‘I’VE COME BACK AND I’VE GOT A LOT TO PROVE’
Former world darts champion reflects on the highs and lows of his career
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.