Interview: Ray Stubbs: Lakeside preview

Interview: Ray Stubbs: Lakeside preview
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Sports Mole catches up with ESPN presenter Ray Stubbs to preview the 2013 BDO World Darts Championship, which kicks off at the Lakeside on Saturday.

A rollercoaster run of darts shows no sign of letting up as this Saturday marks the start of the BDO World Championship at the Lakeside Country Club.

Last year's tournament was one to remember as unheralded Dutchman Christian Kist roared past his more experienced rivals to a surprise victory.

Before the 32-man field descended on Frimley Green, Sports Mole caught up with ESPN presenter Ray Stubbs to talk Lakeside memories, ones to watch and darts' meteoric rise up the sporting landscape.

The BDO World Darts Championship is back with a bang on ESPN this weekend. How pleased are you to be back presenting the tournament for a second year?
"Well I think during my BBC days I worked on the event for around a decade and I was delighted when ESPN added the Lakeside to its portfolio of events. It's an event I first worked on in the late '80s and the event has been a consistent part of my little sporting journey."

During your time covering darts the sport's landscape has changed dramatically. What is it that still makes the Lakeside a special event to be a part of?
"If you look at the journey that darts has been on going right back to the '70s its been quite a soap opera. One thing that just continues to be a mainstay is the great entertainment that the players have delivered throughout the years. The past month has been a darts-fest on television and long may that continue across the board. It's no surprise to me that it generates such a great reaction because the drama and entertainment involved is fantastic.

"I always say that anyone who has ever thrown a dart realises the immense skill involved. Down the years on a few occasions I've played a leg with Bobby George and he would still beat me playing with the wrong hand facing the wrong way. I'm honestly in admiration at the standard the top guys play at year in year out."

Let's cast our eyes over some of the runners and riders this year. The bookies have Scott Waites as a heavy favourite to break his Lakeside hoodoo. How do you rate his chances this time round?
"It's no surprise to be honest. I don't think he's brought his best game to the Lakeside yet by any means. He's a three-time quarter-finalist but his talent and ability to do better is pretty obvious. Winning the Grand Slam is a testament to the ability of any player. But as we've seen many times the Lakeside does strange things to people. Nobody can turn up taking anything for granted because the standard is high and upsets happen every year."

Speaking of upsets, defending champion Christian Kist is back to defend his crown after his surprise triumph last year. How do you think he will fare on his return to Frimley Green?
"I think it's a great mystery. Christian's performance last year in coming through the qualifiers to win was quite remarkable. Since winning the title he had a great start to 2012 he hasn't really extended himself on the circuit over the last 12 months and I can't give you the reason why. He's a great player who does his does his talking on the oche and it will be fascinating to see how he does on the opening day. He's been drawn against the number five seed Robbie Green and if he's not at the top of his game he could Kist - pun alert! - to his title on the first day."

A whole host of names can lay claim to being genuine contenders for the Lakeside crown this year, with experience across the draw. Who do you think can last the course this time round?
"Well Stephen Bunting is a genuine contender, he's had a remarkable year. He's the top seed and has found a winning formula over past year. He's won major titles in quick succession but make no mistake, Frimley Green is the crown he wants the most.

"Martin Adams has not been playing as well as he did but look at his record and you can't argue the pedigree and experience is there. It would be naïve and foolish to say that Martin won't be in the mix. I spoke to him after his Masters defeat and I've never seen anyone so fired up to put things straight. Martin said he would not stand for that level of performance again, so there's him throwing down the gauntlet.

"Tony O'Shea has to be in the conversation, and what a popular winner he would be. When he stands on the stage after a victory the crowd go mad. Two runners-up spots at the Lakeside and his quest for a major continues. And I haven't got onto the youngsters coming through. Jan Dekker and Wesley Harms have huge potential. Richie George also carries the great name of his father onto the stage. This group of fearless kids are all in the top 16 and a threat on their day."

Care to mention any outsiders for those who like to cheer on an underdog?
"There's a clutch of talented guys in the field, but it's not gone their way in recent years, with Darryl Fitton a prime example. Gary Robson is another player with talent looking to take the next step. Scott Mitchell is desperate to do well and break that hoodoo of first-round exits.

"Rune David is one to keep an eye out for. When he throws he's virtually off the floor. It's like he's jumping up and down, unless his action has changed since the Masters that will be highly entertaining.

"James Wilson is another fun story. Making his Lakeside debut, he's a former winner on Bullseye. He won the star prize but only picked the darts up again more recently. He's hit double top in years and has arrived at Frimley Green for the first time. A great story to keep an eye out for."

We have seven Dutchmen in the first-round draw. What does their appearance add to the competition?
"I think darts owes a massive debt of gratitude to the Dutch players and fans. Every year they help make Lakeside come alive. Their support for the sport and its popularity in the Netherlands is superb. Raymond van Barneveld helped start the whole thing off and it took off. I have to say it's one of the great attractions of the Lakeside to sample the atmosphere among the Dutch fans."

One feature of the BDO event that makes it unique is the women's tournament. How important is it for the female players to have this platform and raise awareness for the game?
"I'm delighted this is happening. I think the growth in the women's game has been too slow so congratulations to those that have been driving it forward and help keep it on the agenda. Tina Gulliver led the charge for so many years but has finally has a real challenge on her hands. A whole group of women are now capable of winning the crown and I look forward to that battle playing out, it's very positive."

Finally your role at ESPN sees you cover a variety of top sporting events. Where does the Lakeside rank for you personally in terms of memories and affection?
"Football has been a constant and I would never pick between the two because they are different in so many ways. I'm fortunate to be in a position to enjoy the third round of the FA Cup this weekend and follow the Lakeside through from Saturday to its conclusion. It promises to be a cracker and I'm delighted to be part of both in 2013."

ESPN will broadcast live coverage of the 2013 Lakeside World Professional Darts Championships, starting at 6.30pm on Saturday.

Jeff Smith in action during the BDO Lakeside World Professional Darts Championships on January 10, 2015
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