Tonight sees the start of the 2021 PDC World Championship at Alexandra Palace, and all eyes will be on Peter Wright, the defending champion, playing in his second-round game.
Wright’s opponent is still unknown, with Steve West and Indian qualifier Amit Gilitwala playing off in the opening game of the tournament, for the right to play the current holder of the Sid Waddell Trophy later on this evening.
What we do know is that Paul Hinks, one of the PDC’s leading referees, will be on stage calling in the match-winning moment, be it Wright starting his title defence with a victory or West or Gilitwala dumping the world number two out on the very first night.
Hinks will be one of four referees on stage at Alexandra Palace during the tournament, along with Russ Bray, George Noble and Kirk Bevins. The 96-player field will be whittled down to two for the final on January 3, but who will be the referee on stage?
“We already know, but we can’t divulge it at present,” Hinks admits. “Usually the tournament director puts the format together and send it out to each individual official.
“That will let us know which games we’ve got, which games we’ll be on stage for and which games we’re doing as the second referee, behind the stage.”
For the first three sessions of the tournament, Hinks will be refereeing the final game of each session. Along with Wright’s title defence opener, Hinks also has Chris Dobey v Jeff Smith or Keane Barry and Glen Durrant v Steve Beaton or Diogo Portela tomorrow.
Before becoming a referee, Hinks enjoyed success as a player at local level. Winning several titles in Yorkshire, and then took up refereeing and has been a regular face on TV during the PDC’s biggest events since 2003.
“I played up to county standard in my time and won 23 Yorkshire titles and three national titles,” he said. “When I was playing there was no such thing as the PDC.
“I used to work for the Department of Health and Social Security. I used to play in their darts championships and the civil services championships and won three national titles with the civil service.
“I got into refereeing and got noticed. Somebody said why don’t you do it at county level, so I contacted the local county, which was Yorkshire. They took me on and I progressed from calling county B to county A matches and did that for quite a few years.
“I used to do some exhibition work with Dennis Priestley and one time we went out to California. Dennis mentioned the PDC were looking for a fourth referee to link up with Russ Bray, Bruce Spendley and Freddie Williams.
“Dennis asked me if I was interested and I said ‘yeah, why not?’ He had a word with Tommy Cox, who was the tournament director at the time. A little while later me and Dennis were at a BBQ and we rang Tommy up and he said ‘yeah, I’ve not forgotten. We’ll listen to him in Blackpool.’
“Well I thought it would be in a public house calling, but Tommy said ‘no, you’re going straight on live television at the World Matchplay!'”
Since that TV debut at the 2003 World Matchplay (Steve Brown v Dennis Smith), Hinks has had plenty of highlights as a PDC referee. He has called 13 televised nine darters, including the two in one match, one by James Wade and Robert Thornton, at the 2014 World Grand Prix, as well as two at the World Championship (Kyle Anderson and Gary Anderson).
Yesterday’s government announcement, which placed London into Tier 3 as of tomorrow, means that Hinks will be on stage for the last game with a crowd at Alexandra Palace, until at lest the third round on December 27. Nevertheless, he is excited to see what unfolds over the next three weeks in the sport’s biggest tournament.
“I’m feeling great,” he said. “I came down on Sunday morning for my Covid test at 10.30. You then have to self-isolate in your room while the results come through.
“It came through this morning (Monday) and I’m negative, so I’m fit and ready to go. I can’t wait to step up on the stage again.”
Picture: Lawrence Lustig/PDC