The Last Checkout: Looking at the Roller Coaster Ending to Raymond van Barneveld’s Legendary Darts Career
The game of darts is like no other. Misunderstood and grossly undervalued in North America, those in the UK and Ireland have found a way to turn your standard pub game into a full-fledged, multi-million-dollar sport with one of the best fan experiences around the world.
The professional darts experience can essentially be described as a mixture of world-class sports with a rowdy night out at the bar with a booze-filled Halloween party. Epic walk-on entrances, a seemingly endless supply of beer, the most random fan costumes you can think of, a night out at the darts is certainly a one-of-a-kind spectacle.
While the game has not exactly translated to North America (although there is one major event in Las Vegas of all places), there has been tremendous growth in the popularity of darts in many countries in continental Europe, chief among them the Netherlands.
The man behind the Dutch darts emergence is one of the best to ever do it, five-time World Champion Raymond van Barneveld. The big fella’ from The Hague, known affectionately by all in the darts world simply as ‘Barney’, has throughout his career always been considered a fan favourite, with his walk-on music of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ certainly not doing anything to hurt that reputation.
After winning the British Darts Organisation’s (BDO) World Championship four times early in his career, Barney made the big leap in 2006 to Europe’s other major darts organization, the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC), in a move that would put Kevin Durant to shame. The transition likely meant a forfeiture of many future trophies in the BDO, but Barney was adamant that he needed to face the greatest challenge in the sport, which at the time was Phil Taylor, an Englishman who went on to finish his career with an astonishing 16 World Championships and is widely recognized as the greatest of all-time.
With no standing in the PDC, Barneveld was forced to work his way up from the very bottom of the rankings in 2006. A magical year-long run culminated with an epic 2007 PDC World Championship victory over Taylor in what has gone down as one of the greatest matches to ever be played, especially given the stakes of the contest.
Fast-forward to 2019. Taylor has retired and Barney has announced his attention to retire at the end of the year. While Barneveld is not too far removed from being on top of the game having won the Premier League in 2014, a weekly tournament comprised of ten of the top players in the world, it has been a slippery slope ever since.
Poor results have led to Barney needing a wildcard from television rights holder Sky Sports for the Premier League in each of the past five years. This has been a ploy from Sky to draw increased viewership to the broadcast but has severely damaged Barney’s credibility as a top-flight player in the late stages of his career.
Barney has been very critical of himself over the past few years as well, openly acknowledging the fact that both physically and mentally he is not in the same place as he was in his prime. Even other top players, such as countryman Michael van Gerwen have voiced similar sentiments about Barney, believing that it may be time for the legend to call it quits.
He has been back and forth on retirement for quite some time now, clearly torn between a deep love for the sports and its fans and a realization that, as we have seen in many athletes, that they simply don’t have the ability to perform to a level that they are satisfied with anymore.
This internal debate came to a head for Barney on March 27 and 28 in Rotterdam. Having already been eliminated, the final week of the first stage of the 2019 Premier League would mark his last league appearance of his career. He received an epic hero’s welcome from the Dutch fans, a thank-you for all he had done for the sport in that country.
However, things were not to be for the home favourite on either night, with extremely disappointing 7-1 defeats to van Gerwen and Daryl Gurney putting a damper on what was an extraordinary send-off.
The shockwave came immediately following his match on night two, as he announced that he was going back on his promise to play out 2019 and retiring effective immediately, citing the fact that he could no longer live with putting up sub-par performances week after week along with significant issues in his personal life, including an ongoing divorce.
Seemingly before the news could even spread, he changed his mind yet again and announced that he will carry on playing the 2019 season.
It is clear that the entire situation has been very painful for van Barneveld, as he alluded to in a statement to the PDC on March 29, writing:
“For months my life has been a rollercoaster of emotions. I felt ashamed on stage in front of my family, my friends and the Barney Army. I felt I let everyone down and that pain was very hard to deal with. In the heat of the moment I only wanted to never feel that again, but I realise that I should not speak out like that when I feel such raw emotion. I want to end my career at Alexandra Palace during one final World Championship.”
Every sports legend deserves to go out on their own terms. While this saga of his career has certainly not gone the way he would like to this point, Barney still has eight months left to hopefully flip the script and exit the sport with great pride and satisfaction.
I wish him all the luck in the world!