In the sporting world, January has become notorious for football’s over-hyped transfer window, but it’s also a time when darts players opt to switch allegiances between the sport’s two rival codes ahead of the new season.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a high-tech studio housing Natalie Sawyer or Jim White, or reporters mobbed by fans outside darts players’ houses, but we’ll do our best to keep you up to speed with the latest movers and shakers.
Following the implementation of the second-tier PDC Challenge Tour in 2014 and the abolition of entry fees as of this season, a switch to darts’ most lucrative code is no longer as much of a leap of faith.
In a change from 2017, the PDC will now stage two separate Qualifying Schools, a UK Qualifying School in Wigan and a European Qualifying School in Hildesheim, Germany – both from January 18-21 and open to any player over the age of 16.
A guaranteed eight Tour Cards are available in the UK qualifier, as well as an unconfirmed number of top-ups from the final Q School Order of Merit, while a minimum of four coveted Tour Cards are up for grabs in the European event.
Players who fail to secure an automatic Tour Card are entered onto a ranking list, with points awarded for reaching various stages of the competition and a designated amount of additional Tour Cards are distributed to the leading players on the order of merit following the final day of action.
The 2018 Challenge Tour will only be open to players who competed at Qualifying School, meaning there will be no ‘Challenge Tour Only’ PDPA membership available.
In addition, 128-player field for Players Championship events will be topped up by participants from the Challenge Tour Order of Merit as opposed to the Qualifying School Order of Merit.
Darts unofficial transfer window closes at 2pm GMT on Tuesday January 16, coinciding with the close of entries for Q School applicants. More than 300 players have already registered for the UK Q School and over 120 for the European Q School.
The clock is ticking…
BDO to PDC confirmed moves (via Q School) – last updated Jan 16 (1pm):
BDO world number four Hughes is the latest notable name to confirm his attendance at Q School this week, with the Tipton thrower releasing a statement via his official Facebook page.
He has also signed a three-year deal with the MDA Promotions management stable.
Hughes, 31, has competed in BDO events since 2007, with career highlights including two Lakeside Semi-Final appearances, runner-up in the 2014 World Masters and winner of the 2014 Finder Masters.
Hughes has also featured in the two most recent Grand Slams, notably topping his group on debut in 2016 ahead of James Wade, James Wilson and Dave Chisnall before losing out to Chris Dobey 10-9 in the Last 16.
The Black Country thrower cites his proudest moment as representing England and winning two gold medals at the WDF World Cup.
Fitton joins fellow Stockport star Tony O’Shea in making a bold switch to the PDC, having been part of the furniture in the BDO since 2002.
Fitton, 55, won the Finder Masters in 2009 and the World Trophy in 2016, while also reaching a trio of Lakeside Semi-Finals and finishing runner-up in the 2007 World Masters.
A firm crowd favourite, Fitton has already had limited experiences of competing on major PDC stages, including the Grand Slam in Wolverhampton and the World Matchplay in Blackpool back in 1997.
An official statement from ‘The Dazzler’ read…
“After 17 years playing the BDO including 16 World Championship appearances, I have decided to stop playing BDO! One of the reasons is to cut down on the traveling.
“Who knows I may try one more time after this year is over.
“I’m going to try the PDC Q School. I’m looking at the Challenge Tour & UK and European Tour Qualifiers as I have to have up to three months out after my hip replacement. This should cut the traveling down and help me get back to full strength!”
Scotland’s Menzies will head to Wigan in pursuit of his darting dream after a disappointing First Round exit to Conan Whitehead on his Lakeside debut.
The 28-year-old has competed on the BDO circuit since 2006 but finally made his breakthrough in 2017, winning the Scottish Open and reaching the Semi-Finals of the World Masters.
Menzies made his debut in last November’s Grand Slam, defeating Simon Whitlock but finishing third in his Group after an agonising last-leg defeat to Berry van Peer.
He recently signed a contract to join the Dunvegan Darts team and is likely to receive invaluable advice from experienced stablemates Gary Anderson, Ian White and Michael Smith.
Dutch ace Noppert has announced his intention to move to the PDC after suffering an early exit from the Lakeside World Championship.
Noppert, last year’s Lakeside runner-up, bowed out to Mark McGeeney in Round Two on Wednesday and confirmed on social media that he will enter the upcoming PDC Qualifying School.
The 27-year-old gained his first taste of a PDC major at the 2016 Grand Slam – where he reached the Last 16 – before returning to the Wolves Civic 12 months later and bowing out in the Group Stage.
A Facebook statement from ‘Noppie’ read: “Do not worry. I’m going to play at Q-School for the PDC next week. Go for it.”
Multiple ranking title winner O’Shea is perhaps one of the more surprising entrants to this year’s Qualifying School, having spent 22 years competing on the BDO circuit.
The 56-year-old is a three-time Lakeside runner-up but failed to qualify for the BDO’s show-piece this year for the first time since 2001.
O’Shea picked up the Turkish Open title last October, proving he still possesses the winning touch and ‘Silverback’ may envisage this as his last chance to test himself against the big boys.
Smith, Lakeside runner-up in 2016, will make the long trip from Canada to compete in the UK Qualifying School as he looks to regain a place on the PDC circuit.
The Canadian held a Tour Card in 2011 before returning to the BDO in 2014, but was controversially handed a wildcard to compete in last month’s PDC World Championship – where he defeated Luke Humphries in the Preliminary Round before losing out to Gary Anderson in Round One.
Atikins, 52, competed in twelve BDO World Championships from 2005 but will attempt to secure a place on the £11 million PDC circuit for the first time.
Prins has plied his trade on the BDO circuit since 2005, making five appearances at Lakeside, most recently in 2014 – where he reached the Second Round.
The 49-year-old is a two-time UK Open qualifier and a familiar face in the North East darting circles, having represented Durham County for a number of years.
Sweden’s Nilsson has enjoyed the best of both worlds throughout his career, appearing in the 2012 PDC World Championship as well as back-to-back Lakeside Championships in 2017 and 2018.
Nicknamed ‘Iron Man’, Nilsson is a former strongman competitor who is now looking to flex his muscles full-time on the PDC circuit.
He notably reached the Quarter-Finals of the International Open on the PDC European Tour last September, impressively dispatching Steve Beaton, Daryl Gurney and Dave Chisnall along the way.
Montgomery is almost part of the furniture at Lakeside, having plied his trade in the BDO since 2003 but surpassed the Second Round stage at Frimley Green just once in eleven appearances.
The Scot has been openly critical of the PDC down the years, but like Menzies, gained his first taste of the Grand Slam two months ago and appeared to relish the occasion.
At 55 and entering twilight of his career, this looks like being The Boss’ last real opportunity to test himself among the sport’s elite.