Home is where the dart is for Headland hero Paul Jennings

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PAUL Jennings announced his arrival on the world’s darts stage last week, reaching the quarter-finals of the BDO Championship during what was his debut at the prestigious tournament.

Here, the Mail’s chief sports writer, Craig Hope, meets with ‘Jenno’ at Headland Social Club to reflect on his week in the national spotlight ...

Headland based darts player Paul Jennings, who made it to the quarter finals at the BDO World Championships at the Lakeside in Surrey

Headland based darts player Paul Jennings, who made it to the quarter finals at the BDO World Championships at the Lakeside in Surrey

Paul Jennings is back on familiar territory.

He’s stood at the oche in the Headland Social Club talking to his local newspaper, the Mail.

Rewind seven days.

The 35-year-old has just finished a thrilling four-sets-to-two victory over close friend Steve Douglas to book his place in the last eight of the BDO World Championship.

The venue is the famed Lakeside Country Club in Surrey – it’s a far cry from the Headland Club, although all of its regulars are there, cheering on the new crowd favourite.

But Jennings hasn’t got time, yet, to celebrate with his friends and family, and enjoy a nerve-settling pint.

Instead, he’s whisked off in front of the live television cameras, about to be grilled by reporters, keen to explore his thoughts of going all the way to the final.

Foe Jennings, it’s more nerve-racking than the drama of the match which has just unfolded.

Eventually, he emerges into the 1,000-capacity Cabaret Suite.

Still, though, there is work to be done before he gets to wife, Andrea, dad, Lol, manager, Kevin Hill, and all the boys from the Headland Club.

A queue, some 50 yards in length, has to first be negotiated – all they want is an autograph, and a chat with the new kid on the oche.

“It felt quite surreal,” Jennings reflects, he is a reluctant subject of such attention.

“I’ve never had it before, you think it’s just the sort of thing for pop stars.

“But it was unbelievable going back into the crowd.

“You could see them all trying to get towards me - it was scary.

“People are just saying ‘that was awesome, sign this for my son’ – you’re just like, wow!”

During our chat there is also a camera recording, but he’s used to that now, although only just.

“It was very intense,” he said, “There were interviews after interviews all day.

“You’d just be practising then you’d get a call, ‘ESPN want to interview you down the park’.

“Then you’d come back and it would be the BBC.

“I was probably more nervous doing all the interviews than actually playing darts.

“I wasn’t expecting as much in terms of the press, but that’s all part of it I suppose.

“Then you think ‘well, I’ve done all the hard work getting here so I might as well enjoy it’.

“But I was only used to speaking to the Mail before last week!”

Jennings, though, has little interest in playing to the cameras.

He ventured to the Lakeside with one, overriding ambition – to win.

And that meant shunning the infamous post-match parties.

“I only ever have a couple of pints at most because I’m there for one reason only – to win it,” said the dad of three.

“Once the games had finished I’d just go back to my room and lie on the bed with my wife and watch the telly – then I’d turn my phone on and it would just go mad with the messages, I had to delete about 150.

“But the support was unbelievable.

“My family were all in the crowd and it was brilliant.”

Sadly, for Jennings and his Poolie following, their dreams were to be dashed by Dutchman Wesley Harms, a man he had already beaten en route to victory in the Swiss Open last year.

“I was confident going into it,” he sounded with more than a hint of regret, looking back on his five-sets-to-three quarter-final exit.

“I knew I could possibly win the whole thing, so I left a little bit disappointed that I didn’t.

“The lad who eventually won it, Christian Kist, I beat him in the Swiss Open final last year.

“I’ve beaten them all before and they fear me more than I fear them, so I could have won.”

Jennings’ daughter, Leah, 10, was in the crowd for the last-eight match, while son Sean was set to celebrate his 18th birthday last Saturday – semi-final day – and would have travelled down with brother Anthony, 16, to cheer on their dad and mark his big day.

In the end, Jennings was back at his Headland home on Friday night, decorating the house with birthday bunting for his son.

“It would have been nice to have Sean down there watching me in the semi-finals for his birthday,” he said.

“Sadly it wasn’t to be, but there is always next year and that’s got to be my aim now.”

And who knows, in 12 months’ time it could be son Sean decorating the family home, ready to welcome back their world champion dad.