We Salute You, Mr Darts!
Steve Chapman, a humble man from humble beginnings, was born on the last day of 1950, the start of a remarkable life.
Upon leaving school, Steve started off working in the Western Morning News and Evening Herald offices and this was the start of a relationship with journalism that spanned across seven decades, and ultimately how he became known to thousands in the local area.
His first taste of the sport of darts was as a player but in his words, "he wasn't very good", so Steve needed a new way to be part of a community he loved.
Steve then started writing about the game through his links with the Herald and due to his natural flair and aptitude, the newspaper took up a regular slot every Tuesday in the 1980s.
Locally, the sport at that time was at its most popular with hundreds of players turning out every night of the week for their local pub, which gave Steve a plethora of content to publish.
His stories quickly became conversation pieces within the local darting community with "getting a mention from Steve" becoming as important as hitting doubles and winning trophies.
Local darts player Simon Stevenson recalls this ambition: "As a young darter at the age of 18 it was always an ambition to get your name into the paper. My Gran at the time would always look out for my name and cut the column out for the scrap book as I’m sure many other people did!"
In a steady job now at South West Water and very quickly becoming a local celebrity; revered by all because of his local newspaper column. All of this would usually be more than enough for most.
However, the mid 1980s is when Steve set about making his greatest contribution to both the South West darting scene and the local community with the birth of his brain child, The Champions of Champions.
The simple, elegant and yet equally genius idea was to get local players to play each year across multiple venues in a knockout format for the chance to be crowned Plymouth's best.
This title carried only prestige and a trophy with no money changing hands other than the players, pub landlords and supporters making pledges to a charitable cause each year via entry fees, raffles and donations.
So in 1985, the competition was born with the Phil Cantwell trophy commissioned by Varley Trophies with its first winner; the immensely gifted Cornishman, John Goves.
The years went on with collection buckets continuing to be passed around the pubs of Plymouth and the players responded to his call year after year by turning out in their droves, which was the catalyst for him to be able to do some wonderful things for wonderful local causes.
Col Maddocks, who won the event in 1989, shared his thoughts regarding Steve's efforts: "He has tirelessly & selflessly raised thousands & thousands of pounds for local good causes & charities for many, many years."
However, good things always have to come to an end and in 2011, after no fewer than twenty-seven editions of the event, with tens of thousands of pounds raised for some wonderful causes, it was time for Steve to call an emotional end to his leadership of his event that he had been involved in for almost half his life.
All his champions, amongst others who were involved in the competition during his reign, made the effort to join him for one last Final's Night from far and wide across the South West.
Such was the love and affection for what he had achieved not just for the charities but also for the players as Steve gave them a pedestal on which to display their undoubted talents and a title to fight for that was truly unique.
After retiring from his day job at South West Water a few years later, Steve thoroughly deserved his time spent with his beloved wife, Margaret, who he married in 2003; building a beautiful and wonderful family of which he was a much loved patriarchal figurehead.
The couple, friends and their extended family would spend up to four holidays a year in his second home, the island of Tenerife where he made incredible memories and friends with locals due to his wonderfully approachable nature.
His passion for the island was unerring; you couldn't convince Steve that there was anywhere else on earth better to spend your life. And having been convinced by his recommendations myself, I have to say he had a point!
Despite his retirement from his day job and relinquishing the reigns of the Champion of Champions, Steve was always available for advice to players and organisers of competitions and leagues right up until he was no longer physically able.
In his twilight years of his life, his newspaper column also continued to highlight the achievements of local players each Tuesday right up until a year before his recent passing.
This also grew into other publications including Darts World who published a number of articles written by Steve about either local competitions, or the achievements of local players in national and world darting events.
Alongside traditional media, another platform emerged with assistance from his grandson, Jamie Brandwood, they developed the Three In The Bed website allowing him to share his insights, knowledge and sui generis style of writing that captivated local audiences on a much wider scale through social media shares.
The six hundred articles written on the platform in the three years it was administered by Steve beguiled nearly two hundred thousand viewers from all over the world; a remarkable feat when you consider the subject matter and catchment area covered.
Former PDC Tour Card holder Simon Stevenson also gave me his thoughts regarding the coverage Steve gave him over his own professional career.
"Steve has also helped me when I became a professional dart player back in 2015. Steve took the time to help promote my achievements through his reporting and inspire me to always do and be at my best. His constant calls to see how I’m feeling and let me know the support I had from him all in the area inspired me. I always felt whilst playing the support behind me."
And one time World Championship Semi Finalist Maria O'Brien gave her thoughts about Steve's work on her own career.
"Steve has been on my darts journey with me from the very beginning reporting on every single competition I play on the tour home, Europe and to the other side of the world. Never missed a game of mine following every dart thrown he sometimes had to remind me how I got on in a game that’s how dedicated he was to his dart reports."
Steve's other major contribution and legacy to the Plymouth darting community is 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 5, 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.
Since 2008 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.
Steve ran this league for it's first seven years and nine seasons before handing over proceedings to Louis Yates who before Steve sadly passed away, with this committee and captains, voted to rename the league to the Steve Chapman 501 League in Steve's honour.
This tribute leaves a great man's legacy in tact for tens of years to come and allows the darting community of Plymouth to remember a remarkable man's achievements.
Louis Yates, who replaced Steve has the League Secretary of the newly named Steve Chapman 501 League, gave this statement regarding Steve's accomplishments within our game.
"Within the community of darts he has run leagues, played for many teams and probably more importantly has written a column in our local paper for many a year with great writeups' about many leagues. Some not in existence anymore and others which have been going for many a year.
He has also written about individual people after death, retirement or as a tribute to such many people for what they have done for the darts community."
After several years of many mini battles with cancer, in 2020 Steve was given the news that the disease would eventually end his life.
This news was swiftly followed by the announcement that after a journalistic career which spanned nearly forty years, he would retire from the keyboard in May 2020.
In reality, such was the dedication to his cause, Steve continued writing via Three In The Bed right up until December 2020.
Even in early 2021, despite his health massively deteriorating, he was still thinking about writing more, giving more of his time and effort to others when his chips were down. That's the man that should be remembered!
Unfortunately, that wasn't meant to be due to COVID restrictions at the time not allowing him to access the required library resources to undertake another project.
Instead he would live out the rest of his days with his family around him, visiting his beloved Beefeater when possible and making the best of a bad situation until the inevitable happened.
The highlight of which came on the 4th July when surrounded by family and friends, he renewed his vows with his wife Margaret, which he managed to fit in before his health was too poor.
Steve sadly passed away on Friday, 3rd September, which was greeted by a massive outpouring of grief from everyone who knew him, especially in the darting community.
I think it's impossible to understate the achievements of Steve Chapman personally, journalistically, and his contribution to his local community through philanthropy.
And that is why on behalf of the whole darting community I would like to say, we salute you, sir!