Kevin van der Voort is the owner of Dartshop Zaanstad in Zaandam. His mother Karin started the family-run business five years ago as a hobby. Today, it’s one the Netherlands’ largest dart shops in a country that is dotty for darts. Kevin, 21, hopes to one day be a champion darts player.
‘It’s something I’ve always dreamed of,’ he says. ‘I have a very motivated dad who wants me to be in the top.’
His father is none other than Vincent van der Voort, one of the five best Dutch dart players and the world’s 28th seed who will be competing in the PDC World Darts Championship opening today [Thursday] at London’s Alexandra Palace.
‘My dad has been travelling for 30 years, so it’s natural for me,’ Kevin says of his father’s occupation. ‘But when he leaves for London for the world championship, it’s special. I always have goosebumps when the tournament starts.’
The Dart Kings
Vincent is one of 12 Dutch players among the 96 competing, including the top five, who are ‘order of merit’ players and get to skip the first round and move automatically into the second.
Those top five players, the so-called Dart Kings—Michael van Gerwen, Raymond van Barneveld, Danny Noppert, Vincent van der Voort and Dirk van Duijvenbode—will be competing for some €2.9 million in prize money over the next 19 days.
That a country of some 17 million people has produced so many leading darts players is unusual, and, according to Dutch Darts Association director Paul Engelbertink, partly due to the stellar Dutch organisation of the sport.
‘We’re a small country, but we have a proper system in place,’ he says. ‘We run lots of tournaments, and you can play in your own age group, so players have the opportunity to compete against other good players. So here, you never have to travel too far to play with the best.’
‘I find it fascinating that the French and Germans are not as good as us,’ adds Kevin van der Voort. ‘We’re so much smaller. But many Dutch players come up through the qualifiers, where they can make €5,000 or €10,000, so they’re willing to play. They want to get better, and if you play daily tournaments, you will get better. That’s what’s lacking in Germany and France. We’re second only to England.’
His own father was already a European champion at age 14 and a world champion two years later.
The Barney effect
But both Kevin and Engelbertink chalk up the popularity of darts to Van Barneveld, also known as Barney, who won his first world championship in 1998. By the early 2000s, says Engelbertink, the Dutch were hooked. ‘It became quite a big sport, and people followed it. More people started playing, and more pubs started featuring it.’
‘Barney put us on the map,’ agrees Kevin. ‘And Van Gerwen, who is dominating the sport right now, is a standout person for us.’
The world’s number 3 seed, Van Gerwen claimed his seventh Players Championship Finals last month in Minehead, England and is the favourite to win at Alexandra Palace. ‘It’s always good to have a great ambassador, and we have Michael van Gerwen,’ says Engelbertink. He predicts Van Gerwen will come home with the top trophy. ‘He’s again in the best form of his life.’
For the duration of the championship, Van Gerwen, Van der Voort and Barney will be joining the rest of the Dart Kings in a London flat provided by their sports-betting sponsor Toto, which has also rechristened a bar—The Starting Gate café in London’s Tottenham district—as the Dart Kings pub for Dutch fans to cheer on their compatriots during the tournament.
The private residence features a cook providing healthy meals, a physiotherapist, a training room and space to relax – a far cry from the sport’s beer-fueled image. But taking care of their health is something players of this bar sport have been lacking.
‘I want to continue for another five years and I am not 18 anymore,’ the 55-year-old Van Barneveld recently told AD. ‘I really need to start living a little healthier. It is good that we now receive support in the field of nutrition. I will definitely make use of that.’
Van Barneveld, who recently jumped back up the world rankings to number 32 with his run in the Grand Slam semi-finals, is hoping to clinch his sixth world title in London.
Back in the Netherlands at Café de Stam in 9th seed Danny Noppert’s hometown of Joure, his Dutch fans will be cheering on their local boy.
‘We broadcast every game he plays in, and he plays here when he’s around,’ says owner Niels Yntema, whose café sponsored Noppert when he was younger. Yntema hopes Noppert brings home the trophy, but he says it doesn’t really matter.
‘Making it to the semi-finals also makes him a hero. He’s there, in the World Championship, and that’s our reason to celebrate. But if he wins, it will be a crazy house here!’
Only a handful of people have ever become world champions. Kevin van der Voort hopes it’s his father’s turn. And then one day, his own.
‘I want to make him proud, to follow in his footsteps,’ he says. ‘But it’s a bit of a hard task.’
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