A giant in the world of darts and without doubt, THE most popular player on the planet...and a Team Unicorn star until at least 2017.
The renaissance of Raymond van Barneveld has thrilled ‘The Barney Army’ as his glorious triumph at the 2012 Grand Slam of Darts ended a five-and-a-half wait for a ‘Major’ individual TV title.
And the five-times World Champion is targeting more big TV titles in a sport which has made him one of the biggest names in Dutch sport!
Barneveld has celebrated by signing a new four-year contract with Unicorn, which sees him staying with the world’s leading darts manufacturer until 2017 and hopefully beyond.
The contract was signed at the ground-breaking Dubai Darts Masters in May 2013, when Barney reached the final of this first event in the brand new World Series of Darts. He was eventually edged out by the talent that is Michael van Gerwen.
“I want to repay everyone at Team Unicorn for their faith. They have stood by me through some tough times. I will never forget that. The best way for me to say thank you is to go out there and win!” he said.
“And that’s the plan from 2013 onwards,” he added. “I want a 6th World Championship and I feel I have unfinished business – especially with the World Matchplay and the Premier League. I feel confident and I believe!”
Of course, Barney’s brilliant victory over big rival Phil Taylor to win the 2007 World Championship just nine months after joining the PDC will forever be known simply as ‘The Greatest Game’.
But it is all about the future for the Dutchman, as he plots a path to more glory and another World Championship crown.
“There were times when I questioned my future in the sport,” he admitted. “But the support of all the fans has been an inspiration for me.”
“Of course it was difficult going all those years without winning a big tournament and there were some tough times away from darts as well, but I have come out on the other side and I can’t wait for the challenges ahead.”
Barneveld may well look back with regret on the 2013 World Championship semi-final.....chasing his 6th World crown, he found himself 1-5 down to Taylor before he produced a great run to win three consecutive sets. He had chances to force a deciding set, but Taylor won 6-4 and of course went on to win the title at the Alexandra Palace.
But the signs are there and the signs are good for another golden few years for the darting giant from The Hague.
He finished second in the 2013 Premier League but lost another semi-final to Taylor, although he remains upbeat.
“I still have that hunger and desire to win,” he said. “It is all about confidence and belief and I feel that I have that now....similar to the feeling I had when I first came over to the PDC in 2006, so hopefully that points to a successful few years ahead.”
“Winning the Grand Slam was huge for me after not winning a TV title for so long. It was just a pity that it didn’t count as far as the world rankings was concerned. But I know I have big tournament wins in me. Losing the 2013 World Championship semi-final hurt because I believed that it was my year, but I am getting back to where I want to be,” he added.
And perhaps the fact that another Dutch ace – young Michael van Gerwen – is grabbing all the headlines at the moment is taking the pressure off Barneveld.
It was Van Gerwen who was on the end of a brilliant Barney performance in the final of the Grand Slam in Wolverhampton.
Barneveld played beautifully all week at the Wolves Civic Hall.....he topped his group despite a shock 4-5 defeat against fellow Dutchman and at that time BDO World Champion Christian Kist.
In the last 16, he walloped another Dutchman Wesley Harms 10-4 with a 105 average and then produced a masterful display to get revenge over Kist with a 16-10 victory in the quarter-finals and another impressive average of 101.
Another 16-10 win accounted for another Team Unicorn star Andy Hamilton in the semi-finals....Van Gerwen went into the final as odds-on favourite because ‘Mighty Mike’ had just won the World Grand Prix.
But Barney was always ahead and he repelled all Van Gerwen could throw at him to take a 16-14 win in the best ever final at the Grand Slam.
And the little matter of £100,000 to keep the bank manager happy!
“It was an important day for me for lots of reasons,” he said. “In years to come, I am sure I will look back at that Sunday in Wolverhampton as a big turning point. I knew I couldn’t lose another big final and mentally, it has made me a lot stronger.”
Five Times, Barneveld has been crowned World Champion but there has to be more and he knows it!
But of course, it was against Taylor, that Barneveld achieved the most memorable victory of his career when he won ‘The Greatest Game’ against ‘The Power’ to be crowned the 2007 World Champion at The Circus Tavern.
You may remember that he made a sensational entrance to the world of the PDC – hitting his first ever televised 9 darter in the Premier League at Bournemouth, beating Taylor on his way to his 1st PDC ‘Major’ – the UK Open, winning the World Championship and he was PDC No.1 for six months.
Now his target is to reclaim his place in the elite top four in the world rankings.
In 2012, Barneveld also hit his highest ever average on TV – 112.28 against Kevin Painter in the Premier League but the 2012 World Championship saw Barney suffer ‘my worst ever defeat’ when he slumped to a shock defeat in the 1st Round of the World Championship at the hands of James Richardson.
But it is a measure of the man the way he recovered from that in the year following that stunning exit.
Well going back in time, it was 15 years ago that he quit his job as a postman to turn professional after his first World Championship triumph, when he beat Richie Burnett 6-5 to win a thrilling Embassy Final at The Lakeside.
That final was watched by more than five million TV viewers in Holland – a third of the darts population and when he made his triumphant return, 10,000 fans turned up at the airport to welcome him home!
Barney Mania was born and nowadays it is the Barney Army!
Overnight his life changed and he has never looked back. Barneveld went from an £800 per month ‘postie’ to winning a cheque for £40,000 and his world changed forever.
After 15 years with the BDO, Barneveld made the great leap across the darting divide and his great rivalry with Taylor began.
THE magical moment of course, came at the last ever World Championship staged at the famous Circus Tavern and what an amazing tournament it was for the Dutchman.
But the dream was nearly shattered in the second round, when Barney staged one of his now famous comebacks. If you remember, he fell three sets to nil down against Colin Lloyd and it really did look all over.
However, as Lloyd proceeded to miss four darts for the match, Barneveld produced some amazing darts to take the match into a deciding set. It went all the way to a sudden death shoot-out and Barney prevailed.
Who knows, after that – perhaps his name was written on the World Championship trophy. The rest of his route to the final was plain sailing. The Dutchman beat Rico Vonk, Alan Tabern and Andy Jenkins without dropping a single set to make it the dream final against Taylor.
The dream though, turned into a nightmare as Barney fluffed his lines on his big night. It looked all over as Taylor raced into a 3 sets to nil lead. Barneveld just couldn’t get into the game and hadn’t hit a single 180!
We then witnessed one of the most incredible comebacks of all time. No wonder it was dubbed ‘The Greatest Game’.
Barneveld stormed back with some power scoring and terrific finishing. He hit a sensational 21x180s and took the match to a final set decider.
Both players averaged over 100 over 13 breathtaking sets of darts and of course, in the end it all came down to one leg of darts. Barney won the throw but when Taylor hit a maximum, it looked like he had seized the initiative but Barneveld replied with a 180 of his own and seconds later, nailed D20 to cut ‘The Power’ and win his 5th World Championship crown.
“Of course, my first World Championship in 1998 was magical,” he said. “But I doubt anything could top that. It was my dream when I came to the PDC to beat Taylor and win the World Championship and I did it!”
Taylor of course, got his revenge in the 2009 World Championship Final at the Alexandra Palace, winning by 7 sets to 1 but Barney missed so many doubles and so many chances. It could have been a lot closer and five of the sets that Taylor won were by 3 legs to 2.
But reaching the World Final was still a real achievement for the Dutchman, who had been below his best for a while and he still managed to re-write the darting history books at the Ally Pally, by becoming the first man ever to hit a perfect 9-darter at the World Championship.
The magical feat came in the quarter-finals against Jelle Klaasen and earned him a £20,000 bonus.
And incredibly, a year later he did it again! In the history books as the only man to hit two World Championship 9 darters! The second one came against Irishman Brendan Dolan.
In all, Barneveld has banged in five televised 9 darters – all of them ‘live’ on Sky Sports.
The Premier League against Manley in Bournemouth, the two at the World Championship and two more during 2010....in the Premier League against Terry Jenkins in Aberdeen and in July, against Denis Ovens at the World Matchplay in Blackpool.
And all of them, a joy to watch!
During his time in the PDC, Barneveld has also won the UK Open in Bolton twice – beating Barrie Bates in 2006 and Vincent van der Voort a year later.
He beat Taylor for three consecutive years at the Reebok – all in the quarter-finals and his 11-4 win in 2007 was one of the heaviest defeats that Taylor has ever suffered in a TV ‘Major’.
Barneveld looked on course for a unique hat-trick of UK Open triumphs in 2008 but after again beating Taylor in the last eight, he ran out of steam and lost to Gary Mawson in the semi-finals.
His other notable achievements in the PDC include two World Grand Prix finals in Dublin, beaten finalist at the 2010 World Matchplay, a semi-final at the European Championship in 2011 when he was beaten by an Adrian Lewis 9-darter, and the total frustration of losing FIVE Premier League semi-finals.
Of course, he won the Las Vegas Desert Classic in 2007, beating Terry Jenkins in the final.
And that was his last individual ‘Major’ TV crown until of course, that all changed with the win over Van Gerwen at the 2012 Grand Slam.....but Barney did team up with Co Stompe to win the first ever staging of the PDC World Cup of Darts for the Netherlands when it was held in the North East of England.....a very proud and patriotic man, the victory over Wales in the final reduced Barneveld to tears on the big stage.
Barney was actually a relatively late starter when it came to the sport that was to give him fame and fortune. He was 17-years-old when his parents bought him a dartboard for his birthday.
He entered his first competition in Holland soon after and the rest, as they say, is history. Barneveld was hooked on the sport but he had to be patient before his immense talent finally shone through.
Barneveld first qualified for the Embassy World Championship in 1991 but it turned into an unhappy experience, as he lost three sets to nil to Australian Keith Sullivan in the 1st Round.
But all the hard work soon started to pay dividends. It was in 1994 that he reached his first big final – losing the Finnish Open to Andy Fordham and a year later Barney got to the World Final but lost by 6 sets to 3 against Richie Burnett.
Revenge was to be sweet though, and three years later, he won the first World crown against the Welshman. In 1999, he went back to the Lakeside and successfully defended his title – this time beating Ronnie Baxter in another final which went all the way to an 11th set decider.
World Championship No.3 came in 2003 with a 6-3 win over Wales’ Ritchie Davies and although he was beaten by Fordham in the semi-finals a year later, Barney was back to claim a 4th World title in 2005.
This was by far the most impressive of his BDO World Championship titles. The Dutchman breezed through his first three matches without dropping a single set. He then beat Darryl Fitton 5-3 in the semi-finals, before putting Martin Adams to the sword, with a 6 sets to 2 victory in the final.
Sadly, his last ever match in the BDO didn’t result in a 5th World Championship with that organisation, which would have equalled Eric Bristow’s record. He lost the 2006 World Final to a then unknown called Jelle Klaasen and soon after, announced his switch to the Professional Darts Corporation.
Barneveld was also crowned World Masters Champion twice. He won the prestigious event in 2001 beating Jarkko Komula and again in 2005 when he beat Goran Klemme.
On top of that, there were two terrific victories on home turf in the World Darts Trophy. In 2003, Barney has a 105 average in thrashing Mervyn King in the final and 12 months later he once again got the better of Adams in a ‘Major’ Final.
Also in Holland, came three big wins at the International Darts League – against King, Australian Tony David and Mervyn King in 2003, 2004 and 2006.
Three times, he was a World Cup winner! In 1997, 1999 and 2003, Barney won the men’s singles titles.
And one of the best consistent performances of Barneveld’s illustrious career came at the 2007 Masters of Darts tournament, which was also held in Holland. He was unstoppable all week and posted a 107 average in a 7-0 win over Peter Manley in the final.
He has one of the most stylish throws in the world of darts and you just know that more ‘Major’ titles are on the way. Barney has had to battle diabetes in recent times, but getting that under control is a big reason why he has managed to turn the corner on the oche.
There is no doubt that Barneveld is right up there in the top three players in history.
Raymond lives in the The Hague and is married to Sylvia. They have three children – Mike, Daisy and Patty.
He will play on for many years yet and he will add to his tally of ‘Major’ tournament successes.
A rare talent and a gentleman and he deserves all that he has achieved from darts....the link-up with Unicorn proved to be a crucial moment for him....a partnership which has been built to last.
And we all look forward to more success, more silverware and more smiles from Raymond van Barneveld, as he takes his partnership with Unicorn to eight years....and counting!