Jonny Clayton not the same since dads death – but vows to keep playing darts

Jonny Clayton has been playing through the grief of losing his father and admits he will take to the Alexandra Palace stage “with a heavy heart”.

The 'Ferret' has not won a major title on the Professional Darts Corporation treadmill for two years and concedes he may need to invoke his “chopsy” persona to fight his way out of the slump.

‌But the sudden death of his 80-year-old dad John – who was also his biggest fan – in July left Clayton devastated, and he has discovered there is no overnight cure for the pain on a dartboard.

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‌The former plasterer, who turns 50 next year, begins his campaign at the Paddy Power PDC World Championship on Saturday night confessing: “Whether I do it in an untidy way or a pretty way, I'm still trying to win games of darts – but I'm just not the same person.”

‌Perhaps a return to the stage where he has unfurled some classics among Ally Pally's greatest hits will inspire Clayton, one of the most popular players on the circuit, to rekindle his best form.

‌His 4-3 defeat by Michael Smith in the fourth round two years ago, and loss by the same margin against Joe Cullen 12 months earlier, were absolute belters, but he admitted: “I’ve got to be honest – I didn’t throw a dart for nearly six weeks and it's showed.

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‌“I've been stuck in second gear and I've got another three or four gears to find. Losing my dad hit me hard. We were very close and he was my biggest fan.

‌"You try to work through it, but it's so tough. I'm walking on stage with a heavy heart and my mind has not been on darts.

‌“My dad believed in sitting in front of the TV in peace and quiet, just watching the darts. Win or lose, I would always phone him straight afterwards and he would always say something daft.

‌“Darts is my job and to get back to where I was, I need to get back to thinking about my job and not everything else, but it's so hard.

‌“Maybe it would be ideal to go and see somebody for counselling, but I'm trying to soldier through it.

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‌Surprisingly for a winner of six TV majors – including four titles in 2021, a golden year for Welsh darts with Gerwyn Price also winning the World Championship – Clayton has never been beyond he quarter-finals at Ally Pally.

‌He admits he may need to channel the aggression of his 'Ferret' incarnation – which dates back to his days as a “chopsy” scrum-half playing rugby.

‌But it is hard to imagine one of the oche's good guys giving it large ones or winding up opponents with showboating celebrations, and he added: “There is probably a nasty streak in me somewhere but I don't think it would suit my character.

“I'm going to stick with who I am because normally I'm happy, I like fun, I'm one of the boys, and I don't think being nasty would help my darts.

‌“I'm trying not to over-think it. I need that bit of luck – perhaps another humdinger, and preferably winning it, would relight the fire.”

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