Jim Long is living the dream. The darts dream.
The 50-year-old GM worker from London, Ont., already has one win under his belt at the William Hill World Darts Championship. He goes for two on Friday when he takes on Benito van de Pas, a 25-year-old from the Netherlands who is seeded 30th.
Long doesn’t have a world ranking. When he upset Northern Ireland’s Mickey (The Clonoe Cyclone) Mansell in the first round last Saturday, they showed a dash in the space for world ranking on the big screen instead of a number.
The Canadian wasn’t fazed. He’s still pinching himself that he is in the 96-player field at Alexandra Palace in London, England.
“It was a real surprise … I never, never, would have thought I could be here,” he said.
The bookies were surprised too, listing him at 2,500/1 to win it all.
Long, who had never been to Britain before, has his head on a swivel as he walks through the streets of London.
“It’s a shocker. I’m just absorbing it. A great time.”
He doesn’t know too much about his Dutch opponent, other than he watched him on TV from his home the last two years at the tournament.
Long took part in a couple of events on the Championship Darts Corporation circuit in North America last year and decided to do more this year. There was plenty at stake with the top American and Canadian on the guaranteed a spot at the worlds.
“I had no hopes and aspirations to get here,” he said. “Usually they take one player from North America. And there’s a lot of us there.”
It went down to the last event in late August, with Long finally booking his place. Long had already won the Canadian singles and doubles title.
The world championship features competitors from 28 countries and a record purse of 2.5 million pounds ($4.2 million). It runs through Jan. 1 with the winner collecting 500,000 pounds ($842,250).
By making the second round, Long has already earned 15,000 pounds ($25,540). That means he has already covered the cost of the Air BnB he rented with his wife, son and daughter (his oldest daughter wasn’t able to join them).
Long says the Professional Darts Corporation, the sport’s governing body, has treated him like “gold.”
He has played elite pros before, but not before the raucous crowd at Alexandra Palace.
“I wasn’t really nervous but I felt pressure,” he acknowledged.
Long lost the first set 3-2 but rallied to win the next three in his opening match. He missed three match darts in the fourth set but, after Mansell was unable to hit a double seven to send the match to a deciding set, he sealed the deal.
“I’m still kind of soaking it, in to be honest. Real surprised,” he said with a chuckle.
After high school in Wardsville, between London and Chatham, where he grew up, Long used to play pool at a local tavern after work. They were a man short for darts one day and he never looked back.
While he went on to represent Ontario — joining forces with former world champion John Part in 2004 — he says he didn’t go to many tournaments until this year. One reason was he always worked Saturdays at the GM plant in Ingersoll, where he is a team leader on the assembly line making the Chevrolet Equinox.
Having three kids also cut into time for darts.
His schedule was more relaxed this year, so he was able to book five weekends off for tournament play.
“Honestly I don’t go thinking I’m going to win or trying to win. I just enjoy playing guys that I know will beat me pretty easily if I’m not sharp.”
Long chose “Shout” by The Isley Brothers as his walk-on music at the worlds, reckoning it would give the partying crowd something to get up for. But he says he can’t remember the reaction it got because he was too busy scanning the crowd for his family.
Jeff (The Silencer) Smith of Hampton, N.B., the other Canadian in the 96-player field, lost 3-2 to England’s Josh Payne in the first round. Smith, 43, is the 2018 North American Championship winner.
Long says Smith has been a huge source of help and encouragement at the tournament.