit, Oncology Department and the Primrose Centre.
One of Steve’s proudest moments came in 2011 when he was awarded the Herald and First Devon and Cornwall Gold Star award for his charity work in November of that year.
The Herald Editor, Bill Martin said at the time: “Steve has been familiar to the paper for many, many years. His commitment to this enjoyable but time-consuming tournament shows real spirit and its people like him, plugging away in the background to raise funds for charity, who most deserve to be recognised. Well done Steve and all the best for the future”.
That award was made one month before he relinquished the reins of Champion of Champions to James Cook who has since carried on the good work with aplomb that was inaugurated by Steve all those years ago.
In the eight years that the tournament has been under James’s custody, he has raised over £30,000.
James said “Steve’s passion and commitment, as well as his unique journalistic style, brought about exposure and innovation that players would not have received without his input.
“The weekly darts round-up has made household names, with players concerning themselves not only with winning points as a team but scoring enough tons or 180s to get a mention by Steve the following Tuesday.
“Coupled with this, the two most prominent changes in our game over the last 40 years came about as the brain-child of Steve Chapman.
“Fast forward a couple of decades from the Champion of Champion inauguration to 2008 and he was at it again with the implementation of the 501 Top 20 League.
“Before this point almost all leagues played a single leg, 1001 format in the individual phase of play. This league was a real trailblazer with its more professional best of five, 501 format in the singles and this appealed to players across the city. Nowadays, almost all of the top leagues have adopted a similar format.
“Over the years there has also been a marked increase in players achieving county selection with some even joining the professional ranks. In at least some part, those achievements can be attributed to the shift in philosophy brought about by Steve”.
It will probably come as no surprise to the city’s darting family that The Herald are delighted to announce that James Cook (pictured right) will be our new darts correspondent, once the world returns to some sort of normality following the current Covid 19 pandemic.
After accepting the post, James said: “On a personal note I have mixed emotions about taking over from my friend, Steve Chapman. It’s obviously an incredible honour but also a little daunting to try to fill the shoes of someone so influential, prominent and seemingly everlasting.
“This announcement for me personally, is tinged with sadness because he is in my eyes ‘Mr Plymouth Darts’. Not having Steve involved just doesn’t seem right at all”.