Interview with Bernd Hebecker

Bernd Hebecker is one of the German darting legends. He was German Champion, won the gewann German Open, the German Gold Cup and the Dortmund Open. He was the number 1 of the DDV and president of the organisation.
Hebecker was the first German who managed to qualify over the BDO Ranking as number 16 of the world for the BDO World Championship. For many years he took part in international WDF tournaments as member of the German national team. He was member of the very first team which represented Germany internationally. Bernd Hebecker was so successful that he found a sponsor who helped him to plan for some years as a dart pro the BDO Circuit.
Today he plays - just as in his first years - only for fun in his home town Bremen in the first league und from time to time takes part in the Gold Cup.

I remember I read somewhere when you started to plan darts you played on a paper board and with brass darts?

That's true. I started to play in our pub 1977 on a paper board and used in the beginning simple brass darts but already after a short time we had real bristle boards. Things developed very fast in those years.

And where did you get your darts equipment?

We got it from our landlord who himself got it from Bob Ryan.

When could you get the first tungsten darts? Dieter Schutsch mentioned he played them from the start.

As far as I can remember I had my first tungsten darts before the 1980's. I think Didi started to play a little bit later - he's a few years younger.

And what did you play then? There probably didn't exist standard rules in Germany?

We played at first 301 double in double out best of three, later best of five. When I became president of the DDV in 1984 Phil Harrison and I translated the BDO rules and introduced them as standard rules. From then on all Opens were best of 5 501, later one played sets as well.

Did you know at that time the British Top players?

Know, well. Of course we had heard about Leighton Rees the first World Champion and later of Eric Bristow and John Lowe. That's like in soccer - you compare fourth division and the national team, unattainable legends. 1983 I played for the first time for Germany, World Cup in Edinburgh and World Masters in London. There one could watch them live. But it was later I really got to know them, when I played in the national team, at the Embassy World Championship and of course during my years as a professional between 1996 and 1999. I am still friends with some of them; I think I played them all.

Was there someone around who knew about darts or did you learn it all by yourself?

Well - it was not difficult to get to know the rules and the rest we managed to find out soon, at that time there didn't exist any organisation you might have turned to. And we were not really ambitious any way, it was just fun. When the results came it got more serious. And then the career started.

Did you have a board at home and used it for practice?

I got a board in 1979 and then really started to practice - though you not really could call it practice at that time.why should I? Later when I realised there was some talent I started to practice perhaps for an hour from time to time. When I turned professional I practiced eight hours a day - that really is hard work!

Were there several clubs in Bremen?

Very soon we had a league in Bremen, several pubs soon realised there was a lot of interest and started to offer facilities. Clubs there might have been one or two but already a lot of teams. It took some time to develop.

Were there local tournaments?

To be sure, very soon we organised smaller tournaments which attracted a lot of players. Later we had the "Bremen Open", which was for a long time the biggest tournament in Germany/Europe with almost 1000 participants. Very popular as well was the "Bremer Freimarkt Turnier". It was very, very difficult to win.

And regional tournaments as well?

It didn't take long before we started to travel. We just rented a bus, filled in 50 people and travelled on to Köln for example. Nick Bensberg was the person who kicked it off in Köln. But at this time it really was more to socialize then for the sport.

In the first years after the founding the DDV had to survive quite a turbulent time. What were the main difficulties and was there anybody who dominated?

I think the main problem was that there existed several people who wanted to dominate everything, might by because of business - well, that was 35 ago. Frankfurt/Wiesbaden was the centre at this time and Bob Ryan without competition as a darts trader. I think there were several who had the ambition to dominate but in the end it developed like it is till today - always amateurs in control. Not much is translated into action, might be it's the lack of money. Probably because Germany never produced a "world star" like Raymond van Barneveld, we'll have to wait and see how it will develop.

Do you know why Rolf Kahrau and Peter Hummel did resign from the DDV board?(1)

At this time I was not really interested in all this organisation stuff but I think Peter Hummel soon got frustrated when he was not able to translate his ideas into action. Rolf was more a person who let himself rope in to do the work; he was not a person who wanted the power, just a really nice guy.

Did there exists at the beginning other national organisations beside the DDV? Or other organisations which organised tournaments?

Well, the DDV was founded very soon and then was recognised by the WDF, which meant the end for all other might be aspiring organisations. Of course the existed other tournament organisers but all those were just "free" tournaments where you couldn't collect any points for the rankings, you could only get points for the DDV tournaments, only those were the "official" tournaments through which you could qualify for the national team.

Did the DDV use the BDO rules or put it up own rules and regulations?

During my time as chairman of the DDV we introduced the BDO rules and regulations.

How worked the international co-operation at this time?

Since 1984 Germany took part in WDF meetings, it was very important to show one's colours to be able to have some influence on what was going on. You don't have to forget it took till 1983 before the first German national team took part in a World Cup in Edinburgh in Scotland. That was some kind of quantum leap - really. Who took part then (Rice, Hebecker, Vogel, Hummel and two ladies) hoped to experience something similar again and again, it just was phantastic!! We were together with the best players of the world and could learn!! For Rice and me it was the beginning of long year dominance - I think we both had tasted blood.

Was the BDO at this time more dominating then today?

Of course! Everything was in the hands of the BDO, Olly and Lorna Croft kept things firmly in hand and were at this time the most powerful people in darts. There was a lot of money at stake. and there existed the BDO Ltd. as well which marketed all the tournaments on television. Director? Of course Olly Croft and all the top players only earned pittances (with the exception of Bristow and Lowe). Probably some millions were around but the players got nothing. That was the reason the WDC was founded, now the PDC, the players were just fed up but nevertheless the people around Croft, the directors of the BDO Ltd. did a lot of things properly.

When the DVV first got into contact with the WDF and were there any requirements to become a member of the WDF?

As I mentioned we went 1983 as a member of the WDF to Scotland so the DDV must have become a member some time before. But I've no idea whether there were any requirements; I was not so close to the DDV at that time.

When you have a look at the DDV now-a-days could it be it has to fight still the same problems as in those early years? Or is it just very difficult to build up a really good working national organisation?

I think the problems haven't changed much. There is still personal vanity, problems in co-ordinating the work with the regional organisations - things not everybody likes. Resolutions are great but you should have a realistic view on what you have to deal with when you want to successfully run an organisation with high claims and little money. A really top man would be needed but as usually the Germany shuns the risk, they don't want to take the more difficult path.

How do you estimate in this respect the PDC Europe? Might be it makes it even more difficult for the national organisation when the members always bear in mind such a professional organisation?

I don't think so - the PDC is an organisation one could and should be orientated to. In the end every organisation should be there for the members, the players. It's good to be able to profit from the best ideas but one has to take the right action and one needs some luck too - but you'll always need it! Important is to finally realise that professional darts, world class darts, has something to do with money and sponsoring and there you have to get your players.

Is it possible the claims on a national organisation are too high?

That could well be possible, it's even probably. The DDV is administered by lay people as a side job with a lot of dedication, but we just could observe that one had to retire because of her health and that my old mate Kai Pfeiffer had to resign because of his job. Honestly this task is underestimated; it was at the beginning and still is.

Do you sometimes think about such things and might be have some ideas what one could do to create a really functioning national organisation?

I don't really think a lot about it but I believe one should incessantly attempt to win sponsors and to get into television, everybody can see how much response darts gets on Sport 1. I would create a position in the DDV which solely looks after public image/sponsors, that would be a first step. And I think it's necessary to change some structures - we'll see what will happen there.

Bernd, you were the first German player who qualified for the BDO World Championship. How did you qualify?

I was the first German player to qualify over the BDO ranking in contrast with some other members of our organisation. I was ninth in the British Open and reached the third place of the European Championship 1992 (together with Alan Warriner and behind Phil Taylor and John Lowe) - such I got most of the points I needed for the Embassy. At this time I was shared number 16 of the world ranking.

And what memories have you still got of the tournament?

Only good ones of course, ha ha, though not of my match. I just couldn't show a good performance, perhaps I had to wait too long, as far as I remember my match was on the fourth day, it was rather disappointing but after the match Eric Bristow received me when I left the stage and told me that he was defeated in his first match in a whitewash as well. I should learn and come back. As one knows it worked for him, it didn't work for me. By the way Bristow and some others tried to convince me to join the WDC but that would have meant I would not have been able to play for Germany again and at that time I didn't want that. Today I think it was a pity but at that time.But beside this the Embassy was a dream, 11 days with the best players of the world inclusive all the background noise - awesome.

Did you take part in other international WDF/BDO tournaments?

More or less all over the world. In 1996 I finally found a sponsor and turned professional and I played for some time the world circuit, in doubles with players like Mervyn King, Martin Adams, Ted Hankey and was a great time but very exhausting. 2000 it was over that felt o.k. But this time on the circuit - we almost all the time travelled together, we pros I mean, we lived together, we took care, we were like a big family - that was the best. Once I had to share the bed with Andy Smith and Alan Taylor - I was in the middle, together 550 kg on the mattress or once I had to lambast with Andy Fordham and some others some fins who had just attacked a mate from Ireland and his wife - there are lots of similar stories you can't tell them all in an interview.

How good were the players at that time?

Well, excellent of course! We all could play 11 or 12 darters but the overall standard was not quite as high as Taylor and some others today, one couldn't imagine such a standard at that time. But you could ask as well whether Beckenbauer, Pele or Netzer were top at their time - figures. There is a time for everything - who could have imagined that today people only need 9.6 for 100 m?

Who beside the British legends were the top players at this time - Stefan Lord perhaps?

Stefan was absolutely top, a pity it was only for a short time. Jocky Wilson, Leighton Rees, Paul Lim from Singapore, Nicky Virachkul from the USA, Richy Burnett - there were and still are lots of world class players.

Do you remember the first time a German national team took part in a world of Europe cup?

Of course - that was the before mentioned World Cup in Edinburgh 1983. The players were Colin Rice, Peter Hummel, Siegfried Vogel (who died young), Bernd Hebecker, for the ladies Heather Weigelt and Petra Klump. Our team coach was Rolf Kahrau at this time president of the DDV. We got there by car - rather an adventure, had no idea of a dress code and were not in the draw as Rolf couldn't speak English. So we were there but were not registered!!! But we managed in the end - a great experience!

Did you go on playing darts when you were DDV president?

Of course I did play!! I was the German number 1 at that time and the World Cup was played in Australia, so I did both - I played and I was president. After all I was the one who had brought the national team to Australia; a lot didn't like it then, might be it was pure envy. We stayed for ten days over there accommodated privately with some of my friends - it was unforgettable.

Do you still play today?

Yes, regularly in Bremen's first league and from time to time I play the German Open. There I can meet all those mates which whom I experienced such a lot.

Are you still in contact with all those players from those days - Dieter Schutsch for example?

Didi I met by chance in January during the last Gold Cup in Bremen after a lot of years as he lives in USA by now. My contacts with the old mates are more sporadic but I always enjoy when I meet them. There are such a lot of stories to be told.

Did the sport of darts according to your opinion develop positive here in Germany?

I am not really sure. Everything looks more professional now but all depends one the one who might manage to leap into the world tops and that permanently not just a one day wonder, someone who manages to establish there as a character as well like van Barneveld or Scholten in the Netherlands.

How do you see the chances a German player will manage it one day?

It's of course a matter of character and attitude. As I can aim to become a tennis or soccer pro I can aim to become darts pro - only the criteria will be different. And of course one needs money and a parental home which supports and of course a lot of luck and persistence - but yes, there'll be someone one day, I really believe in it.

(1)Peter Hummel and Rolf Kahrau were members of the first DDV board but resigned after a short time. Bernd Hebecker was the successor.

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