Well, there’s no turning back now...
Tonight I will step up onto a brightly lit stage in front of maybe a couple of hundred strangers and try to propel three pieces of pointed tungsten into a board situated just under eight feet in front of me.
For any decent or enthusiastic darts player, this would be a brilliant opportunity... especially given the fact that my opponent is Glen Durrant, a genuinely world class talent. But for someone whose confidence has been shredded by dartitis, this is about as big as challenges get.
However it wasn’t just on the oche that I struggled with my nerves. I suffered similar problems on the cricket field, and nearly gave up the game I love on three separate occasions because of the bowling equivalent of dartitis: “the yips”.
The first time was during a trial for the North of England back in 1982, alongside future test star Devon Malcolm – and yes he was bloody quick. The situation repeated itself in 1994 and 1997, each time I was unable to release the ball properly, and it would either land halfway down the pitch, or assume the trajectory of a hand grenade.
I wanted to give up... but I didn’t. I got help, went back to basics, bowled and bowled and bowled at a single stump, or a target on a practice wicket and eventually got back out onto the field to give it another go.
There were plenty of times during my cricketing days that things went right, and a few when I bowled really well - I took over 1,000 senior wickets so I wasn’t totally without ability - but every single game I played, there were always those nagging doubts.
Where would the first ball land? Would it land at all?
Nearly twenty years ago, I played in a national club knockout semi-final at Chorley, just one win away from a dream trip to Lord’s (pictorial proof below). I don’t mind admitting I was genuinely scared as I ran up to bowl my first ball in front of what was reportedly a four-figure crowd. Being nervous is fine, but I was way beyond that, and what should have been a fantastic occasion was almost an ordeal, which is a shame. In the event I actually bowled okay... not as well as I could, but nowhere near as bad as I feared I would, and despite the fact that I wasn’t good enough to have any positive influence on the outcome of the game, I’m still proud that I tried my best and actually got through my spell.
The “real” winners in sport simply don’t have that attitude though. They are able to control their nerves to the extent that they can produce their absolute best when it really matters, be that on a cricket field, in front of that dartboard, or wherever. You can’t help but admire anyone who has that strength of character and determination to succeed, but for me tonight is not about beating an opponent (although I’m hugely competitive by nature... believe it or not!); it’s about proving something to myself.
I suffer from an irrational fear, the effects of which most people probably wouldn’t have experienced, or fully understand, but one that I simply have to face. The easiest thing in the world would have been to refuse Glen’s offer to play him. No one else would know; no one else would care... but I care, and that’s why I’m challenging myself to face my lifelong fear of failure, and if... no when that first dart lands in the board, the eventual result of the game will be irrelevant, because I will already have won.
Wish me luck!