Interview with Pär Riihonen

Pär Riihonen is one of the few "exotic" players on the Pro Circuit, one or the rare non British or Dutch players playing the complete PDC Circuit.
He is the first and till now only Swedish player on the Pro Tour and in the interview he tells us that is not really easy and definitely expensive.
But he nevertheless would do it again...

Pär - Sweden once was a great darts nation, one of the founder nations of the WDF and Stefan Lord one of the big names in darts. How is it now-a-days?

Today Swedish dart is just a shadow from the past. Loosing members and nothing much is doing to build it up again. The only exception is the Ladies darts they are very good. Our top ladies always produce good darts but the Men is a big disappointment overall. Once or twice someone does something good but it's very rare.

Is darts a popular hobby in Sweden?

No, not anymore. We used to have dartboards in almost every pub and then lots of players played and you had more players starting to play darts. But today no longer.

Can one watch darts on Swedish TV?

Very rarely - most darts is watched on the internet.

How do you assess other Swedish players - who would you say is the best?

Not for me to say.

Are you the first Swedish player who tries his luck on the PDC Pro circuit?

Yes, I am.

Do you at the moment only play PDC?

I play in Sweden, some local tournaments when I'm home and have the time.

What for you is the biggest difference between the BDO circuit and the PDC circuit?

Everything is more professional run, and the players are much better.

Why did you decide to play the PDC Circuit?

I wanted to see how good I could be at darts and the best way to do that is to play the best of the best.

How expensive is it for you - what does a Pro Tour weekend cost you?

Very expensive, a normal weekend costs around £600 or about 700 euros. What a year costs I don't want to think about.

Have you got any kind of sponsoring?

I have got some kind of sponsors, like A180 Darts who helps me a little bit. And then I have some private sponsors - that helps me a little bit too. But mostly I pay everything myself. That's not easy in the beginning. So any sponsors out there interested in a Swedish player let me know ?.

Would you think with a good sponsor in the background you would be able to play more relaxed?

Yes of course, if I get a good sponsorship deal I could focus more on the darts and wouldn't have to worry to get money every month to pay the bills and have dinner on the table. And be able to travel to the next tournament.

How do you finance playing the Pro Tour? Do you work in between those weekends?

By the help of my sponsors, my own savings and borrowed money. I haven't worked for the last two years due to shoulder problems; I have had 5 operations in the last two years - three on my shoulders, and two on a finger. Left hand, thank God. But I'm looking for work but it's not easy to find a new job this days. Hopefully I can become a fulltime professional dart player soon.

And what is your job?

The last years I had my own electrician and construction Company before I had to close that down due to my shoulder problems. And before that I was an IT Consultant.

This shoulder injury - is it darts related? I´ve heard quite a lot about shoulder injuries recently - is it some kind of overexertion?

The shoulder problem I've got it's from life. Hard working and hard training since I was a kid finally you get some problems with the body.

How hard is it to work during the week and to play at the weekend?

Well I don't work now but if I did I think working fulltime would be hard on the darts. That's why I looking for at part time job but then you don't make enough money. So I think to make it big in darts you need a good sponsors.

How many hours is your journey to England?

The flight is about two hours if you can fly straight to England. Most of the times I have an extra stop on the way so then it takes 4-6 hours and then normally a couple of hours on the train to the town of the venue.

Have you good connections from Sweden and might be cheap flights?

Sometimes I can use the cheap flight companies and then it's a direct flight. That's good, it saves me money and time.

Are you usually travelling all on your own or do you meet with other darters during your journey?

Most of the times I travel all on myself because I'm the only one from Sweden playing the tour. My girlfriend tries to come along as much as she can but she can't come everywhere it's to expensive. I shared hotels room a couple of times with other players to cut my cost and it's nice to have company sometimes.

Is England compared to Sweden an expensive country comparing accommodation, food, travel costs?

No I don't think so, it's pretty much the same today depending where you go. But a pint of beer is mostly cheaper in England, I like that.

How hard is it to play the Pro Circuit? How good are all those players?

The players are very good. The part I like is that all the games you play are against good players and you have to stay focused all the time against almost everyone.

Till now you didn't manage to make too much impact - what do you think why not?

My first 5 months in 2009 when I started playing the circuit I was doing alright, won a couple of board finals and made it to the UK open final. But then my right shoulder started to hurt again and I had to do a new, my second operation in August 2009. And I'm still fighting my way back. But it's very close now just need to get my confidence back; I'm playing good now so it will change shortly. So I have had some bad luck when joining the PDC and it's hard enough without all the problems I have had. So in my opinion I have had a good run so fare if you consider all the facts and it can only get better.

Do you think you got nevertheless better during the time you now play the circuit?

I have developed myself as a dart player; I am much more consistent and on a higher level of the game most of the times.

And would you say it is generally a positive experience?

Oh yes, best thing I ever done in darts was joining the PDC, and I hope I will stay here for a long time.

Would you again decide to do it?

My plan is to stay for a long time, just see if my body thinks the same.

After your experience thus far would you say to play the circuit regularly is more an option for British players? Is it more difficult when you live somewhere else?

It is much easier if you live in Great Britain and I think in the long run if you don't have a good sponsor you have to move here. First to save money and secondly to have the opportunities to play and practice against other good players. Even moving to Holland would be easier to become a better player and saving money. It is not easy for all of us who live in small dart countries and way of.

And what do you think will happen when the tour card will be introduced - will it then be even more difficult for not British players?

Yes I think so, because all darts is too much focused on the British players and that's because they are the best and are in the majority. They have the most venues and opportunities.

Should you not manage till then to be qualified by the ranking for a tour card will you take part in the qualifying school?

I think I will make it so I haven't even thought about any qualifying school.

What do you think the PDC could do to give non British players a better chance?

I think they need some more international influence at the top. Everything today is almost only about British player and all deals that are made for the players are mostly for British players. I think they should hire someone who looks after the international players and can help them with flight deals, hotel deals and so on.

How is the camaraderie between the players - is it an important part or is it more that you just do your job and then your ways separate?

I think it's like the most workplaces. You get a long with the most and you have some that you are better friends with and then you have some that you don't pay much attention to.

What do the professional players think about Taylor's dominance? Is it something that frustrates or more that people feel motivated to give their best?

Phil Taylor is the very best. He's been very good for the darts and he has been a big part in what darts has become today with the media and so on. But it's never good in any sport when you have too much dominance from just one person in the long run. I think it has to be more open and more unpredictable in a tournament to keep the interest alive for both players and audience in the long run.

And do you think one could learn something from him?

Everyone can learn something from him.

Have you any idea how he manages it? Is he really working harder, is he more perfectionist then all others, is he playing mind games etc or has one just to accept him as a phenomenon?

I think he's one of a kind, in most sports you always get one that just is better then everybody else. And it's a combination of practice, the help you will get and your own skill. And the last thing the skill, some just have that little extra that makes them become the best of the best. It doesn't matter how much the other tries he or she will always be better then the rest. If you look in other sports you will find similar situation even if they haven't dominated their sports as much as Phil has, they have been dominating their sport and become just a little better then everyone else.

Do you have time at all to practice?

At the moment I have.

And what and how much do you pratice?

Today I try to practice around two hours a day at least. Try to practice as much I can but I have to be focused when I'm doing it otherwise is no use. I practice finishing a lot and play against the computer that's the main part in my practice today. Trying to become more consistent in my play.

How would you assess your skill and do you think you can get better and better?

When I have my best days I think I play on a very high level. And of course I can become a much better player and I will. Hard training and stay focused and believe in yourself that will do the trick.

When did you start to play darts and how did it happen?

Beginning of the 90´s, I followed a colleague from work to a place in Stockholm and I was hooked.

Is more steel-darts played or more soft-darts?

I think so even if in the south of Sweden they play lots of Softip but I don't now how many they are and how big their organisation is.

Do you play soft-darts as well?

Tried it a couple of times in San Francisco but we don't have in Stockholm. But if we had I probably would play that also.

What were your biggest achievements so far?

Qualifying for the UK Open twice and becoming the Swedish Champion.

What is it that fascinates you in darts?

Like every other sport trying to be the best you can be. That really everybody can play darts. And that you meet a lot of nice people around the world.

Do you do something for your overall fitness?

I used to play table tennis before my shoulder problems. Today I don't do anything.

What are your interests outside darts?

Travelling, art, Being creative in everyway I can be. Building homepages, taking photos, art.

How would you characterize yourself?

Dedicated, stubborn, lots of will, with a temperament like a thunderstruck - first very quiet and then it explodes. Good to my friends and to the rest I don't care.

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