One budding arrows ace improved his darts game during the latest lockdown – by going virtual.
Just as the shutdown kicked in, Conor Ferguson, 26, was planning on using the board at his Dingwall home to sharpen up and secure a spot on a team.
With the pandemic and pub closures putting paid to local leagues, Conor – like many others – discovered a way to remain competitive without setting foot outside.
The sales assistant, who had just completed a welding and fabrication course, said: “New lockdown rules arrived at Christmas and I had just finished studying at Nigg.
“I was stuck in the house all the time and took up darts again, which is something I had wanted to do for a while.
“I was on the dartboard for seven or eight hours a day.
“Then I found a Facebook page, which had online darts competitions. I signed up to a league whereby you play two games every Monday online.
“How it worked it there is an online programme which takes your scores and averages. You call through Facebook Messenger and the webcam lets you see the board.
“The scoring system is called Nakka. You need two devices, one for the cam and one for the scoring, but it works pretty well.
“I have played against guys from England and Ireland and, bizarrely, even managed to play someone from just up the road in Alness. That was just by pure luck.”
Conor looks to transfer improvements from playing virtually to live setting once leagues start up again
The talented part-time dance DJ was soon hitting the right notes after finding his feet.
He explained: “The first league was a challenge. I could throw at a board all day and score well, but then the minute the cam went on the nerves got to me.
“I’ve just finished my second league and that was more enjoyable when I finished mid-table.
“I’m going to speak to the guys at the Innes Bar in Inverness and hopefully get a place in one of their teams.
“Further down the line, I would really like to get involved in big competitions and events, but right now it’s all about seeing what happens within the Inverness leagues.
“At the start my average was pretty poor, high 30s to low 40s. Now, on my day, I could probably hit a low 60 average.
“Considering I have only been playing for over four months that’s pretty good.
He added: “The online darts is the next best thing to playing live darts and it’s definitely been worthwhile.
“The only real way for me to keep improving is to get out there again into the live situations and compete. I can’t wait for that. As soon as we can get playing inside the bars again, I’d be looking to get involved straight away.
“I’m looking forward to getting the chance to play in the leagues. From what I hear and read, there are plenty of good players in the Inverness area. It will be good to test myself. The standard is very good.”
Darts chief: No swift return expected for pub arrows action
Jim MacNeil, who is the Inverness Summer League secretary and a Scottish Darts Association director, admits it could be some time yet before teams bolster the local pubs again.
He explained: “As it stands right now, there is little point going back until restrictions are lifted in terms of masks and social distancing.
“Everything is cancelled just about until the end of the year.
“If we get the go-ahead, I’d be looking at running a few competitions on Thursday nights. That would gradually get people into it, to see what would happen.
“According to the Scottish Government, no darts should be getting played (in venues) until we get down to level one.”
Jim says that in terms of the inter-county system, with the use of bigger venues, he’d like to get see that return by October, but stressed it again is led by the Scottish Government guidance.
The long-time organiser admits he not personally a fan of virtual darts, but knows that there have been many players using Facebook to keep going.
Pubs can provide ‘safe environment’ for players
Craig MacLeod and Collette Macpherson are the licensees of the Innes Bar and Raigmore Motel in Inverness, which are two popular darts venues.
Craig reckons there will be a period of adjustment when the pubs are permitted to allow the arrows action to resume.
He explained: “We are looking forward to bringing darts back and providing a safe environment for the leagues to continue.
“There are a lot of players playing online, but they miss the interaction with other players and teams.
“We are lucky in that both our venues have space to separate players for social distancing, which I assume will carry on for a good while yet.
“When the darts are allowed to resume, I can see numbers being less than before, so the teams will be looking for new blood to join.”