“The PDC doesn’t have too much history, as we’re quite a young organisation,” admits Matt Porter. “But the World Matchplay being in Blackpool is up there with everything that epitomises the organisation.”
This theme permeates our exclusive dartsnews.com interview with Porter, the PDC Chief Executive. In a calendar that is now jam-packed with high quality events played at big venues (for significant prize money), the Matchplay still stands head and shoulders above the crowd. A big part of that is the location, Blackpool’s opulent Winter Gardens.
“It’s a beautiful venue with a story of its own, and the event is a perfect fit there. It’s probably our most traditional tournament, and to play it in a traditional venue that players and fans alike love, is a perfect combination,” Porter adds.
As he mentions, the PDC is still young – 2019 sees the Matchplay played out for just the 26th time. It means that history is still in the making. And with a frightening depth of talent involved this year, could it be the most open edition in its developing legacy?
“Certainly, yes,” Porter enthuses.
“Michael van Gerwen is obviously the number one and favourite, but he has not had it all his own way recently, and the best players raise their game on the biggest stages.
“So don’t be surprised to see some special darts from the top ranked players and a few lesser-known characters emerge to create their own headlines.”
Mixing it with the top names in Blackpool for the first time are seven debutants. Even they – Nathan Aspinall, Glen Durrant, Jamie Hughes, Danny Noppert, Chris Dobey, Ricky Evans and Krzysztof Ratajski – are big names in the game.
“It’s vitally important that we have a turnover of players in order to keep the product fresh. The wave of new talent coming through now is fantastic to see,” said Porter.
“There is huge competition outside the top 16 for a seat at the top table and it’s fascinating to watch it unfold. But as impressive as it is to quality, the real skill is to be able to stay there and establish yourself in the elite – that’s when you really see the cream rising to the top.”
There were concerns last year that the ‘product’ had been affected by World Series trips to Shanghai and Las Vegas in the immediate run-up, even though eventual champion Gary Anderson was at both. Porter offered a diplomatic defence to that suggestion, but also accentuated the positives of events preceding this year’s event being staged in Cologne and Barnsley.
“It was a factor we considered, but it wasn’t something that we decided absolutely had to happen,” said Porter on the schedule switch.
“Players had at least a week to get over the travelling before – it wasn’t as if the Matchplay started 24 hours after they got back.
“But it certainly won’t hurt that there has been no long haul travel immediately beforehand, and no-one will be able to use it as an excuse!”
Porter has been the PDC’s Chief Executive for more than a decade. But his love of the Matchplay is palpable, and the excitement for events to come is implicit, even as the 39-year-old looks back on his favourite memories of the event.
“I love the special atmosphere that the venue generates – it sounds like a cliché, but a combination of the appearance of the venue, the summer weather, the crowds enjoying their holiday and the nerves that you can feel from the players when they walk through the stage door all combine to make it a special event.
“Last year’s final was very dramatic of course, and there have been some real showstopping moments such as Colin Lloyd’s 170 finish to win the trophy, Michael van Gerwen’s nine-darter against Steve Beaton to kickstart his career and Andy Hamilton’s remarkable comeback against Simon Whitlock,” Porter recalled.
“But the biggest fairytale I remember was an emotional Phil Taylor winning the tournament in his final year as a pro. There’ll be plenty more chapters written this year, I’m sure of that.”
The PDC has pumped yet more money into the World Matchplay – the player who leaves with the Phil Taylor Trophy also pockets £150,000. This, combined with the depth of talent on show, makes Porter’s prediction of memorable chapters written a certainty.Tags: Matt Porter, PDC, World Matchplay
Author: Ed McCosh