What started out as a brilliant Betway Premier League Darts event at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, Ireland in late February, finished off with chaos and anarchy as the crowd erupted into fits of drunken brawling and profane verbal blasts, leaving families that had been so excited to attend the event with a rather sour taste of the competitive darts world.
With the top darts players in the world in attendance, many thousands of fans flocked to get a glimpse of players such as Peter Wright, Michael van Gerwen, Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld. The tournie began with a cheerful colourful crowd donning tropical shirts and pirate hats and good heartedly backing their favourites with cheers and applause. But the revelry rapidly turned toxic as the intensity escalated and exploded into fighting and brawling. Ironically, only two weeks earlier, more than a hundred youth were corralled and treated for abuse of drugs and alcohol at a music concert at the same venue.
One mother, Monica Treacy, described the chaos to a local newspaper, explaining that her family had travelled over an hour from Omagh to take in the tournie as a family event that had been gifted to them over the Christmas season. Her four children range in age from 10 to 15 and were very excited to be able to attend the tournament, looking forward to seeing the top ranked players in action. Mrs. Treacy says that it is very likely that they will not rush to attend another event of this nature. She claims that up until the last match, the atmosphere was rather positive, with a greater air of celebration and spirit. Her family was wisely housed in the section designated for families, thinking the environment there would be slightly more subdued. She says that even there, people were throwing beer back and forth through the seated area and the disorder was increasing.
Many of the more involved fights were occurring on the opposite side of the arena but before long the chaos had migrated through most sections and within minutes had even seeped into the family area. Treacy says her daughter was frightened and separated by a flight of stairs so they gathered together and then awaited for the dispersion of the crowd for fear of getting pulled into something by accident. In the end, she and her family were clearly disappointed by loss of control and it completely cast a shadow over the previously positive experience.
Other attendees also expressed their disgust with the turn of events. Paul Walker from east Belfast didn’t stick around to see how bad it became and left earlier than he wanted to with a sense of revulsion for the impact that it had on the more sedate fans as well as on all of the families that were in attendance with children.
Another fan, Graham McVea, was attending a darts tournament for the first time and describes the circumstances as rough and the alcohol consumption as “unreal”. He witnessed a few of the individual reactions and was rather put off.
Local authorities report a number of arrests made in the vicinity after the event and into the wee hours of the next morning.