Like any other player to pick up a dart, Aberdeen’s Shaun McDonald is aware of what the Lakeside Country Club means to the sport.
It is the arena where the halcyon days of the sport were played out, where Eric Bristow, Jocky Wilson and Phil Taylor began to forge their own legends in the game.
For Aberdonian McDonald, while his aspirations are rather more humble than those darting greats, entering the World Championships at the Lakeside represents a fantastic opportunity.
“You want to play at Lakeside, without a shadow of a doubt,” said McDonald. “I went into the players’ room when I was down there for the qualifier. They’ve got photos on the wall and I’m looking at all the greats of darts.
“It is the home of darts. The O2 would have been cool, but they struggled to sell tickets there (in 2020). It’s a different organisation now and the WDF are trying to pick up the reins for amateur darts.”
The worlds is the first major event the World Darts Federation (WDF) is hosting. Born from the ashes of the BDO (British Darts Organisation), the WDF is seeking to offer amateur darts players the chance of competitive action.
It is not seeking to rival the illustrious Professional Darts Corporation (PDC), who have 128 tour card-holders eligible to compete in their tournaments. But it still provides a high level of competition and the draw includes some top names, from BDO stalwart Martin Adams, to European Q School winner Brian Raman and World Cup of Darts quarter-finalist Haupai Puha.
“The PDC is only 128 players, so the WDF’s approach is ‘come with us’ and they cater for tens of thousands of players, maybe more,” said McDonald.
“If you look at the list of countries represented, there’s loads. It’s definitely got most of the ‘best of the rest’, if you want to call it that.
“There’s some who will just stick to PDC Challenge Tour events or stay local, but you find these guys are already established and have a name in the game. There’s enough of a market for them, with exhibitions, that they don’t have to travel.
“There’s a lot of travelling in the WDF.
“If you don’t qualify for Ally Pally (PDC World Championship), you want to qualify for Lakeside.
“I see my game getting better if I’ve got a group of tournaments today. I get slack again when I’m not playing competitively. But when you go away to these Opens, it’s competitive and a good standard.”
After more than a decade away from the oche, McDonald used the lockdowns to rekindle his love of the sport.
He was a prodigious player in his youth, winning the World Youth Masters and becoming a three-time Scottish under-18 champion, but the breakthrough into the big leagues of the PDC did not come.
Instead, he went away, qualified as a chartered accountant and built a life away from darts, which helped bring a sense of perspective when he picked up the arrows again.
He won the Irish Classic last year and a PDC Challenge Tour – the organisation’s secondary tour – event, earning himself a spot at the UK Open at the start of March. McDonald also entered Q School earlier this year in a bid to win a tour card.
“I really did try and make it when I was younger,” he said. “I didn’t really get close, if I’m honest.
“Now it’s a hobby and it’s much easier to say no. As much as I want to go, if there’s something on with the family or I’m too busy with work, it’s a no.
UK Open round 1. Lost 6-0 to Jamie Clark. Well done Jamie and good luck for the rest of the tournament.
I haven’t played a competitive match since Q school due to being so busy at work. That’s life and the nature of my job.
I’ll suck it up and move on to Budapest next week 🦾
— Shaun McDonald (@Shaunymac04) March 4, 2022
“If I’d lost 6-0 in the first round of the UK Open the previous two times I played, I’d be gutted. (This time) I was over it in 10 minutes. I went to support the rest of the boys in my camp and enjoyed the rest of the day.
“It’s just a different stage of life. I still love to win and hate to lose.
“I still put pressure on myself and I definitely shouldn’t. It’s something I’m working on.
“I tell myself all the right things and, as soon as it’s game on, it goes out the window. I’m competitive, it’s how I’m built.
“When I’m thinking clearly and relaxed, I play a lot better. But it’s easier said than done.”
McDonald faces Dave Parletti in the first round at Lakeside on Sunday evening, live on Eurosport. As a way of alleviating some of the tension before his match, he has chosen a rather unique walk-on song.
“I’m coming on to Old McDonald Had A Farm. When I won the Irish Classic, I’d walked on to What’s The Story by Oasis, which was my song.
“But after I’d won, Deta Hedman and Margaret Sutton had gone up to the WDF secretary and said: ‘why are you not playing Old McDonald Had A Farm?’
“When I was going off stage he did it. Everyone started singing and clapping. When I went back up for the presentation, he played it again and it’s just kind of stuck.
“If I walk on to that and everyone’s laughing, it should relax me. Everyone’s going to know the words!”