Interviewing John “Darth Maple” Part

Three-time world champion, Ally Pally’s original winner, and the first non-UK player to win the World Championship, join SportsBoom’s voice of choice, Wade McElwain, as he grabs an in-depth chat with darts legend, John “Darth Maple” Part.

Wade McElwain
Wade McElwain

Last Updated: 2023-12-19

Louis Hobbs

6 minutes read

John Part kissing his trophy

The road to 3x champion status

“I kind of spun out of disinterest in university and focus on anything in particular,” John muses, taking us back to his early days. “I was practising darts the whole time. Eventually, I started going to a pub near where I lived, I met some people [who] could play fairly well and I could test myself. I was at a level where I could compete.”

“So then I found out about leagues, tournaments, and it really snowballed from about late ‘89 onwards, where I was involved socially and competitively with other dart players. It was a whirlwind and kind of took my focus after I was done pretending to go to university, [it] just kind of overtook my life.”

And as John continues describing how he sandwiched various jobs between practising darts, it’s easy to see how “it was like [a] 24/7, apart from any work, effort”.

When asked about the moment he realised he was good enough to compete at a professional level, John says, “You kind of recognise [that] wait a minute – I got a certain sharpness and level here, if not competitive knowledge, that I could basically get away with beating the most experienced pub league player… if I just keep it together.”

As the champ is quick to point out though, “Keeping it together. That's a whole other story [though], right?”

Stories from the split

“I got exposure to a lot of [the top] English players before the split [in] the very early nineties: Eric Bristow, and John Lowe, and young Rod Harrington,” John explains, of his first experiences with British darts.

“I got to play a lot of top guys in the BDO ranked events, which I think there were four or five in North America. There was a sort of familiarity there if you were a consistent performer where you'd come up against them. And I kind of made a name for myself against the actual guys touring before I ever hit the British Shore.”

Talking us through his first big final, John speaks of “playing Bobby George, who was the big crowd favourite.”

“He had the whole audience,” he says. “They were all for him, and he worked them up - that was his thing. And he wasn't feeling a hundred percent, but he got a hundred percent out of that audience, I'll tell you [but] I got past him.”

“For a young guy, first time around, it was tough,” John continues. “I had one of these guys that I'd been playing against in the first round, it was the number two seed, Ronnie Baxter, in that first event I played, and I got past him. So that was big. Just as a ‘get on board and have some confidence’, you take a top-seed spot that certainly gets you on your feet.”

When asked about the world’s reaction to his triumphs, John’s answers are woven into the infamous split of the early nineties…

“There was a lot of acrimony and it was a full-fledged kind of war really. Most of the guys that had broke away, they knew me, I'd played against them all. They loved the fact, I think, that I went in and won it, because it upset the BDO apple cart. They're like, ‘Look what happens when you don't have us there’. Right? ‘Some foreign guy’s going to win’. But they all knew I could throw.”

Still, as John describes their “tongue-in-cheek” attitudes, the mutual respect these established players held for each other is clearly still important to the three-time champ.

And as he says, “You got to take your lumps, that's a process you need to go through. You need to play against guys that really can hold their stuff together at a whole different level”, it’s clear that John regards matches against the greats as integral stepping stones to his success.

Modern darts scene

Comparing past and present, John talks of how “COVID sort of brought the world together, with the darts playing online.”

“You can have cameras set up over your board,” he explains, “there's a lot of people playing matches very remotely against other good players [and] all sorts of tournaments and leagues, and that is vastly improving the quality of darts in North America.”

“[That’s] our biggest problem compared to the UK - geography,” John elaborates, praising the modern innovations and their potential to change the landscape of darts for future players.

“This onset of the online darts playing where you competitively play against people using your cameras and scoring platforms like Dart Connect, which a lot of the tournaments and even the professional associations use for their scoring now, [has] really brought the ability of players to be tested and pushed, and that's what you need.”

And John quickly makes it clear how important that really is. “You can't just be comfortable beating your buddy [who] is disinterested every second Wednesday. That doesn't put you anywhere.”

A broader appeal

When asked how darts could scale in popularity in countries like America and Canada, John has a lot to say, from needing a new Barry Hearn to better-televised coverage…

“It does take a salesman,” the champ sums up. “You can have the best product in the world and it's sometimes still very hard to get people to accept that this is the best product in the world and you should use it - that's the very difficult part of changing the landscape of darts. But yes, we do need a man or a woman like Barry Hearn to come in with some vision.”

Talking of the North American darts landscape, John laments that “everything runs basically [the] same as when I started. They just make sure these events come off every year, but it still doesn't maximise the interaction, there's so many players left behind.”

To John, darts won’t see a rise in popularity until it’s more readily available live for fans…

“That makes it almost impossible for any outsiders to try and follow it. You can't engage in with a tournament, which is very important for being interested. Live television is crucial. So I would like to see it on a more widely available [network] like a TSN Sportsnet live. I think that would do wonders.”

John continues to round out his vision for us next, touching on everything from the media coverage potential to the gambling appeal and what each could do to help the sport.

Ultimately though, John does not doubt that while people still have to “do the legwork” to find darts, “it doesn't do a lot towards opening it up wide”.

He’s also convinced that it’s the nuance of the sport that people really need to see. “These pressure points are what are interesting if you understand what's going on. You can see the person throwing, you see it going through their eyes.”

“It's very hard to be a really good poker player on that stage and not show what you're feeling,” he continues. “You don't have to hide it necessarily, but you do have to deal with these pressures and it's very interesting to watch.”

What it takes, fresh faces, and Ally Pally predictions

After admitting he’d be game for a match against Phil Taylor, but suggesting “The Power” might be better off challenging someone like Jeff Smith, John turns his attention onto what it means to be a pro darts player…

While John seems to hold no grudges against the greater sums of money players today make, he’s not shy about his feelings towards the Player’s Association and his lack of a darts pension…

“The Player’s Association needs to improve a hell of a lot,” he says, after mentioning how he saw nothing from his contributions to their Levy. “They really don't exist as a separate entity the way they should [or] protect the players.”

Even so, he’s quick to point out that “Look where the sport has gotten, they made it into a monster to fight over, which is a nice problem.”

When asked what skill level ambitious newcomers should aim for, John advises that “people pair their levels, on a three-dart average.”

“To be competitive at a local level,” he continues. “It'd have to be in the fifties or sixties at least. Then [for] your top-level national events or international ones, you pretty much have to be at least the seventies, probably the eighties, and to win some matches in the nineties or even the hundreds, which is a pro level.”

Spinning on to the fresh faces in the game today, John expresses his support of fellow Canadian Matt Campbell, the Ginja Ninja, who is “doing what I did for my old career” and who, despite “spinning his wheels a little”, is “good enough to do it how he wants” in the eyes of the legendary Darth Maple.

Still, when it comes to Ally Pally predictions, John has a few other ideas…

“The guy you got to be looking at is Luke Humphries,” he says. “It's a lot of pressure now to convert the big one for him. So it would be very interesting to follow his progress.”

Beyond Humphries, John’s money, it seems, is on other top players like Michael van Gerwen and Michael Smith. “It is pretty wide open,” he admits though, hedging his bets.

Finally, wrapping up this in-depth chat, John walks us through his busy schedule of events these days, and makes it clear that he’s “always trying to beat the drum” when it comes to broadening the popularity of darts.

Wade McElwain
Wade McElwainSenior Sports Writer

Wade McElwain is our Mr. NFL, a bona fide North American sports nut who knows about NBA, NHL, MLB, PGA plus MMA boxing and more. Originally from Canada, Wade is also an international award-winning stand-up comedian; host of numerous TV game shows; and a TV producer & writer. He also runs NFL in London-the largest NFL fan group in Europe, and has hosted NFL events at Wembley and around the world. Yes, he lives alone and does nothing but watch sports.