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Famous Fans: Kevin Painter

21 March 2013

When you've grown up watching a club compete in Europe, seeing them struggle at the wrong end of the npower Championship can be a frustrating challenge.

Yet as Ipswich Town fan and 2011 Darts Players Championship Finals winner Kevin Painter explains, you have to experience the lows to enjoy the highs.

And while he admits his beloved side found it hard at the beginning of the current season, a far cry from when he first became hooked by the Ipswich teams of the late 70s and early 80s, Painter says he lives in hope of good times returning to Portman Road.

"It's a long time since we've seen really good football," 45-year-old Painter said. "We've had two stints in the Premier League, but that was 10 years ago, after we got promoted beating Barnsley in the Play-Offs.

"It feels like a long time ago. The last four or five years have been hard and we've seen several managers come and go.

"But Mick McCarthy has stopped the rot somewhat. I like him. I actually liked Paul Jewell as a fella, it just didn't work out for him, same as Roy Keane. McCarthy gets teams out of this league, he's a great manager in my opinion.

"I'm like any football fan; you want to see your team do well but you've got to go through the bad times.

"I'm there as much as I can around my darts commitments. I buy my season ticket out of loyalty. I went to seven home games last year. My mates think it's hilarious - I buy a season ticket and they end up going more than me with it."

The npower Championship table remains very close, with Ipswich only three points behind 11th-placed Burnley.

Painter believes the margins between success and failure can be very small in football and, if Ipswich could just find a way out of the npower Championship, there are success stories to suggest his beloved Tractor Boys could compete on the nation's top table once again.

Unfortunately for Painter and his fellow Ipswich fans, one of those is near rivals Norwich City.

"I don't really worry too much about what Norwich are doing. They'll obviously gloat at the moment and that's what rivalry is all about, but I just want to see Ipswich challenging near the top. We used to be in and around the Play-Offs all the time and it was exciting.

"If we could get into the Premier League I think we would be ok, it's just getting out of this division, it's so hard. Everyone beats everyone else.

"But you've seen Norwich and Wigan Athletic managing to survive in the top flight, which suggests we might be ok should we get there. We have a decent squad, so we should be doing better than we are."

Painter's expectations may be great, but they can be explained by his childhood.

Growing up in Essex, he followed his father in making the short journey east and subsequently enjoyed the fruits of Sir Bobby Robson's labour.

"I grew up in North Essex, a place called Tiptree. Colchester United was slightly nearer but I could get to Ipswich within about 20 minutes. I was around seven when I started supporting the club.

"Most people were supporting the big teams, but my father took to me Ipswich in 1976 for a game and I just carried on going.

"I was brought up on the Robson era, so I consider myself very lucky. The 1979/80, 80/81 and 81/82 seasons were different class, so I was spoiled.

"Ipswich were one of the first teams to take on foreign players, like Arnold Muhren in the centre of midfield, for example. Then, of course, we had John Wark scoring plenty of goals from midfield as well, he was unbelievable.

"Paul Mariner, Alan Brazil - it was just a great side. We won the UEFA Cup but we should have won the FA Cup in '81 and we should have lifted the league title twice in a row. Looking back, we won the UEFA Cup in a spell when we should have won more."

A sportsman himself, Painter know what it takes to be successful.

In 2004, he formed part of one of the greatest matches ever seen, the 2004 PDC World Championship Final against Phil Taylor, while in 2011 he won his first major tournament, the Players Championship Finals, by beating Mark Webster.

And, as anyone who tuned into the Ladbrokes World Championship and current Premier League Darts tournament would testify, the sport is growing all the time.

"Darts is massive now and we're playing all over Europe," Painter explains. "We're in places like Germany now, which we didn't use to be, and there are 2,000 to 3,000 in the audience.

"It's just growing all the time. Barry Hearn is trying to go as global as possible. We're now even playing in Australia, while at the World Championship there are more and more nationalities represented.

"It's not easy for foreign lads to come and play over here because our circuit is predominantly in the United Kingdom, but there is a growing depth across the world and as more money goes into the game, the more people want to be involved.

"The standard of the sport is getting better all the time, too. When I got to the World Championship Final in 2004 I didn't even practice.

"Now, you have to put the hours while players are going to the gym and using sports psychologists. It's a big business now - you win the World Championship and you're set for life. People are doing what they can to win, it's more than a pub game to us."

While Painter battles on the big stage, in front of an ever-increasing number of noisy people, he's hoping Ipswich can once again compete in the top flight.

It will be a welcome return to the big time, the scene of former glories, where his love for the Tractor Boys begun.

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