Thousands flock to see darts aces in action; Crowds expected for Arena event.
PHIL "The Power" Taylor will feel like a rock star when he steps on to the oche at the Echo Arena tonight.
That's because around 8,000 Merseyside darts fans will roar the world number one's name as he kicks off the 2009 Premier League Darts tour.
And the reigning champion will soak up the attention.
"It's rock 'n' roll, so they tell me," said the 13 times world champion.
"It's like one of Robbie Williams's concerts, it's massive."
The 5ft 8in Stoke-on-Trent native will bound into the waterfront Arena to Snap's I've Got the Power.
With hints from professional boxing and even American football - cheerleaders line the stadium - Premier League Darts is all about the razzmatazz.
Taylor continued: "Fans can come in dressed as a banana or a chicken, or whatever, and shout their heads off. It makes the atmosphere for us and it's terrific.
"You can pay your money and can come out an enjoy yourself.
And there's not any place you can do that now - the cabaret places have gone. You can't do it at the snooker. It's a bit like a cabaret night, a bit like the panto, and people enjoy it."
Taylor has dominated the tournament for the past four years, winning each year since 2005.
He is one of eight of the world's top players who are in the city for the White & Mackay tournament.
Other contenders for the prize include Raymond Van Barneveld, James Wade and Terry Jenkins.
There's pounds 125,000 for the winner of the league. Taylor, who had humble council estate beginnings, said in his earlier jobs he would have worked 20 years to earn that much.
But, while it's great to play in front of thousands of darts devotees, losing in front of an Arena crowd can be crushing.
"It will be a lonely place up there, especially when you're not playing well. Having the crowd has changed it. Every venue that we get to, it's like the finals night.
"That's going to be buzzing and that's when you're going to get your best darts.
"I'm just excited about being here, kicking off in Liverpool to a big crowd. We'll be kicking off with a bang and I don't think we can get a bigger place than this.
"I still get the butterflies in the stomach. But I enjoy it."
Dave Allen, spokesman for the Professional Darts Corporation, added: "When the premier league started in 2005, we were at town hall venues with 600 to 700 people.
"The first year saw an amazing reaction in the smaller venues, then we went slightly bigger in the second year.
"Then we did a stop at the Sheffield Arena and from then the venues have been approaching us and said 'Can we host it as well?'."
Last year saw the biggest premier league tour so far, with 75,000 fans seeing matches during the three-month UK tour.
Van Barneveld is ranked third in the PNC's order of merit.
On the shift in darts from pub pastime to arena spectacular, the Dutchman said: "If you see the walk out, that's fantastic, it's unbelievable - people screaming your name. But, as soon as the game's on, you forget about it and focus.
"We know where we come from.
We play in the pubs first, then the sports clubs. Now we're playing in venues like this.
"I think the power of the premier league is 14 weeks in different places. Everyone in Liverpool who likes the darts, they can come."
A few tickets are still available for tonight's match, priced pounds 20 and pounds 30.
From left, James Wade, Wayne Mardle, Terry Jenkins, John Part, Phil 'The Power' Taylor, Raymond Van Barneveld, Mervyn King, and Jelle Klaasen Picture: COLIN LANE/ cl040209dartsarena-5