GREG LAMBERT meets Dave Chisnall, the darts ace who lives in Morecambe and has his sights set on world championship glory.
“I DON’T like interviews,” says Dave Chisnall.
The man they call ‘Chizzy’ admits he is uncomfortable in the spotlight.
But he’d better get used to it. As the fastest-rising star in darts, the Morecambe man is tipped as a future world champion and is on the verge of becoming a household name.
Seven months ago, millions watched as Dave stunned the legendary Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, knocking the 15-times champ out of the 2012 PDC World Championship live on Sky TV.
Since then he’s beaten Taylor again, reached the UK Open semi-finals and will start this week’s World Matchplay Championship in Blackpool as one of the favourites. All this, just five years after he turned professional.
The growing expectations of fans and experts don’t seem to phase the nerveless ‘Chizzy’.
Neither does playing in front of crowds of thousands and a TV audience of millions, where a steady hand and an ability to cope under intense pressure is vital.
But stick a TV camera or a notepad in his face, and ‘Chizzy’ would much rather be somewhere else.
So for this rare interview, I have been invited to Dave’s comfort zone – Morecambe Premier League darts night at Smokey O’Connor’s pub.
Dave and his girlfriend Michaela, who also plays darts, have come along for a drink, a few practice games and to cheer on their mates from the local circuit.
He’s happiest in the pub environment, whether he’s playing darts, pool or watching his favourite team Liverpool play football...just being one of the lads.
So we have a couple of pints of lager and a quick game on the ‘oche’. ‘Chizzy’ generously allows me a 200 points start, effortlessly notches a ‘180’ and a ‘140’, then checks out on double eight, as I languish a good 200 points behind.
This easy win puts down-to-earth Dave in the mood to open up about his life and career.
Originally from St Helens, Chisnall has lived in Morecambe for the past two-and-a-half years.
He settled here after meeting Michaela, who is from the town, at the St Anne’s Darts Open in 2008.
The couple now have a 10-month-old daughter Lexie-Rose, whose name is tattooed on Dave’s arm.
He juggles being a family man with travelling to darts tournaments all over the world.
It’s a life 31-year-old Chisnall couldn’t have envisaged when he first took up the game, aged 17.
“I used to play football for a local team in St Helens but I broke my foot so I took up darts,” he says.
“I first played in my mate’s bedroom. I scored 100 with my first three darts. I’d never played before.
“My mate said come to the pub and play for our team. I didn’t have any training.
“I was watching it on the TV and thought, I can beat these guys, so I’m going to go for it.”
By 2007, Dave’s natural talent was turning heads. Chisnall defeated former world champion Mark Webster in 2007 and then another former world champion, Ted Hankey, in 2008. Afterwards, Hankey told him he should start playing professionally.
Within two years, Chisnall found himself in the BDO World Final, playing England captain Martin Adams live on the BBC.
Rank outsider Dave pushed Adams all the way, losing 7-5, despite a broken finger suffered when he slipped on ice.
‘Chizzy’ then signed for the BDO’s rivals the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) and qualified for the pro tour on his first night.
Since then, Chisnall has stormed up the world rankings to number 13.
His career earnings have topped £200,000 and if he wins at Blackpool, he could qualify for Sky TV’s lucrative Premier League tour of major UK venues like the Manchester Arena and Wembley.
Morecambe’s adopted son puts his success down to his relaxed attitude.
“I don’t get nervous, unless I’m playing someone I know I can beat. I play better against better players.
“When I’m up on stage, there’s nothing in my mind except winning.
“I hear the crowd but I block them out.
“If I win, I win. I don’t blame anybody if I lose other than myself. You can’t win them all.”
‘Chizzy’ seems to have a laid-back view on just about everything.
For example, while most of his rivals have their own entrance music, he doesn’t care what tune they play when he emerges for a big match.
“I’m not into music, so I just tell them to put something different on each time. Something upbeat.”
He wears his trademark yellow shirt for no particular reason, simply “because no-one else wears yellow” and practices whenever he feels like it, unless he’s got a big match coming up when he’ll put in five hours solid before entering the arena.
But his methods are working. Next week’s World Matchplay Championship is his chance to win a first major title on TV...and he’s feeling confident.
“Last year everybody was telling me I was going to win it, but I was beaten 10-3 by Mark Walsh. I was embarrassed.
“This year I’m not listening to anyone. I’ve got a lot more experience.
“I can feel a nine-dart finish coming on. I’ve had one last night in practice, and one the night before.”
Chisnall may be a fish out of water in front of the media’s glare, but on the oche he’s very much at home. And his confidence is clearly growing with every win.
I ask him what he’ll spend the money on if he ever wins the world title.
‘Chizzy’ interrupts me with a wide grin. “You mean, WHEN I win the world title!”
You can see Dave start his bid for World Matchplay glory next Tuesday night (July 24) on Sky TV. He plays Ronnie Baxter in the first round at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool.
CHIZZY ON HIS CLOSEST RIVALS
Raymond van Barneveld: “He’s a true gent. After he beat me last weekend (in the final of the European Open in Germany) he shook my hand and said: ‘You’re an amazing player’.”
Phil Taylor: “The one word that comes to mind with Taylor is ‘quality’. He’s still the best. When he stops playing, the money in darts will go down. He’s a great winner but he can be a funny loser. I don’t like saying much about Taylor, I don’t want to upset him!”
Simon Whitlock: “He doesn’t like playing me. When we drew each other in a tournament (recently) he said: ‘I’m not playing him again!’”
Gary Anderson: “He’s the most natural player I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t practice before a match. He’ll just sit around and talk to people, then go on stage and win 6-0.”