By the time of Henry VIII, darts was such a respected pastime that the monarch's second wife, Anne Boleyn, is said to have presented the king with a set. Its origins, however, are said to be more humble, with folklore suggesting its roots can be traced back to medieval archers throwing their arrows at the ends of barrels, or cross-sections of tree trunks, for fun. In winter, so the story goes, the arrows were too big for throwing, so smaller versions created. Whether or not another suggestion is true, that darts grew in medieval popularity as a drinking game - seeing who could get closest to the centre - may, or may not be true, but in Britain the game has always been closely associated with public houses.
No documentary evidence exists but the sport-s enthusiasts regard as gospel, and essential to the spread of darts, the story of a legendary court case before Leeds magistrates in 1908. Intent on banning darts on the basis that it was a game of chance, and therefore illegal, it is told that in the crucial test case a Leeds pub landlord had a board erected in the courtroom and threw three successive darts in the "20" section. He then challenged the magistrates to repeat his feat and when they were unable, they agreed that darts was a game of skill.
Its place in British popular culture assured, darts was for many years a popular, but low profile sport played by amateurs. In modern times however, the arrival of extensive television coverage has spawned professional players, generated millions of pounds in prize money and spread the game around the globe. As Leeds magistrates found, for such an apparently simple challenge, darts is a sport that demands practice, precision and passion.