||This article includes a list of references, related reading or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations. (March 2013)|
|Full name||Leighton Thomas Rees|
17 January 1940|
Ynysybwl, Glamorgan, Wales
|Died||8 June 2003
|Playing darts since||1970s|
|Organisation (see split in darts)|
|BDO majors - best performances|
|World Ch'ship||Winner 1978|
|World Masters||Quarter Final: 1981|
|Other tournament wins|
WDF World Cup
Leighton Thomas Rees (17 January 1940 – 8 June 2003) was the first ever World Professional Darts Champion.
Rees was born in the village of Ynysybwl, Glamorgan, where he spent most of his life. He attended the local Mill Street School in Pontypridd where one of his teachers famously declared on his report card that he would be "good only for reading the sports pages of the South Wales Echo". After leaving school he found work in the store room of a motor spares company, a job he did for over twenty years until he became a professional darts player in 1976.
It was during his time working as a store man that Leighton found the sport of darts, becoming a regular for his local pub and county. It was not until 1972 though that he gained any real national attention. Sid Waddell, who later became a commentator for Sky Sports, was at the time producer of Yorkshire Television's Indoor League - a show with pub games tournaments. Waddell and his researchers had heard reports of a trio of great darts players in the South Wales valleys, an area that was quickly becoming a hotbed of talent for the sport. The three names mentioned were Tony Ridler of Newport, Alan Evans of Rhondda and Leighton Rees of Ynysybwl.
Waddell quickly offered all three the chance to play on national television and they did not disappoint, Ridler and Evans both scored a number of 180s in their matches, but although he did not perform as well on the night it was Leighton Rees who stole the show. Over a lager and a cigar he told presenter Fred Trueman, in his soon to be famous brand of dry humour, stories about himself and Evans hustling the English.
After the early exposure on Indoor League, Rees turned professional in 1976 and went on to make the final of that year's News of the World Darts Championship. He was also part of the 1977 Wales team that won the very first World Darts Federation World Cup.
Rees' finest hour however would come in 1978 at the inaugural Embassy World Professional Darts Championship, in Nottingham. Seeded third he easily dispensed with Australian Barry Atkinson in round one at a score of 6-0 before taking on his close friend, Welsh team-mate and fifth seed Alan Evans in the second round. It turned into a classic with both players averaging over 90 per three darts (almost unheard of in those days). Evans took an early lead with a couple of 180s before Rees recorded the championship's first ever ten-dart finish (also the first ever televised) before eventually running out a 6-3 victor. At the time the BBC's executive producer Nick Hunter proclaimed it as the match that made darts live up to all their expectations and cemented it as a National TV item for years to come.
In the semi-final Rees actually struggled to beat a determined American, Nicky Virachkul 8-7 in the semi-finals but showed a whole different set of battling qualities to pull through into a final against the great John Lowe. Rees would again average over 90 with Lowe not far behind in a great final, eventually sealed 11-7 by Rees to win his only ever World Championship.
In the defence of his title in 1979, Rees returned to the final, again beating Evans along the way before this time losing to Lowe by 5 sets to 0. A quarter-final in 1980 and a last-16 place in 1981 followed, after which Rees could only manage round one exits in 1982, 1983, 1985 and 1990. Despite this his matches nearly always resulted in full arenas and he remained one of darts most popular competitors.
It is because of this that he is credited alongside the likes of Lowe, Eric Bristow, Bob Anderson, Jocky Wilson, Cliff Lazarenko and now Phil Taylor as bringing darts to the masses via the television screens. He had an exceptionally good record on Bullseye, frequently scoring more than 301 with nine darts and thus having his charity money doubled.
Rees also wrote autobiographical account of his life in 1979, titled “On Darts” which also featured tips on playing the game.
World Championship Results
- 1978: Winner (beat John Lowe 11-7) (legs)
- 1979: Runner Up (lost to John Lowe 0-5) (sets)
- 1980: Quarter-Finals (lost to Bobby George 1-3)
- 1981: 2nd Round (lost to Ceri Morgan 1-2)
- 1982: 1st Round (lost to Angus Ross 0-2)
- 1983: 1st Round (lost to Cliff Lazarenko 0-2)
- 1985: 1st Round (lost to Russell Stewart 1-2)
- 1987: 1st Round (lost to Mike Gregory 0-3)
- 1990: 1st Round (lost to Eric Bristow 0-3)
In 1980, Rees married Debbie, a Californian, in Las Vegas while he was competing in a tournament there. There is a street in Ynysybwl named after him, Leighton Rees Close. Despite being the first world champion, Rees possibly missed out on darts' glory years. The prize for his title was £3,000 and as the prize money rose and tournaments began to spring up all over UK television channels, Rees' form began to slide and he never managed to match the continued success of Lowe, Bristow and Wilson. Rees was forced to make his living from playing exhibition matches with his great friend Evans.
Rees quit his exhibition work after having a pacemaker fitted and also had a heart bypass operation in his later life. He returned to the stage of the World Championships to make the draw for the event in the year before his death. He died in his home village, Ynysybwl, in 2003, aged 63.