TALKING SPORT: From pheasant plucker to world championship semi-finalist...the story of darts ace Dennis Smith (From This Is Wiltshire)
TALKING SPORT: From pheasant plucker to world championship semi-finalist...the story of darts ace Dennis Smith
WHEN it comes to the world of professional darts, Swindon’s Dennis Smith has seen it all.
The 43-year-old has more than 20-years experience at the top of the game, and has witnessed first-hand the sport’s transition from smoke-filled pubs and halls to sold out arenas packed with close to 10,000 fans.
While Smith has picked up a new set of darts, video recorders and tea sets for winning tournaments in the past, the prize-fund for the PDC World Championship now tops £1million, with tournaments held in every corner of the world.
During his time in the sport Smiffy has made the quarter-finals of all the major tournaments as well as a World Championship semi-final, and has been a constant figure as the sport made the transition from its former home at the Circus Tavern to the bright lights of the prestigious Alexandra Palace.
The Ally Pally stage is a far cry from where it all began for Smith, the youngest son of a game keeper and one of eight children, who was left at home with his mother during his early years while his father Bill and his brothers went out to play darts.
“I started to get bored, and when I got a bit older that was when I started to take the sport up when I went out of my house to play darts with my father, and I played my first league match when I was about 12,” Smith insisted.
“Dad would never let me play in a game of darts until I had learned how to chalk, and that was a big thing for me because I learnt to count.
“I played in a singles league on a Monday night where if you lost you had to buy your opponent a beer, but in those days I was too young to drink and I used to earn myself a packet of crisps and a can of coke.
“Then at the age of 15 I won an event at Hungerford Town Football Club and I beat some good players in that event like Bob Phillips and Laurie Whitfield, and I started to take things seriously.
“I started entering the bigger tournaments like the Winmau World Masters and things like that when I started playing county darts, and one night I was in the Kingsdown pub in Stratton where I had to play a Friday night game against Bob Anderson.
“It was all about being in the right place at the right time, and although he beat me 2-1 I think the longest leg we played was 14 darts during the whole match.
“Bob had a company called Team Today, and after that match he asked me to sign up with them he sponsored me for a while which was great for me.”
Having worked as a beater, pheasant plucker, washer upper, pig farmer, power station operator, publican and cleaner to fund his career in the past, Smith is amazed to see what the sport has become in recent years.
“Alexandra Palace is an amazing place to play darts, but my major World Championship venue was the Circus Tavern which to be honest you could probably fit inside Ally Pally.
“They still used to pack 3,500 in there, and it was really lively and a great place to play.
“But when you go out on the stage at Alexandra Palace you really know you have made it, and I think now most of the players like playing on the bigger stages although there are a hell of a lot of memories at the Circus Tavern.
“In those days I thought it was as good as it was going to get, and you have to say a massive thank you to Barry Hearn (chairman of the PDC) because I never would have thought we would go to venues with 7,500 people watching darts.
“It is amazing really, and people now are starting to see just how professional a sport it is.
“We are one of the biggest entertaining sports in the world, and that is amazing to think about.”