SWINDON darts stalwart Dennis Smith believes young players looking to make their way in the game have never had it so good.
The 43-year-old has been competing amongst the sport’s elite for more than 20 years, and in that time has made a World Championship semi-final and the quarter-finals of every other major tournament on the calendar.
But working his way through the ranks wasn’t easy, and while today’s young players compete to win decent money on the Youth Tour and the new Challenge Tour, Smith remembers being rewarded for his hard work in his early years by winning tea sets, video recorders and trophies.
“We had nothing like what the young darts players have now, and to be honest they have things so easy compared to how it was 20 years ago,” he said.
“You look at some of the youngsters these days and they have so much more than we had in our day. You wouldn’t have even heard of a youth tournament then, and we had to go in the mix with the adults.
“I went to a major dart tournament once and made it all the way to the last 16 and all I won was a set of darts, and then I won a tournament and for that I got a tea set which my mum still has now.
“In those days there wasn’t much money and you mainly picked up prizes, and I won a television and a video player as well during those days.
“It was more about winning trophies, and at my mum’s house she has an attic full of about 300 trophies.
“Sometimes you think you were in the wrong era when you look at the way it is now, but it was all about winning titles and the glory of picking up the trophies and knowing you were the best.
“The money would be nice, of course it would, because there is now a living to be made out of darts which is only right because it has been around for such a long time.”
While Smith is pleased the young players have financial incentives in the game, he insisted they need to be wary of falling into the trap of getting too big for their boots too soon.
“Michael van Gerwen shows what you need to do, because when he came on the scene at 14 or 15 it seemed like he was going to be the best thing since sliced bread,” he said.
“I thought he would be but he lived the life for a bit, although he has settled down now and is reaping the rewards of that.
“Young players go in there and think they have made it when they haven’t, and every player needs to do three or four years apprenticeship before they are ready.
“Michael is the perfect example of that because he has come in and done his three or fours years learning the game, and now he has come back and is more professional.
“What they have now is amazing, and I would love to be 16 again because the Youth Tour and things like that are the perfect stepping stone to being a sporting hero.
“But the youngsters need to be given the chance to grow up, and it is great they have the chance now.”