For­mer world darts cham­pion re­flects on the highs and lows of his ca­reer

Wales On Sunday - - NEWS -

He was hit with an 18-month ban, and de­spite his hugely en­cour­ag­ing re­turn, the Welsh­man was well and truly in the wilder­ness.

“My world came tum­bling down when I got caught tak­ing co­caine, and the af­ter­math of that was a ban,” he said. “I would have been a top-16 player but for that ban.

“I just had to grin and bear it for those years and I had some help, but at the end of the day it was down to me.” So there it was. Rock bot­tom. Hav­ing been at the peak of his pow­ers in the mid-90s, Bur­nett was now as low as he could, hav­ing struck ev­ery twig and branch on the way down from the top of the dart­ing tree. There was no com­ing back from this.

“They were re­ally tough times. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tun­nel,” ad­mit­ted the 51-yearold.

“It cost me a hell of a lot of money. I would have been all right for life by now.

“But hey, things hap­pen, you live by it, and I’ve got no ex­cuses. It was my fault. The rules are the rules and I had to abide by it.”

Hav­ing been banned from play­ing in packed venues around the world, Bur­nett’s only op­por­tu­nity to chuck three ar­rows at a board came in his liv­ing room.

And the lack of com­pet­i­tive ac­tion crip­pled the Welsh­man, who had lit­tle choice but to turn his hand to roof­ing once again to scrape a liv­ing.

So his jour­ney now re­quired a dif­fer­ent ques­tion to be asked.

Where do you go once you’re at the bot­tom of the pile?

As far as Bur­nett is con­cerned, there was only one op­tion.

“I was think­ing about get­ting back into it all the time. Day in day out, it never left me,” he ad­mit­ted.

And get back into it the Welsh­man did.

Af­ter serv­ing his drugs ban, Bur­nett had to put in the hard yards to work his way back up the rank­ings.

But the rapid evo­lu­tion of the sport that has seen Michael van Ger­wen and Gary An­der­son tear up the rules in re­cent years means it’s go­ing to be a mon­u­men­tal chal­lenge to say the least.

“I’ve come back and I’ve got a lot to prove,” he added.

“I just want to earn a good liv­ing and be happy be­cause for the last few years I’ve been in a dark place.

“How I got through it I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that I’m a sur­vivor, and now it’s time for the se­ri­ous stuff.

“The play­ers are turn­ing up pro­fes­sion­ally mo­ti­vated now.

“They don’t drink much ei­ther. When we used to fin­ish a tour­na­ment we used to go straight to the pub back in the day. Now they’ll go back to a ho­tel room to sleep all night, it’s to­tally dif­fer­ent now.

“Prac­tice wasn’t for me in those days, but now you have to do it, that’s changed.

“The money has es­ca­lated. Barry Hearn has done a fan­tas­tic job to bring darts for­ward. And every­one wants some of that money.”

Not only did Bur­nett have to cope with com­ing up against a plethora of ar­row slingers, but he was strug­gling phys­i­cally too.

“I was still play­ing re­ally well when I came back, I just wasn’t get- ting luck with in­juries and things like that,” ad­mit­ted the for­mer world No.1.

“I re­alised I couldn’t see, then my knee gave way. I com­peted through that.

“There was a lump on the back of my knee and I could hardly prac­tise.

“The real prob­lem was my eye. I’ve been throw­ing for the last seven or eight years with one eye.

“But since get­ting that all sorted, I feel fine.

“All I can do now is gain con­fi­dence. The next cou­ple of months are go­ing to be cru­cial for my pro­gres­sion. But I’m ready for it.

“Once some­thing sparks in my head I’ll move for­ward. Un­til I have a good break I’ll still strug­gle un­til my con­fi­dence gets there.

“But I’ve got no ex­cuses now. I’m fit and ready to go.”

Bur­nett has climbed back into the top 100 of the PDC world rank­ings since com­plet­ing his ban.

But what next for the man who had it all and then lost it all? Only time will tell. The rise back to the big time has al­ready started for Bur­nett.

And while a re­turn to the sum­mit of the tung­sten tree would rep­re­sent a come­back of Lazarus-like pro­por­tions for the Welsh­man, you sim­ply can’t rule any­thing out.

Be­cause he’s sam­pled life at po­lar op­po­sites of the dart­ing spec­trum.

And it’s the dark days spent away from the oche that are fu­elling the resur­gence of a man des­per­ately try­ing to sal­vage some­thing from the game that once gave him ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing.

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