Raymond van Barneveld has spoken of his desire to sign off in style at this year’s World Championship. as he approaches the latter stages of his glittering career.
The five-time world champion will retire from competitive darts following this year’s showpiece at the Alexandra Palace and having endured mixed fortunes in 2019, the 52-year-old is hoping to enjoy a fond farewell in the biggest tournament on the calendar.
The legendary Dutchman has slipped outside the world’s top 32 in his final year as a professional, although he’s virtually guaranteed a place at Alexandra Palace via the Pro Tour Order of Merit and Van Barneveld is determined to bow out with a bang.
“There is only one big tournament left for me and that is the World Championship and I am focusing on the Worlds,” Van Barneveld told the Josh’s Dartistry podcast. “The World Championship means the world to me because in my opinion it’s the only tournament.
“The rest of the calendar is fantastic, brilliant tournaments throughout the world don’t get me wrong, but the World Championship means for every dart player that you’re the best in the world.
“Apart from the prize money, everyone is watching with Christmas. There’s no football in Holland and some other countries but at the end, lifting that trophy is the most important one.
“You become a big player when you win it, you get a star on your shirt, everyone knows you are world champion and everyone wants to be you in that year, because that is the title every dart player wants to win.”
Van Barneveld is in line to compete in the Players Championship Finals in Minehead as he currently occupies 48th spot on the PC Order of Merit with just four events remaining, whilst he is also assured of a spot at the World Series of Darts Finals in Amsterdam.
The Dutchman has received vociferous support in his previous Premier League visits to Rotterdam and as he prepares to make his final competitive appearance on home soil in November, Barney is anticipating an emotional occasion.
“Amsterdam is fantastic of course, it’s in your home country so hopefully it will have the same atmosphere as Rotterdam, so I’m really looking forward to that. Then probably the Players Championship Finals in Minehead and hopefully the World Championship and I hope I have a good run for me, my family and my fans.”
Van Barneveld’s great rival Phil Taylor enjoyed a magnificent ‘farewell season’ prior to his retirement at the 2018 World Championship and RvB was hoping for a similar outcome as he initially signalled his retirement plans in November 2018.
Nevertheless, whilst Taylor secured World Matchplay glory and reached the World Championship final in his final year, Barney has endured contrasting fortunes, missing out on several major tournaments whilst also suffering a first Premier League relegation back in March.
“It’s not really a fantastic year for me,” Van Barneveld conceded. “It started pretty bad with the World Championship, losing in the first round to Darius Labanauskas from Lithuania. Then I had one of the worst Premier League’s ever, I got relegated in Week Nine in Rotterdam, when it was in Holland.
“I was not selected for the World Cup [of Darts], I didn’t play in the World Matchplay, obviously not enough points to play in the World Grand Prix or the Grand Slam. If that is not going to happen it’s going to be a poor year to say goodbye to all of my fans because simply I am not being there.”
However, as the curtain closes on one of the greatest careers in Dutch sport, there are positive signs for Van Barneveld and his adoring fans as he bids to roll back the years one final time.
The 52-year-old featured in last month’s World Series triple-header Down Under, reaching back-to-back quarter-finals in Australia, before defeating Daryl Gurney and James Wade to reach the NZ Darts Masters final – his third final in New Zealand within the space of five years.
Van Barneveld’s consistent level of performances have been equally encouraging. He posted an impressive 106 average in his Melbourne opener and he recorded a run of 18 consecutive 90+ averages, which only came to an end at Players Championship 26 on Sunday.
“It’s a bit up and down. Average wise I played a fantastic game [in Melbourne] but one round later I lost to Peter Wright,” Van Barneveld continued.
“In the final in New Zealand I got an 8-1 beating off Michael van Gerwen so sometimes you see the positive things, but sometimes you see negative things about it. To me results are only important if you win tournaments.”
The five-time world champion had always previously maintained that he would hang up his darts at the age of 55, although Barney candidly revealed that his lack of major success over recent years has been the catalyst behind his decision.
Barney’s last individual PDC title came in May 2014, when he defeated Taylor and Van Gerwen on one glorious evening to claim a maiden Premier League crown. He’s since won three World Cup of Darts titles alongside ‘The Green Machine’, although RvB insists the time is right to bow out.
“It’s been in my head for the last two years. Five years ago I won my last individual tournament, apart from winning the World Cups with Michael van Gerwen. If you don’t win tournaments for a year, that’s okay.
“Not for two years you start worrying a bit, after three years you are thinking am I still good enough for this game? Then the last two years you’re thinking: ‘Wow, what am I doing’? Why is this not going to happen?
“I’ve got a lot of friends and fans who are telling me ‘Ray, we believe in you, it’s coming, it’s coming’, but after five years if it’s not coming then you have to be honest with yourself and look in the mirror and tell yourself I’m not good enough anymore to lift trophies and win tournaments.
“I’m not like the person to go to tournaments and get beat in the first or second round. I don’t think I deserve that for myself and my fans. They always believe in me and I thought it was a good moment to say goodbye to everyone and focus on doing nice things in life like exhibitions,” he added.
The Barney Army will be out in force across the coming months as his legion of fans aim to capture the final flurries of an incredible career and Van Barneveld admits he is completely humbled by the support he receives.
Taylor and Van Gerwen are fan favourites among certain crowds but Van Barneveld’s worldwide popularity is unprecedented, as he proudly states: “I’ve got the best fans in the world.
“The Barney Army fans – they are everywhere. I’m so happy and delighted that they always follow me and send me best wishes; they believe in me. I’m going to miss them of course.
“Sometimes I will be doing exhibitions and people have really got tears in their eyes: ‘Ray, Ray, you can’t leave us. You can’t do this to us. We’re going to miss you’. Some other people are telling me: ‘I’m not going to watch darts without you. It doesn’t make sense anymore because all of the fun is out of it now’.
“That gives you a fantastic feeling of course, but at the end of the day, you’re not going to last forever. I’m 52 – I know I am way too young to give up, but between you and me, it’s hard for me to battle everyday against yourself and handling the defeats.”
That final remark illustrates one of the reasons behind Van Barneveld’s popularity. He’s the game’s ultimate enigma and despite his outrageous ability, he’s often plagued by self-doubt.
He’s won countless major titles throughout his career. He’s contested some of the greatest matches in darting history and has been a flag-bearer for Dutch Darts. However, that honesty resonates with the darting public and affords him perhaps the most important title of all – the people’s champion.
Photo Credit: PDC Europe