The Short History of W.A.D.A (The World Airlines Darts Association) – by Tom Firth…

DSCF3374In 1979 when i was first employed by Aer Lingus, the first thing i did was to join the Aer Lingus Darts Club (ALDC). In that year, a trip was arranged by Aer Lingus Darts Club to Los Angeles, to visit Tony and Joe Brady. Originally from Dublin, Tony & Joe had a pub in Long Beach & had invited us to play there. As i was not eligible for staff to travel that year, I had to wait until 1980 to visit. That year a trip and a couple of challenge matches were played in Fort Lauderdale in Florida. William (Liam) Smith arranged this in the States. He had a pub called Christies and he was a brother-in-law of Kevin Foran who was Secretary of the ALDC at that time and in later years became Chairman and Honorary President of WADA.

Upon returning from that it was decided to hold a meeting between Aer Lingus and the outstations London, Shannon and Cork. Invites were sent out to a couple of airline including BA – Flying Tigers (as was from LA) to form the World Airlines Darts Association (WADA) and host the 1st competition in Dublin in 1981. This was won by Aer Lingus London. The others taking part in the were BA and the Flying Tigers Aer Lingus from Hannon, Cork & London. This brings to mind the work done by Kevin O’Brien and Bob James both from London, Bob was the very able Treasurer of WADA until recent years when he retired. The competition moved  around Dublin, London and Los Angeles up until 1987. The competition was won in those days by Airlines which no longer exist such as Britannia in 1982 & British Caledonian in 1983. British Airways won in 1984. Their secretart Ron Wadley was a very active leader of BA and also Chairman of WADA until recent years, when he had to retire to look after his wife Pam who is in ill health. BA has always been a formidable force to be reckoned with in the darts scene throughout the years. Ken Burgon and Mick Hancock steer them on their way at the moment. 1985 saw Trans World Airlines take the title, with British Airways winning in 1986 and Pan American in 1987. In 1988 Singapore offered to host the competition and everyone jumped at the chance to travel to Asia. This proved to be a most successful competition. It was very well organized by Singapore Airlines and “Lam”. He also held the post of secretary of WADA for a number of years before emigrating to Australia. One of the most memorable players in this particular year’s competition was Rob Jones, a Chief Steward from Air New Zealand. He walked away with most of the trophies in the competition! Another couple of people, or should i say characters, who spring to mind are Tai, a proud Maori and head chef for Air New Zealand, and Sue Penn (his wife), who unfortunately both are no longer with us. Tai was ably abetted by his best mate Mo Tahu, who i was fortunate to meet again only last year whilst i was in NZ.

At thia time because of the difficulty of travelling halfway round the world on staff tickets to play darts, in 1988 the South Pacific Airlines Darts Association (SPADA) was formed, for airline employees from that area to compete in a darts tournament. The tournament is open to all airline employees World Wide but is played in the South Pacific Region. The tournament consists of Singles, Drawn Doubles and Teams Events consisting of five players per team. Up to date there has been 20 Soth Pacific Airlines Darts Association Tournaments.

I would like to emphasize, that since then, and up to today, there has never been any friction between the two organizations. Not like other bodies I could mention! In fact at these competitions although darts is the most important factor they are also more like annual family re-unions. The following year, 1989, the competition was held at Lake Louise in Canada, up in the Rockies, which although it was a beautiful place, was very difficult to get to. BA won that yer and it was the start of a hat-trick of wins for them. At this time it seems appropriate to mention another couple of people who graced our company, Reg and Kath Raymond, Dave Brooker from BA and also Rennie Sales from Delta. They may be gone but never forgotten.

The following year (1990), we went even further a-field, to Wellington. Some of us having to go the long way round, though New York – LA – Auckland – Wellington because of flight restrictions travelling eastward.

After that it was Finnair who hosted the WADA for the first time. This was ably organized by Seppo Ojala who has only comparatively recently left Finnair. The cost of this wa very expensive at the time mainly due to beer costs! Happily these cost have come down in the latter years, which is good for me as I have made some good friends and met very good darts players in Finland. I have travelled most years since then to participate in the Finnish Open, usually with my good friend, Ari Virtanen. It was in one of these Opens, that I was playing quite well until meeting one Raymond van Barnevelt in the last 16. He went on to win it and commence his onslaught into the darts scene.

Continuing our global trek, in 1992 we ventured to Sabena in Brussels, where the Darts competition was run very well with the help of the Belgium Darts Organization. This was the first time I had seen electronics, namely computers  used to keep track of the results.

Returning to LA the following year the competition proved very difficult for staff from Aer Lingus to attend. This was due to reasons beyond our control. Many people travelling to america were deciding to travel through Irland. I spent three nights with my wife Ann and four young children in Shannon and because of unavailability of seats, I returned to Dublin, went to London, stayed another night there and flew to LA direct, arriving just in time for the Team Competition. The joys again of staff travel!

Then it was back to Helsinki in 1994 where at this stage Finnair were very eager to host the competition and also the beer prices had come down. In 1995 it was off to Melbourne for the tournament. This also included a trip to the Melbourne Cup. However this was to be one of only two competitions I failed to attend because of expense. However the competition went down well being run by Kurt Strossa and “jj” Jauchius from Qantas, with a little professional assistance on this occasion!

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was our next venue. We were up in the Genting Highlands which was somewhere above the clouds! This consisted of hotel, casino and bowling alley, just to mention a few of the facilities there. The memorable part of this trip, was having to get off the bus to lighten the load so the bus could move when trying to climb one of the very steep sections of the road to the top. Coming down was a bit easier. The home team Malaysia Airlines won this competition as they did the following year (1997) in the Isle of Man. The following competition was won by Austrian Airlines in Calgary who also kept the trophy the following year (1999) by winning in Las Vegas. There we did manage to get three of four days of rain, even though there is very little rain in Las Vegas.

The next competition was in Pattaya, Thailand. Unfortunately I could not get to this competition because all the flights were overbooked out of Helsinki and I was on standby. I did however have three days in Helsinki Airport and three nights in the city! After three days, I tried to travel through Amsterdam but all the flights from there were overbooked also that (as previously mentioned) is one of the joys of travelling standby. At this stage, the joys of having subsidised travel because you work for an Airline are almost gone. Thai Airlines won their home competition and then successfully retained it in London the following year. By this time, Thai Airlines were a force to be reckoned with and they completed a hat trick of wins by winning again in 2004 in Los Angeles.

At this stage travelling with concession tickets was becoming a nightmare. Airline cutbacks both in staff and subsides to clubs with most Airlines, meant that hosting these competitions was becoming more difficult. Consequently, Aer Lingus Darts Club hosted the 2005 Competition in Dublin and were fortunate enough to win the same. We were very pleased to have Phil Jones to present the winners with their trophies at our banquet where I was happy to recieve the “Cowboy Trophy”.  The “Cowboy Trophy” is a trophy presented to the person, the airlines think, has done the most to organise and run the WADA competition in that year. It ia a trophy in memory of Earl Allison, nicknamed Cowboy, who always attended the competitions wearing his cowboy hat. He unfortunately died when he attended one of the WADA meetings in London;

In 2006 Icelandair hosted the competition. This was not the first time we had travelled to Reykjavik, having been ther for the ASCA Competition. This competition is organized by the Airline Sports and Cultural Association and is held annually throughout Europe. Organising on this occasion was Unnur Reynisdottir and she has played a big part in running the Icelandair Darts Club.

This brings us up to present date and Thai Airlines has offered to host the competition once more but this time in Chieng Mai. Again, due to travelling difficulties we expect to see a much larger contingent from the Sothern Hemisphere than thye north, but I am sure that those who participate will have a wonderful time. There are many more Airlines participating in WADA who I haven’t mentioned. Even if they haven’t been amongst the Trophy Winners, they still enjoy taking part in the WADA annual event.

My personal thanks go out to these Airlines, they include SAS, Lufthansa, KLM-London, American Airlines, Sabena, Pan Am, Fed Ex, Delta Airlines, Nuigini, and United – which includes Mick Budd. We hope you can come back soon as for KLM, I do find it puzzling that KLM in The Netherlands, (where Darts is such a big sport), does not appear to have a Darts Club, Maybe someone could enlighten me on that?

I suppose I must Mention Dougie Rider and “Kibi” from BA otherwise I would never hear the last of it. After all, they have been around for a long time. Anyone I haven’t menrioned, I apologise, because I am not getting any younger either: just a couple of years to the big 60! And my memory is not as good as it used to be!

Quoting from the SPADA webpage “Our numbers are trying to hold up, but it is getting harder to organise these tournaments with the industry being in such turmoil and people not feeling secure in their jobs. But we shall try to keep going as long as it is possible.” I can only conclude that the WADA is always looking for new members and more airlines to compete. So, if you are out there and wish to join us, you can contact me for any more information


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