The Barney Army had descended on Alexandra Palace last night to pay their respects to Raymond van Barneveld, the often proclaimed ‘doyen of Dutch darts’ and the man who put darts on the map in the Netherlands.
The trademark 180 cards were changed from the blue, of title sponsors William Hill, to orange, and face masks of the five-time world champion were laid out on every table. Van Barneveld’s final tournament of his professional career was upon us, and a first-round assignment against the seasoned American, Darin Young.
Fans wanted to say goodbye, most likely as the last time they would see him on stage, but not for the last ever time playing in the tournament. A second-round meeting with his fellow Dutchman, Jeffrey de Zwaan, awaited the winner on Tuesday night.
While Barney’s last year on the PDC circuit has been anything but a continuous run of success, he was the overwhelming favourite to dispatch of Young, who was appearing in his first World Championship for six years, and take on the talented JDZ next week.
What was expected to be the opening stanza of Barney’s farewell swan-song at the biggest tournament in darts soon turned into a nightmare early exit, similar to his rather abrupt campaign 12 months ago, losing to debutant Darius Labanauskas in his first game.
Van Barneveld’s struggles on the outer ring saw him miss two handfuls from 25 to level at 2-2 in the first set, and Young found double two last dart to edge in front. Back came the Dutch legend, sweeping the second set in 15, 17 and 13 to quickly equalise.
The pair traded 13 darters midway through set three, but crucially van Barneveld missed a dart at tops, for a 72 finish, to snatch the set in the fifth leg, after Young had spurned three set darts himself, and the reprieved American pinned double 10 to regain the advantage.
Buoyed by that third-set win, Young then took out a 160 for a 12 darter, pounced on another van Barneveld miss at tops to go 2-0 up, before a brace of 14-dart legs kept Barney in the tournament and forced a deciding leg in the fourth set.
With the darts in the fifth leg, van Barneveld threw in a maximum to leave 61 after 12, but set darts once again went awry, three at his trusted double 18 and one at double nine, went off target, and Young held his nerve with one dart at tops to get over the line.
Gracious in defeat, van Barneveld waited for Young to finish his celebration on stage, offered his hand and uttered the words “well played” to his final foe of his professional career. Seconds later van Barneveld was off stage, waving goodbye to the crowd as he left, for the final time.
Before the night’s last game got under way, Sky Sports had Barney by the walk-on area for a post-match interview, one which will not rank among the most fondly remembered interviews of his storied career. Barney still looked stunned, shocked that his last-ever throw of the dice had ended so quickly, and his initial answers were short and sharp.
His press conference in the media room a few moments later offered little more in the way of the Barney we know, who can often go into great detail on his perspective of his latest performance.
“The demons won again. I will never forget or forgive myself for this performance. It has been a nightmare end to a nightmare year,” he told the assembled press at Alexandra Palace. “I don’t belong at the top level anymore.”
2007, almost 13 years ago now, van Barneveld won the fifth of his five world titles, beating Phil Taylor in a sudden-death leg in what is regarded as the greatest game in the history of televised darts.
Tell Barney back then that five world titles would be your lot and he would shake his head in disbelief. But that was his lot. Yes, he went on to win other majors, the Premier League, Grand Slam, but the biggest prize of them all eluded him from that point onwards.
His five world titles came in a relatively-short gap, between 1998 and 2007, but in what was the last 13 years of his career, the sixth one did not materialise. A fairy-tale ending, like Taylor’s run to the final two years ago, was never likely, but to bow out first round, on the second night of the tournament, was not in van Barneveld’s script.
A disappointing end to a hall of fame career, which he himself says he will never forgive himself for, but in time you hope what Raymond van Barneveld has achieved will allow him to have some closure and allow him to smile at what a postman from The Hague did with three darts in his hand.
Picture: Lawrence Lustig/PDC