They say the bigger they come the harder they fall.
And they don’t come much bigger, literally, than the five times darts champion of the world Raymond van Barneveld.
The Dutch giant is a true legend of the oche and established beyond doubt as one of the finest players ever to grace the game.
He was in Belfast yesterday to carry out promotional work ahead of his appearance tonight at the sold-out Premier League of Darts event at the Odyssey arena.
For myself, a long-time darting fan, the offer of playing a leg against the man known affectionately as ‘Barney’ was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Van Barneveld was meeting devoted fans at The Athletic Stores in Belfast and also played a few legs against plucky opponents including myself, Lord Mayor Pat Convery and Irish rugby international Stephen Ferris.
A crowd of 50 or so ‘Barney Army’ supporters were in the store and the imperious nature in which van Barneveld swatted aside both Convery and Ferris did nothing to settle my nerves.
Regardless, the two of us settled down to a leg of 501 in which, sportingly, van Barneveld allowed me to throw first.
Despite several glasses of wine to steady my nerves, my first two darts sailed above the double 20 wire. No score. When my third dart found the single 20 I almost kissed the board in relief.
Barney, it’s fair to say, was nowhere near his best and was not trying to be. His first two visits brought moderate scores before he hit consecutive 100 scores to open a handy lead.
On my third visit I scored two single 20s and a treble 20 for 100, about as good as it gets for me and enough to ensure that I was not entirely humiliated. Consecutive scores of 60 and an 86 kept me in touch as Barney began to showboat towards the end of the leg. The Dutchman had one dart at double 16 to win but left it a fraction on the wrong side of the wire.
This left me facing a checkout of 90 to win, well beyond my usual capability. Confidently I aimed my first dart at bullseye... and watched it soar straight into treble 17. A treble seven on my second throw left 18 to finish.
Without thinking, I threw my last dart and watched as it sailed into the winning double-nine bed. Somehow, in a result which defies all logic, I had beaten one of the best players ever to throw a dart.
Barney took his defeat with good grace, although it cannot have been fun to lose to someone who would be out of his depth playing in a pub league game.
True, it was only a single-leg and Barney did not seem to be trying, but that’s not how I will be telling it to my grandchildren.
RAYMOND VAN BARNEVELD: Van Barneveld is the five times World Darts Champion. His greatest moment came in 2007 when he beat Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor 7-6 to win the PDC World Championship at the Circus Tavern in Purfleet. He has achieved a nine-dart finish in a leg five times in competition. He was voted the third greatest Dutch sporting star of all-time.
JONATHAN McCAMBRIDGE: McCambridge plays darts in his spare bedroom while his wife watches Coronation Street downstairs. He has achieved a score of 180 three times in his life, including once when there was another person in the room. He once missed 24 consecutive darts at double one during a leg which he lost to his little brother.