Not only do Lee Ratcliffe and Ben Hilditch work together as Compound Operatives and drivers at the Greenhous Fleet Pre-Delivery Inspection facility in Fenton, but they also share a passion for darts which has taken them far and wide.
Both colleagues live in the Fenton area and play for local league sides based at the Shoulder of Mutton and Bench and Bar pubs in the locality. Ben was introduced to the world of darts by his wife 4 years ago.Obviously talented, he has progressed to become a county player with Staffordshire for the last 3 years.
Meanwhile Lee, who started playing 6 years ago, has spent the past 4 years as a Staffordshire County player, teaming up with Ben at League and County level. Both colleagues at Greenhous Fleet spend much of their time dwelling on darts achievements, and both have plenty to talk about.
As Ben observed, the County scene can mean long trips away from home. He revealed: “There are 7 divisions in the British Inter County Championships and at Staffs we are in a League 2 which includes the likes of County Durham, Kent, Gwynedd, Berkshire and Cumbria. When we play there are Gents and Ladies teams representing Staffs at A and B team levels.Each team has 12 Gents and 6 Ladies.”
Pictured are Lee (left) and Ben at Greenhous Fleet in Fenton.
Lee added: “Thanks to the popularity of TV darts competitions, the County level is well supported and we have the same walkouts with loud music as you see on TV. There can be up to 200 supporters cheering on the players with an MC shouting out the scores. The Ladies play first and all of the scores from their matches and the Gents matches count towards the final score – every dart that is thrown is important.”
The next step up from County level is to play for a ‘tour card’ on the professional circuit, a route neither Ben nor Lee have followed yet. However, they have taken on some celebrity names in the darts world.Both Ben and Lee have played at League level against high ranking professionals, even world champions who ply their trade in the Leagues to keep up their skills with constant practice.
Lee and Ben have taken on the likes of Eric Bristow, Phil Taylor, Ian White and Andy Hamilton. Lee’s favourite memories include playing Stephen Bunting in the Cheshire Open and also with Staffordshire achieving a maximum 170 three dart checkout and being cheered to the rafters by the crowd for his efforts.
For Ben a highlight had to be taking on the Welsh Captain, Martin Phillips and, despite being 1-3 down, he rallied to 3 all before Phillips closed out the final leg for victory.
The Stoke area remains a hotbed of darts participation and, with former World and UK Champions emerging from the Potteries, who knows in Ben and Lee there may be two more talented young players who could enter the limelight of top darts competitions.