If there is one player in the world of darts who epitomises the blood, sweat and tears attitude to get to the top of the sport, it is Andy Hamilton.
His rewards have come from sheer hard work, effort, pain and practice and there is nobody who would begrudge ‘The Hammer’ the success that he is now enjoying.
It has been a real struggle at times, and at other times, there were even thoughts of quitting as a full-time darts professional, but those dark days are now very in the past.
And of course, the ultimate reward came in January 2012 when Hamilton came within touching distance of being crowned World Champion.
‘The Hammer’ was beaten in the Alexandra Palace World Final by Adrian Lewis, but he enjoyed the darting ride of his life at the Ally Pally.
And to top off a remarkable couple of weeks, Hamilton was then handed a prized wildcard to play in the 2012 Premier League, which is seen as the ultimate honour at the top of the world game.
“I am living the darting dream,” he said. “This is what it’s all about. This is what I have worked so hard to achieve and this is where I want to be and this is where I want to stay!”
Back in the world’s top 10 and the £100,000 he earned from reaching the World Championship Final should set him up nicely for the rest of his darts career.
“It was an amazing experience at the Ally Pally. I just scraped through my first match against Antonio Alcinas and after that my confidence grew and I just believed that it was my time and I kept on believing even when it looked like it was going to end.”
Hamilton went on: “My big disappointment was that I didn’t play anywhere near my best game in the final. In fact, it was probably my worst display of the tournament. To be fair, Adrian wasn’t at his best either and I think we were both shattered, especially after we were both involved in such dramatic, emotional semi-finals.”
He can say that again!
Lewis remarkably came back from 1-5 down to beat Team Unicorn’s James Wade 6-5 and Hamilton also looked down and out when he trailed Simon Whitlock 3-5, but yet again ‘The Hammer’ dug deep and somehow he found a way to win.
It was the second time in six months that Hamilton had broken Whitlock’s heart in a TV ‘Major’ but more of that later!
In his 1st Round clash with Alcinas, Hamilton came very close to some darting history – just missing D18 for a 9 darter! But more importantly, he battled back from 2 sets to 1 down, winning six of the next seven legs, to edge out the Spaniard.
He endured another tough battle in round two, again coming from behind – this time against Vincent van der Voort. The Dutchman led 3-2 but yet again, Hamilton found a way to win.
Next up came Dave Chisnall, who of course, had just famously beaten Phil Taylor in the 2nd Round at the Ally Pally…..but Chisnall couldn’t back up that performance – not that Hamilton was complaining – and ‘The Hammer’ coasted to a 4-0 victory.
He was also at his very best in the quarter-finals, sweeping aside the challenge of talented Belgian Kim Huybrechts by 5 sets to 2…..the Unicorn man was an unstoppable force, playing the darts of his life.
In that epic semi-final against Whitlock, he got off to a flier to go 3-1 ahead before the Australian hit back with a remarkable run, winning 12 of the next 14 legs, to move 5 sets to 3 in front.
It looked odds-on that the Aussie would claim his place in the final, but somehow Hamilton found something extra special from somewhere!
He won three successive sets and eventually won a deciding set tie-break by four legs to two!
Hamilton was a 200/1 outsider with sponsors Ladbrokes before the tournament, but he was into the World Championship Final!
“Sadly, I just ran out of steam,” admitted Hamilton.
“The tournament took so much out of me. I thought I was ready for the final but I wasn’t . Take nothing away from Adrian because he is a worthy champion, but all it has done is given me the taste for more. I want more of the same please! And I want to win a TV ‘Major’ and before I’ve finished, I will.”
Hamilton lost the World Final by 7 sets to 3 and despite hitting five ton plus finishes, his scoring let him down on the big night.
But the Stoke star had won a new army of fans around the globe after his fantastic exploits at the Alexandra Palace and it is now a case of looking to the future with renewed optimism.
The other big highlight of 2011 was a great run to the semi-finals of the World Matchplay in Blackpool….and it was a run that reignited Hamilton’s career after 18 months in the darting doldrums.
Finally, something clicked and the rest, as they say, is history.
But Hamilton needed a huge slice of luck to help him on his way, because he so very nearly didn’t even qualify for the Matchplay!
Hamilton beat Team Unicorn stablemate Gary Anderson in the 1st Round at the Winter Gardens, and ironically, it was Anderson who helped ‘The Hammer’ qualify!
Going into the last qualifying event before Blackpool, Hamilton was hanging onto the 16th and last spot but a great run by Dennis Smith in the last Players Championship event looked like ending Hamilton’s Matchplay dream.
Somehow though, Anderson came from 1-5 down to beat Smith 6-5 in the quarter-finals of the Pro Tour event and it was Hamilton, not Smith, who squeezed into the Matchplay.
And in the 1st Round, he promptly beat Anderson 10-6…..when the Scot led 6-5, it looked like an Anderson victory, especially after he left 41 after 9 darts in leg 12…..but this is where Hamilton had his eureka moment!
‘The Hammer’ nailed a remarkable 135 finish on the bull…..it broke Anderson’s spirit and five legs later, Hamilton had won!
He followed that with a 13-11 victory over John Henderson, before the unbelievable quarter-final against Simon Whitlock.
Hamilton rewrote the darting history books with the greatest comeback in the long and illustrious Winter Gardens story.
He produced the greatest comeback in the history of the tournament, coming from 9-15 down to win 17-15.
It was an amazing performance…..Hamilton grew in stature, the Aussie crumbled under the pressure and a run of 9 consecutive legs and that was that!
Whitlock missed five match darts along the way but it was pure darting theatre.
Hamilton put up a good show in the semi-finals but went down 17-9 to an in-form Phil Taylor, but it was a brilliant week and secured his spot back in the world’s top 16.
It was ‘Hammer Time’ again!
It was as if Hamilton had been handed a second chance, but it was a chance that he has gone on to grasp with both hands!
The Premier League experience epitomised the enthusiasm that carries Hamilton along – together with hours and hours of practice and preparation!
He loved every minute of the prestigious Premier League bandwagon…..from Dublin to Glasgow and Cardiff to London, this was the stage where Hamilton really felt that he belonged.
From humble beginnings in Stoke, where he started playing as a teenager with his father, to playing county darts as an 18-year-old, to packing up darts for 20 years!
That is how it all panned out for Hamilton as he finally reinvented himself and came back to the sport with the PDC in 2004.
It has been a long road, but Hamilton has come a long way!
You may remember that he owned and ran The Skylark pub in Stoke, moved to Derby and sold the pub to concentrate on the darts, then eventually moved back to Stoke and it was that move back to his home town which made all the difference.
Anyway, it has been a steady success story for one of the most popular men on the darts circuit.
A qualifier for the 2005 World Championship, he reached the quarter-finals where he lost to Bob Anderson.
And a year later came another brilliant Blackpool bonanza, with another semi-final spot, but sadly, another defeat by Taylor.
The big breakthrough year was 2007 when four big TV tournament performances made all the difference and took his career to another level.
He reached the semi-finals of the last ever World Championship played at the famous Circus Tavern…..Hamilton hit an amazing 46x180s at Purfleet and lost to Taylor in those semi-finals.
Later that month, Hamilton won his first PDC title – taking the Stan James Players Championship on the rock of Gibraltar, where he beat Colin Lloyd in the final.
He reached the last four of the US Open in Connecticut in May where he was beaten by Raymond van Barneveld and in September 2007, he came very close to reaching the final of the World Darts Trophy in Holland.
After coming from 4 sets to 1 down to stun BDO player Martin Adams in the quarter-finals, he lost a thrilling semi-final 6-5 to Anderson.
And of course Hamilton was catapulted to a new level on November 2007 when he got through to his first ‘Major’ TV Final.
The first ever Grand Slam of Darts took place in November 2007 and was screened on ITV.
Hamilton reached the final where he lost 18-11 to Taylor but a 101 average and 13x180s showed what he can do yet again!
Like most darts players around the world, he has been forced to go through a bad patch, but through everything, he always believed that he would come good and that belief has helped Hamilton to reach the top echelons of the darts world.
But there is still that one big unanswered question. Just what would Hamilton have achieved if he hadn’t taken that 20-year sabbatical from the sport all that time ago?
“It is a big regret looking back,” he admitted. “But at that time darts just wasn’t that important to me, but I am making up for it now!”
Andy is married to Kate and has three step-children Adam, Sarah and Vicky.
He is now a giant in the world of professional darts and don’t doubt that he will achieve his ultimate dream of winning a ‘Major’ TV tournament.
When Andy Hamilton sets out to achieve something, Andy Hamilton will succeed!