Together with son Ky, the Smith boys grabbed both available Australian qualifying spots for the 2022 PDC World Championships. In doing so they made history, becoming the first father and son pairing to perform at the same Ally Pally event.
For Smith senior, he was keen to make fonder memories the second time around. So together with Ky, he jetted off to London as a qualifier and left a cult hero.
But the start of their journey didn’t quite go to script.
Recounting the story, Smith said: “My manager Greg was supposed to go but the Queensland Government made it impossible with their quarantine requirements. So it was just Ky and myself.
“We had issues with regard rule alterations on PCR tests. At what felt like the last minute, the UK changed the validity from 72 hours prior to take-off to just forty-eight.
“This essentially made our completed tests redundant. So we had to drive 45 minutes to a 24-hour testing facility and obtain current ones.
“To make matters worse, when we arrived at our accommodation in London, there were no details with regards to entry. That, coupled with the fact the place looked absolutely nothing like the photos online, made it a horrendous start to the trip.
“We immediately called our booking agent and endured five hours of utter confusion until they finally discovered our accommodation was cancelled. Then, after another hour of hanging on the phone, we were rehoused. But unbeknown to us, the fun was just beginning.
“When we arrived at place number two, there was again no entry advice. These aren’t fancy plush hotels – we can’t afford that! It’s all done with a code that you’re sent. Or at least that is what’s supposed to happen!
“Back to the booking agent, we went only to be informed that we had missed the check-in time and therefore refused access. When they tried to rebook, there was no availability. Not the ideal preparation for a World Championship!
“At this point, Ky and I decided to fly solo and find ourselves somewhere for the night. We asked our booking agent for a refund on monies taken but they refused.
“After some frantic searching, we found a hotel but it drained our entire budget plus emergency funds. That put us in a very tricky financial situation for the rest of the tournament. Just as well I won a few matches!”
Just as well indeed Raymond. But anyone who has stayed in London can attest to the fact that hotels aren’t exactly cheap. Wait until you see the price of a pint of lager!
Back to the darts and young Ky was looking forward to his first big stage televised experience. Unfortunately for the 19-year-old, he fell at the first hurdle, suffering an opening round defeat to Dutchman, Maik Kuivenhoven.
Unperturbed, Ky made the transition from competitor to fan, proudly taking the mantle of chief cheer-leader and supporting his father on an amazing run.
Victories over Jamie Hughes, Devon Petersen, and Florian Hempel found Smith swimming in uncharted waters. Only a resurgent effort from the hugely experienced Mervyn King cruelly denied the plucky Aussie a quarter-final showdown with perennial PDC major winner James Wade.
Once the dream was over, Raymond was quick to acknowledge just how much he appreciated the loving support of his son throughout such a memorable journey.
Speaking as a proud Dad, he said: “Ky was brilliant and did an amazing job throughout to keep me balanced. But I could tell he was struggling badly from being effectively locked up and having nothing to do.
“We had to isolate from the 29th November to ensure we were allowed to fly. Then upon arriving in the UK, everywhere around us had COVID issues so we dared not venture out.
“Before the World Championships began, our aim was to put in good performances and give a solid account of ourselves. Winning is always nice but we’d have rather lost with a 96 average than won with an 80.
“It was Ky’s first-ever live television appearance, his first time on a large stage and playing in front of such an enormous crowd – and he did all that in the biggest darts tournament in the world.
“After his loss, I wanted to send him home. But Belinda insisted he stayed to keep an eye on me.
The Smiths may have returned to their native Australia without the Sid Waddel trophy but they did steal plenty of hearts. Unfortunately, with the kind words of affection and admiration comes the ugly side of the coin.
Smith added: “It’s insane how much abuse we have received through social media. I’m a lot better equipped to deal with it than Ky but I’ll always help and advise him on coping better when he sees nasty things.
“It started for me when I beat Florian Hempel. I think a lot of punters had him in their accumulator so my win probably cost them a few quid! That’s one big reason you get stick online – people losing bets!
“But a lot didn’t like it when, after my loss to Mervyn King, I blamed homesickness and wishing Belinda was there.
“Don’t get me wrong, Merv is a great player and I have all the respect in the world for him. He won that match fair and square – absolutely no question about it. But I should have been better – and wasn’t shy to publicly admit the reasons.
“Regardless of who likes it or not, if Belinda had of been there, it would have made a huge difference.
“It seems that many people assume a player making the last 16 of the World Championships has complete control over their mental state or should be able to block it out. That isn’t always the case – we are just human beings dealing with the everyday problems in life.
“Due to issues I’ve faced in the past, there’s forever a large fear. The better I do, the louder the noise in my head becomes trying to drag me down.
“When I rise above it, the end result is lots of self-loathing. After my win over Florian [Hempel], I barely slept. Instead, I spent the night mentally torturing myself with words of ‘how dare you to think you’re more than trash’.
“Thankfully this doesn’t happen all of the time, although that does make it impossible to prepare for it. But in those situations, it’s when I really need Belinda by my side.”
“Those who criticise my behaviour don’t know the reasons behind it. They’re unaware that I only began playing darts again seriously last August. I’m still very much an amateur and prior to the Worlds, hadn’t played on a stage for over two years.
“I’ve always been quite honest and open about my mental health issues and concerns in interviews. Unfortunately, this makes me a target for social media trolls.
Will we be seeing more of the Smith family soon?
“All going well, Ky will move to the UK and play the PDC Development Tour in a year or two but for now, the time isn’t right.
“As for me? Well, I have far too many liabilities to move over. My run in the Worlds cleared a nice chunk of debt but I’m still just two years into a mortgage. It’s extremely difficult to financially sustain a permanent move to the UK and still pay the bills here in Australia.
“A few years ago, myself and Belinda seriously discussed it. I was very keen at the time but when my brother died, darts lost it’s importance.
“Looking at the idea today, I’ve done my sums. I’d need to be in the top ten on the PDC Order of Merit for the next 15 years to be guaranteed the absolute minimum of what I’m earning with Queensland Rail now.
“Right now, I’m happy to just be a pest in the World Series events should I qualify. Then I’ll look to make the Worlds each year and feed that experience back to the next generation of players on the Australian darts circuit.
“However, if I can clear my debts sooner with winnings here, then a crack at Q-School and a two-year run would be on the cards.”
We could yet see ‘Guru & son’ on UK shores far more often…..
Originally published in Darts World Magazine (Issue 578)
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