PLYMOUTH darts players have been saddened to hear news of the death of Des Stabb. His health began to deteriorate following a stroke two years ago but he died of natural causes on Sunday.
He still enjoyed a cigarette and a glass of wine right up until his death when he was found peacefully in his sitting room chair by his brother’s partner who came to deliver his Sunday lunch.
Des was one of Plymouth’s finest players in his day and first came to prominence in the 1967-68 Courage League campaign when he and Timmy Green played for the Mermaid, a hostelry in Eggbuckland that has since shut its doors.
But it did not take long for the duo’s prowess to get noticed and the following season both Des and Timmy were playing for the formidable side that graced The Longroom.
The 1970-71 season saw The Longroom win the treble, the first time that the feat had been achieved in the Courage PB League which, at the time, was the biggest brewery league in the country.
The treble was made up of the league title, Knockout Cup and Johnstone Trophy.
The following year Longroom clinched the treble once again and had the captain’s winner in Geoff Gunning, the secretaries’ winner in Des Stabb and Tim Green took the individual title.
They clinched the Johnstone Trophy in the 1976-77 campaign and again in 1978-79 and were crowned league champions once more in 1979-80.
The following season Des changed his darts night to a Tuesday as back in those days you could only play for one brewery league and in 1980-81 he played for the Radnor Arms in the Whitbread League and in his first season, won the pairs title with Graham Bryce as well as the team winning the league crown.
But Monday night was Des’s favoured darts night and in the 1983-84 campaign, he was playing for The Lord Beresford who cleaned up by winning the Courage league title, Johnstone Trophy and Challenge Cup.
That formidable team consisted of Geoff Gunning, Martin Smith, Buster Yabsley, Des Stabb, Graham Bryce, Timmy Green, Dave Greet, Dave Smith, Dave Gaylard, Tommy Griffiths and John Canham.
As well as winning the unique treble, The Lord Beresford also boasted the two individual finalists for that season but unfortunately for Des he lost to his team-mate Dave Smith.
Lord Beresford were runners up to the Cherry Tree in 1984-85 but won the Challenge Cup.
In the early 70s, a new concept was introduced to sporting fans by Yorkshire TV called The Indoor League, which was created and produced by Sid Waddell.
Indoor League ran from 1972 to 1977 when darts coverage on TV was in its infancy
Several indoor sports were competed for and Des Stabb had the honour of competing in the first showing in 1973.
In that year’s competition Des defeated England international Willie Etherington and Ronnie Church, the beaten finalist in the 1972-73 News of the World, before losing to the then No.1 player in the world, Tommy O’Regan, in the semi-final, who went on claim the title when defeating Welsh international Alan Evans in the final.
Stabb was again in the line-up the following year but lost in the first round to Leighton Rees who took the title when defeating his Welsh compatriot Evans.
In 1975, Des Stabb qualified for the World Masters which was contested at the West Centre Hotel, Fulham.
The tournament featured the best 60 players from around the world. 24 winners of major tournaments from the previous year and an English qualifying round consisting of 36 players.
The 36 County players played down to the last eight before joining the 24 invitees to make the first round.
Cliff Inglis was defending his title he won in 1974 as the first winner while also in the line-up was an 18-year-old Londoner by the name of Eric Bristow and two Cornishmen in Lionel Johns and Ron Burley.
The Masters title was eventually won by Alan Evans who defeated another Welshman, David “Rocky” Jones.
Tributes have been pouring in from darts players far and near of the sad news of Des’s death and one former team-mate, Graham Bryce, knew Des as well as anybody after playing in the same teams at the Hyde Park, Longroom, Futurama, Cambridge, Duke of Somerset, No Place Inn and many more and said that “Des was one of the finest players this city has seen”.
A team-mate of Dessie’s back in the early days, and a player who is still performing at a very high level is Ralph Lancaster who said that Des was a good friend to all and a very good darts player.
Ralph recalls one story in the 70s when he and Des played a doubles challenge match at The Clifton with a fixed double start. They won the match with a 10-dart leg and the landlord sent in the result to the paper, highlighting the feat.
When Ralph checked the following week for the write up the headline said: “Plymouth pair hit 10-darter” . . . Des Lancaster and Ralph Stabb!
Another former team-mate of Des’s at The Clipper was Dick Johns and he recalls the night when somebody brought in Sid Waddell’s book “Bedtime Darts” and asked Des for his autograph on the page that he was mentioned in Sid’s book.
In the chapter on The Indoor League Sid wrote: “My final memory relates to the aptly named Devon darter Des Stabb, a real character.
“Just before a crucial match he discovered that he had lost one of his darts. In a flash a couple of dozen children were scuttling under the tables searching for it. Des was so pleased when a little boy found it that he gave the kid all the money in his pockets which totalled £3.50. A sizable amount of beer money in 1974”.