‘Risin’ up, straight to the top
Had the guts, got the glory
Went the distance now I’m not gonna stop
Just a man and his will to survive’
Raymond van Barneveld’s career has been littered with glory. He’s maintained his place in the elite for three decades and gone the distance against several darting legends, although the last survivor of his generation will indeed stop – this year’s World Championship marks his final competitive event before retirement.
Van Barneveld will receive a rousing reception when he makes his entrance at the Alexandra Palace on Saturday night, where experienced American Darin Young awaits in the first round of this year’s showpiece.
The Dutchman will be hoping that his clash against Young will not be his final farewell, as he bids to recapture ‘The Eye of The Tiger’ that has been synonymous with his greatest triumphs.
Barney dominated the BDO circuit prior to crossing the darting divide in 2006 – winning four Lakeside titles, two World Masters crowns and four titles on home soil at the Zuiderduin Masters.
Nevertheless, the doyen of Dutch darts was still not satisfied. Phil Taylor boasted a similar level of dominance in the PDC and RvB felt empowered to lock horns with ‘The Power’ in the fight for ultimate supremacy.
The end-product changed the landscape of professional darts. Taylor had lifted the PDC World Championship title in 11 of the previous 12 years prior to Van Barneveld’s arrival but the Dutchman provided an immediate challenge, culminating in arguably the greatest game of all time.
The pair locked horns in the 2007 World Championship final – the last at the iconic Circus Tavern. Van Barneveld produced an astonishing comeback from 3-0 down, firing in 21 maximums and prevailing in an epic sudden-death leg to complete a stunning debut success.
This contest marked the first time that Sky Television achieved a viewing figure of over 1 million (1,028,000) for a darts match and it provided the ultimate highlight of what proved to be a classic rivalry dubbed ‘The El Clasico’ of darts.
Barney’s switch also marked a significant tipping point in the power struggle between the BDO and PDC, with late PDC co-founder Tommy Cox declaring Van Barneveld’s arrival as one of the most crucial moments in the organisation’s history.
Taylor monopolised their rivalry between 2009-2013 although Van Barneveld still produced some magical moments against the 16-time world champion – defeating Taylor en route to Premier League glory in 2014 and defying a 116 average from him in the same competition 12 months later.
Their rivalry spanned two decades and inevitably there were some fractious moments, although the overwhelming memories from their clashes were based on mutual respect and the burning desire to win – the atmosphere in their early tussles resembled that of a heavyweight boxing clash.
Some have suggested that Barney perhaps hasn’t fulfilled his potential in the PDC, although that’s as much of a complement as it is a criticism.
As well as winning a fifth world title in 2007, he’s also scooped two UK Open titles, the Las Vegas Desert Classic, Grand Slam, Premier League and four World Cup crowns. He’s also registered five televised nine-darters and reached countless other major finals in the process.
Michael van Gerwen is the only man to have recorded more wins over Taylor than Van Barneveld and ironically, Taylor is the only player to have beaten ‘The Green Machine’ on more occasions than the five-time world champion.
There’s a strong argument to say that the aforementioned trio would all feature in a list compiling the top five players of all time, although in the case of Van Barneveld, his legacy goes way beyond his silverware.
Van Gerwen has been the best player on the planet for at least five years and the three-time world champion has taken the game to new heights courtesy of some astronomical averages and inspired performances. However, the greatness of MvG may not have been possible without RvB.
Barney will forever be remembered as the trailblazer for Dutch darts. He was the first Dutchman to register a World Championship victory in 1993 and five years later he created history by becoming the first Dutchman to lift the World Championship title – beating Richie Burnett in that particular final.
The Den Haag ace inspired a darting generation hence why he will always be revered on home soil. Van Gerwen has been the top dog in the Netherlands for a number of years, yet Van Barneveld remained the public’s star attraction during the annual Premier League pilgrimage to Rotterdam.
There are currently 10 Dutch players within the PDC’s top 64 and the current top two in the BDO system also hail from the Netherlands. For a country with a population of just over 17 million that’s an astonishing proportion, which is largely down to the contribution of the 52-year-old.
Van Barneveld’s status as a modern great alongside the likes of Van Gerwen and Taylor is firmly intact. He may not have consistently mirrored the dominance of that duo within the PDC, although his universal popularity is arguably as significant as his enviable trophy haul.
Sporting figures that have enjoyed the longevity and success that Van Barneveld has throughout his glittering career rarely receive such adulation, because they often appear infallible in pursuit of glory.
Taylor and Van Gerwen have rightly received widespread acclaim for their magnificent achievements, yet their unrelenting brilliance can be perceived by some as robotic.
Nevertheless, Barney is the ultimate enigma. He’s a five-time world champion who has produced a plethora of fairy-tale moments – sensational comeback victories, devastatingly dominant displays and inspired nine-dart finishes.
Yet despite his darting genius there’s also a compelling vulnerability – the self-doubt that has blighted his career in its latter stages can be infuriating for his legion of supporters but it also explains why he’s viewed by many as the people’s champion.
He’s a world-class operator, although his enigmatic nature provides a sense of jeopardy, which makes him so fascinatingly watchable and relatable.
Typically self-deprecating in his assessment of his chances in the capital this year, Van Barneveld admits it’s unrealistic to say he can sign off in style with a sixth World Championship crown.
The man is a winner – he isn’t content with merely being a contender. He demands success and having not lifted an individual major since 2014, he believes the time is right to bow out. He wants to depart on his terms and he deserves that autonomy.
However, irrespective of the result at Alexandra Palace – this World Championship should be a celebration of a magnificent career for a darting pioneer.
Van Barneveld has won over 20 major televised titles, he’s inspired a generation of Dutch talent and he’s revered by the ‘Barney Army’ across the globe.
His legacy will remain unblemished and as the last survivor approaches the final chapter of an unforgettable journey, he will fight to keep his darting dreams alive and flickering for just a few more matches yet.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC