For the aspirant pro darter, Q-School is the place where dreams come true. Four days of intense, gruelling arrows in an ultra-competitive field with a battle royal-like format – stay standing after each day’s action and you have secured the Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket. But, for each player, for each route to the darting boiling pot that is Wigan’s Robin Park Tennis Centre, marks a story, a journey which has led them to either make the daunting step up to pro darts or a journey caused by distress, misfortune; for some, Q-School is a saving grace.
Never has the event been so widely publicised. The long-running saga regarding BDO number one Glen Durrant, who has, this year, after a few seasons of umm-ing and arr-ing, decided to take the plunge into the depths of PDC unknown, has given the event a new profile. Many have commented that they enjoy following the tournament as much as any TV playdown. Some have even said it should be streamed itself. I’m not sure what I think of that idea; it could lead to players wilting much quicker under the pressure and play into the hands of seasoned arrowsmiths like Durrant and others. But, nonetheless, it demonstrates the growing importance of the event in the darts calendar.
There’s another kind of Q-Schooler too. Those who didn’t make the 64 cut in the PDC Order of Merit and plainly have two options: fight to regain their card, amongst wide ranging company or flee to recuperate, instead playing BDO open events or perhaps just taking a slight step back from the tour to ‘reassess’ and return for another push back to the big time a year later. Robbie Green is one who falls into this new and emerging category and has opted for the former, despite being hampered following surgery. A former BDO World Championship semi-finalist and World Masters finalist, Robbie first won his card in 2015 but lost it at the end of last year after a period of injury and resultant poor form. His recent floor record paints the picture of a sorry time on the oche: Robbie won just 7 Players Championship matches last year and played just four events in the latter months of the year, after recovering from surgery.
“The injury has been there for a long time. I badly damaged my knee playing football when I was 15 and had 7 operations on it to try and get it as right as they could, sometimes spending 3 months at a time in plaster,” Green explained. “I went to hospital 4 years ago and they said it needed a full replacement but to try and play to the point where it just totally went. I was living on a lot of very strong painkillers that would put a normal person out for a couple of days but it’s what had to be done. I played Peter Wright in a European Tour and it had popped right out of place and wouldn’t click back. So I went back to the hospital and they said they would do the surgery. It stayed out of place for the 8 or 9 months I waited. I should have had it on the 7th December 2017 but, because I’m diabetic, I had to stabilise my blood sugar for 3 months so I ended up going in at the end of July last year. I carried on playing in the hope I might sneak a few games and because it was only costing me for accommodation. It probably wasn’t wise because, after playing, I couldn’t walk for 7 days after. I was then very depressed and down because I’ve put my life into darts and I was stuck in a no win situation.”
“I knew I’d be losing my card because of the lack of events but, once I faced up to that, I felt better about it. I was defending a lot of money and typically it fell on the year I couldn’t do much but that’s just bad luck and the way it goes. I don’t really know or really care who’s doing Q School this year as it will be crammed. I’ll be very surprised to play all 4 days as I’m still struggling when I over do things a bit and those days are a test of endurance but we’ll see.”
Many players would struggle to deal with the change in situation. There’s no real opportunity to prepare – it is an open draw every day and there are a whole host of players descending on Wigan familiar only to those in their Superleague or county team. You don’t know who you could be coming up against. But Robbie is going in with a relaxed attitude, “I’m going in with no pressure whatsoever. The pressure is once you get the card and I don’t expect to win a card. Maybe 3 or 4 months down the line, I’d hope to be close to fully fit but on a good day I’m probably only working at about 70%. My plan is to go and enjoy it and see how it goes and how I feel after each day. In the worst case scenario, I will go on the Challenge Tour and do some BDO events that I used to enjoy and just use it all as practice to give it another go next year. I enjoy a challenge and this will just be another one to overcome.”
There was one other player that sprang to mind when I was preparing a piece on Q-School. Diogo Portela has had a fair few trials and tribulations in his darting career – devastation, heartbreak, incredible achievement. And a Tour Card is the inevitable next piece in the jigsaw. Some players may be deterred if you had came as close as Diogo has to winning a card – he came within a dart from one in in the former unified Q-School in 2017. But he fights on, and, this year, he feels he is stronger than ever, “2018 was a great year. I had some great patches like winning on the Challenge Tour and some other good results but the deep patches were actually worse than I have ever had. It was a great learning curve and I think I finished the year more prepared mentally for the next year than I’ve ever been before.”
“Gaining a tour card is my next step and it’s not a matter of if, rather, when. I’m prepared but you never know what Q-School will bring to you – having a tour card is the last box I want to tick in my darts career. Anything after that is a bonus.”
The importance of Q-School cannot be understated. Along with being one of the two players to have the two highest ranking placings on the Challenge and Development Tours respectively, it acts as the only opportunity for a player to gain a card for two years. New doors have opened this year with the decision to abolish UK Open Qualifiers; now all card holders are guaranteed a stab at a TV event in a field accompanied by 16 Riley’s Amateur Qualifiers and 16 Challenge Tour qualifiers. Diogo, however, thinks its important to not let the pressure weigh too heavily.
“The last 2 years, I have had chances to get my tour card on the last day, including a missed dart at a double in 2017 for one. I think it all counts as experience really; I’m prepared and surrounded by a very strong team of sponsors and managers. I just need it to happen during that 4 days. I think the only thing that can stop me is myself as I carry the world on my back when it comes to Q-School.”
“I don’t set targets anymore. I take each tournament as it comes. I want to do well in the very next game I play, and it will be the first day of Q-School. After that, the second day (if I don’t get my card in the first day) and so on. I’ve learnt that setting targets can really drag me down when I don’t achieve what I want to achieve rather than actually doing me any good when I achieve them. The only thing I try to do is to improve at least 1% year by year – other than that, no targets.”
This year’s UK Q-School will be fiercely competitive. 11 stars have already secured their cards at the European Q-School and 19 will join them following the conclusion of action in Wigan this week. Numerous notable stars of the oche are taking part, including 17 who played in the recent BDO World Championship as a result in the change in regulations, which includes 3 of the 4 men’s semi-finalists (Durrant, Waites and Williams) and six of the 16 to feature in the women’s field. It proves to be one of the most competitive in history. Updates will follow at @Dartsweb1 on Twitter and an article will be published after the conclusion of action. Thanks for reading and catch you later!
Image Credits: PDC and the Daily Star
Thanks to Robbie Green and Diogo Portela