Nathan Aspinall is ready to continue riding the roller-coaster he has been on for months now, returning to the Premier League, where he has experienced his lowest ebb and greatest triumph.
The World Matchplay champion has had an eventful year, which has seen him win the biggest title of his career so far, suffer a string of painful early exits and both develop and overcome dartitis.
He is back in Premier League action as the event gets underway this week after a disappointing early loss at the World Championship and forgettable World Series outings, but he is pumped up for the roadshow getting underway in Cardiff, where he plays home favourite Gerwyn Price.
‘It’s amazing,’ Aspinall told Metro.co.uk of the Premier League. ‘Every kid that’s picked up a dart wants to play on them stages in front of 10,000 people, it’s the pinnacle of the sport.
‘It’s hard, it’s tough, it’s a gruelling four months. The standard, especially this year, is obscene. The last three times I’ve played in it there’s always been one or two names where you think, I don’t mind playing him tonight, but you can’t say that this year. Peter [Wright] has been struggling of late, but he will find form in the Premier League, that’s what he does.
‘It’s an amazing experience. I’ve got a fantastic record in the Premier League and hopefully this year’s the same.’
Aspinall has been to a Premier League final and another semi-final, but it is the 2023 campaign, when he finished fifth, that provided his most memorable moments from the tournament.
A 6-5 defeat to Wright in Brighton is where Aspinall believes he began struggling with dartitis for months, but managed to battle through the problem and triumph in Rotterdam just a week later.
‘I think winning in Rotterdam is certainly a highlight,’ Aspinall said of his most memorable Premier League moment. ‘Especially because I had a hell of a lot of troubles in Brighton the week before. I was 4-0 up and lost 6-5 and that was probably the start of my dartitis, that night. It was probably the lowest point of my whole darting career.
‘Then to bounce back in six days to beat Michael van Gerwen, Gerwyn Price and Dimitri Van den Bergh in Rotterdam in front of 17,000 people was probably my greatest achievement in darts, and that’s including the Matchplay.
‘That was the highlight, as was walking out in Manchester, even though I absolutely bricked it and played absolutely pants. I couldn’t stop shaking for 25 minutes, but the walk-on in Manchester was exceptional.’
Dartitis is the inability, or at least a serious struggle, to let the dart go. It can be caused by a range of things and can be anything from a minor blip to a career-ruining issue.
The 32-year-old feels it was stresses in his personal life invading his mind on stage and led to him having a ‘mini-breakdown’ in that defeat to Wright in Brighton.
‘I had a hell of a lot of stuff going on personally, I won’t go into that, but it was a combination of everything going on in my life at that moment caused me to have a mini breakdown,’ he said. ‘My head completely fell off and I started this dartitis.
‘I’ve always had a bit of a re-grip issue in my throw, but it wasn’t just that, it was in my head, I was scared of missing. That went on probably until the back end of last year. I won the Matchplay with it. I’ve dealt with it well, had some fantastic people around me sorting it out and now that it’s gone I’m playing rubbish!
‘It was massively psychological. I speak to a sport psychologist every couple of weeks and he’s worked wonders with me. He sorted the issues out that I was having. Also I was moving home, moving area, my kids were moving school. Just everyday life problems, everyone has them, but not everyone has to go on a stage in front of 10,000 people and try and beat Van Gerwen.
‘It was a tough period but I spoke to the right people, practiced, worked hard, always had self belief, so I think I’ve overcome it now.’
Aspinall’s Matchplay triumph in July is all the more impressive given his struggles, but he believes it is typical of his character.
‘The never-say-die attitude. The will to win The will to prove people wrong. They’re my strongest attributes in life, even away from darts,’ he said. ‘I want to be the best and prove how good I am at whatever it is. Darts, being a dad, whatever.’
Explaining dartitis and its impact is difficult, but Aspinall says it was the long-lasting drain it put on him that really saw him struggle.
‘The biggest thing with it is that it’s tiring,’ he said. ‘You’re on the stage playing Gerwyn Price, he’s just throwing his darts. I throw my three darts then at the back of the stage I’ve got little things on my case to battle the fear of missing. I have a picture of my kids to remind me what I’m doing it for.
‘So I look at that, take a deep breath, then I might throw two darts and it kicks in, so I step back, breathe, constantly think about it. Doing that every day is bloody hard. I was just getting tired more than anything, I didn’t want to even practice. It was the challenge of my life but another one that I’ve overcome.’
Looking back on 2023, there was a lot to be pleased with. Notably the Matchplay title, but also finals on the World Series and Euro Tour, it was just the consistency that the Asp couldn’t crack over the season.
Asked to rate his year, he said: ‘It’s so tough because the start of the year went well, then I had a bit of a lull, then for two or three months I was the best player in the world and no one could touch me, in my opinion.
‘Then I went absolutely rubbish. So it was definitely a roller-coaster of a season. From June to end of August I was playing probably the best I’ve ever played, consistently.
‘Back end of the season is what people remember and it was so disappointing. I fell out of love with the game a little bit. When you reach such a big high, to replicate that all the time is tough. That’s why I have so much respect for Van Gerwen and what Luke Humphries has done this year.
‘Getting up for each game, it’s something I do lack at the moment, I’m not going to lie, I lack some motivation. But I can’t be too hard on myself. Three TV finals, won one, it’s probably a 7 or 7-and-a-half out of 10.’
The year ended in the most disappointing fashion with Aspinall falling at the first hurdle to Ricky Evans at the World Championship.
The Asp did not see that one coming, at all, and he reckons that was the problem.
‘I’d done so much practice with Michael Smith. 4-5 hours every single day and I’m not going to lie, we were both unreal, it was phenomenal,’ he explained.
‘I think I tipped up overconfident, I was already booking hotels for after Christmas, there’s no way Ricky Evans is beating me, that’s how I was feeling and that bit me on me arse. I was too confident and I think I was overprepared.
‘I was absolutely raging after the match, but you get home with the kids and Kirsty and I thought, it’s the first time I’ve ever been beat before Christmas so I enjoyed Christmas with the family instead, trying to take a positive from it.
‘It hurts a lot more at the Worlds, I’m not going to lie. Especially when it’s early. If you get to the quarter-finals you’ve had a good run, you take the positives, but the last three or four years all I’ve had is heartache at Ally Pally.
‘It’s absolutely doing my head in because I’m so much better than the level I’ve been performing at the Worlds.’
The Aspinall roller-coaster is in something of a dip of late, but he is in no doubt that a climb to a peak is right around the corner, possibly as close as Thursday night in Cardiff.
‘I feel good. I’ve been practicing. I’ve stopped putting so many hours in now because it’s not really me but I feel in a good place,’ he said.
‘It’s been tough the last few weeks, I’ve lacked motivation and aggression in my game, but the Premier League is different. I’m playing Gezzy in Cardiff, if I can’t get any adrenaline or motivation there then I need to pack in.
‘The last few games I’ve played on tele I’ve been so flat. The World Series and the World Championship. I need to get the adrenaline going and the blood flowing, I’ve lost that a bit.
‘I love playing Gezzy, I haven’t for a while and getting booed and some mithering against him, I think that will relight the fire in my belly. It’ll make me realise this is what I live for, what I get up in the morning for. Fingers crossed that’s how it goes and I beat him.’
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