STUART BINGHAM enjoyed a thrilling night at the PDC World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace ahead of his return to the iconic North London venue for the Masters in January.
Snooker’s world champion, who has been a big darts fan for over a decade, was in the crowd with his manager Gary Purkiss for Monday’s action from the oche.
Bingham started going to the annual event when it was staged at the Circus Tavern in Purfleet, Essex, in 2004, and stays in touch with darts stars including Rod Harrington, Wayne Mardle and reigning world champion Gary Anderson.
And after front-row seats to see the flamboyant Peter Wright ease past Ronny Huybrechts with a 4-0 win, Bingham said: “I love the darts. It’s such a good night out and a great spectacle. Barry Hearn has done such a good job in raising its profile…
“Me and Gary actually went for the afternoon session but we were really lucky that the guys from Matchroom Sport and William Hill helped us out with tickets for the evening.
“And there was a part of me thinking, ‘I will be back here in two weeks, playing in the middle of this arena on the one-table set-up’. I can’t wait for that either.”
Bingham starts his Masters campaign against Ding Junhui at 7pm on Sunday, January 10.
And the darts provided some welcome recreational time for the Essex potter after a very busy Christmas schedule.
In the week before Christmas, Ball Run beat Daniel Wells 5-1 then squeaked past Anthony Hamilton 5-4 in the German Masters Qualifiers to book his spot at the venue in Berlin in early February.
And he only had time to grab a few hours of sleep before boarding a flight with his wife Michelle to head for Belfast as guests for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards show.
Bingham said: “It was tough against Anthony. He is playing so well I don’t know how he is not higher in the rankings.
“Then it was a quick turn-around and onto Belfast. I had forgotten to book a transfer car from the airport to the hotel so it was a bit of a rush to get ready before the awards show – which did not go down well with Michelle!
“We sat near the front behind the swimmer Adam Peaty, who was on the short-list, so we had brilliant seats.
“On the night we got to speak to some old friends, some big sports stars and also the host Clare Balding, who I knew from doing her show before. We had a really nice time.”
The following day Bingham was a pall-bearer along with Ronnie O’Sullivan in Dagenham at the funeral of Billy O’Connor, an 18-year-old snooker star who lost his battle with cancer in early December. (A report of photos on the fitting send-off for Billy is available by clicking here).
Bingham said: “It was understandably a very emotional day. Michelle knew Billy and the family well and I was glad I could help pay my respects to a terrific young man.”
It is back to the practice table for Bingham now ahead of an action-packed 2016 schedule.
And he will start by playing two snooker fans at his Rayleigh Lanes Snooker Hall base on Thursday (December 31) after they won a charity auction to take on the world champion.
It raised £410 towards Echo newspaper sports reporter Chris Phillips’ fundraising target for the London Marathon. He is taking part to boost the coffers at Havens Hospices and you can find more details here.
Bingham was also happy to see confirmation last week that Romania will stage a professional snooker tournament for the first time next season.
A new European Championship ranking event will take place in Bucharest in October 2016, and Bingham said: “I played out there recently in an exhibition with Ronnie and they did an incredible job hosting it.
“And it is the guys who organised that exhibition who will stage this tournament, so I expect it to be one of the highlights of the tour next year.”