Upon speaking to Kevin I quickly realised that us two Essex boys had a connection. When starting out on the Essex circuit, Kevin played at the Paddocks on Canvey Island, which was only 5mins walk from my parents house. In fact, I may have seen him play in my youth…I racked my brain, but couldn’t remember, I also didn’t want to take up Kevin’s time, as I searched the dark recesses of my mind.
Speaking to Kevin fresh after his 9-0 defeat to Andrew Gilding was not ideal timing, but I found him in good spirits, and looking to the future.
So what happened at the UK Open at the weekend?
I got to the venue at 11am, and played my first round game. In previous years I’ve gone back to my accommodation, relaxed, and gone back to the venue for my next game. However this year I tried changing things, I stayed at the venue had a couple of drinks, but I waited around too long, so by the time the game came, I was flat. No disrespect to Andrew though, he played magnificently all weekend. But I should not be losing 9-0 to him, in fact I shouldn’t be losing 9-0 to anyone. Normally at 2/3-0 that’s when my fighting spirit kicks in, however it was not there at the weekend.
So what plans have you put in place to rectify this?
Well I’ve been struggling with arthritis in my hip over the winter, and I’ve had to adjust my style of play, as it’s predominantly on my standing leg (my right). However if I’m waiting around in venues waiting for my match to start, it can start anytime on the floor. I find that my arthritis kicks in. I’m really looking forward to the summer months so the cold doesn’t get to it!”
As I am getting older, I also need to get healthier, by eating better, and maybe looking at my drinking habits. I’m finding myself getting fatigued a lot quicker if I have a couple of pints in the afternoon.
There is that old famous Smith & Jones sketch about darts players, which parodies them all as drinkers, does drinking actually assist you?
I’ve always had a drink, so it’s mentally ingrained, I suppose it does help me play. I’d practice for 4/5 hours a day, have a few pints. It’s just what I do. Also when you’re on the tour events, you’re waiting around for 4/5 hours at a time, waiting for a game. So you need something to do, so I’d have a few pints. Maybe I should be looking for something else to fill this time.
How do you find the experience of playing these games on the floor?
Playing on the floor is tough. I’m losing focus too easily, I’m losing games that I should never be losing. What hurts the most, is that I know that.
Looking from afar, you always seem to thrive on playing on the main stage, it brings out the best in you.
Yes, it’s a lot easier as well. You know for example you’re playing Raymond (Van Barneveld) at 7pm on Friday, and you can practice and focus accordingly. On the floor, you might not be playing for hours, and you have to hang around accordingly.
You've dropped down to 24th in the PDC Order of Merit, how are you finding live on the tour?
It's tough, I've missed several events over the last year, and at times I feel like a part-time pro. If you're not in the top 8, and playing in all the events, then you're having to qualify. Things are not that easy.
What do you mean by that?
Well you’ve got 100+ guys on the British circuit going for these 20 spots in the tournaments. It's tough. The quality of player in Britain is stronger than it's ever been. You look at the European qualifying and there's some great guys playing in it, however the strength in depth is not the same in Europe, as it is in the UK.
Surely this is all part of Barry Hearn's plan to make darts a global game?
Yes that is true, and Barry’s answer always is “to play better” obviously but if you don’t qualify for these events, then you’re not playing and you lose your consistency. That’s not good for any darts player. You need to be playing consistently, especially as you get older. I’m not a young guy anymore, who can just turn it on and off again.
So is more practice the key?
Well my other half said to me recently that maybe I shouldn’t practice as much. I’d do 3 days solid, and still wasn’t making an impact. She said I should let my natural skill for the game just take control, and see where that gets me. I may try that approach. I’m certainly throwing nicely at the moment, I just need to get my head switched on for the floor events.
I suppose the BDO guys coming across has made qualifying for events tougher as well?
It’s not just those guys, I don’t think there is any other sport in the world which has the strength in depth of darts. Everyone can hit a double now. Years ago, someone could have a double against you, and you’d think he’s going to miss this. Not anymore. Everyone can hit one, these young guys are exceptional.
What about the BDO players though?
Stephen Bunting has been exceptional, but they don’t have any prize money to defend. So they can just chance their arm, and see how they get on. That’s how Chisnall started, and he’s continued his good form.
Going back to that strength in depth, I guess the 2015 World Championships proved that. Had you seen Cristo Reyes play before?
No! Well I saw him play Wez (Newton) and had been preparing myself to play Wez. I knew Wez’s game, and knew that I could beat him. However saying all that, I got myself 3-1 up against Cristo, and I should not be losing that game. It was hugely disappointing.
Talking about World Championship games when you're ahead, takes me back to the 2004 PDC World Final against Phil Taylor. Do you often lie awake at night and think I should have won that? (Kevin led 5-3, eventually losing 7-6 in sets)
Not particularly no. I didn’t have a shot to win it. So I don’t beat myself up at night about it. Obviously it would have been nice to win it, but it wasn’t to be. Also the prize money wasn’t so big back then. It was only £50k for the winner, not like £250k it is now. It might be a different story if it happened in this day and age.
How was it playing in the "Taylor era"?
The man was a machine, the only hope you had really was that maybe something was going on his personal life at the time. Or you hoped that you were in the opposite side of the draw to him, as he was winning everything.
How long do you think Taylor can play for?
Probably 3 to 4 years. However Phil loves winning. It’s a great drug to have. If Phil wants to win a game, he will win it. I don’t think there has been another sportsman like Phil, he was, is so dominant. You look at Ronnie O’Sullivan, he’s obviously the best snooker player out there. But he has days when his brain’s not in gear. Not Phil though.
What about yourself, how long can you see yourself playing? Do you have any plans for life after darts?
I haven’t even thought about that. I want to keep on playing darts, and I will carry on as long as I can compete. I’ve invested in property along the way, but my mind is solely on darts at present.
Changing tack a bit, you love playing on the main stage. What are your views on the crowds at the big PDC events, especially the irritating Yaya/Kolo Toure chants?
It’s better to have a crowd there, and not at all. All darts players want to play in front of big crowds. It’s like footballers, they would rather play in front of 20,000 rather than 200. When I’m on stage, I tend to not think about the crowd, and the noise doesn’t affect me.
Some of the crowd aren't even watching the darts though
Yes, I’ve seen a lot of that on Twitter. But these people are going to the darts as a night out, if they want to have a sing-song and a few pints, what’s the problem in that. What darts players have to remember is without these people going to these events, paying the money to get in, the prize money etc isn’t going to be as big.
You have "I predict a riot" as your walk on song, what influenced that?
I honestly don’t know where it came from. I’ve had it years, probably at one of the exhibitions someone said to me, “I know a good walk-on song for you”. That’s where it’s come from I suppose. When I was in the Premier League in 2012, I wanted to change it. But Sky said no. They said “that’s your walk-on music”
I can't let you go without mentioning your beloved Ipswich. Who would be in Kevin Painter's dream Ipswich 5-a-side team?
Haha, good question.
Paul Cooper in goal, he saved 8 penalties out of 10 one season. In fact he saved two in one game.
Terry Butcher – A rock
John Wark – You cannot leave out Johnny Wark
Arnold Muhren – Man what a touch he had
Paul Mariner – In my opinion Ipswich Town’s greatest striker
All from the same era
That late 70s/early 80s side was Ipswich’s best ever, it was a great side. I could have included Kevin Beattie and Alan Brazil as well. We’ve had some great players since, Matty Holland and Marcus Stewart, but that 80s side was the best ever.
After speaking to Kevin, I found a man still determined to do well, and still with plenty to offer the game of darts. He is fully aware of the increasing competition and strength in depth, and maybe is prepared to change a habit of a lifetime to arrow his way back to the top.