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Darts pairing grateful for World Cup support

For one week, Paul Lim and Harith Lim felt like they had been transported 30 years back in time.

Not just because the Singaporean pair created shock waves by stunning top seeds Scotland in the opening round at the World Cup of Darts in Frankfurt, before falling in the quarter-finals.

But it was also because they received a sudden outpouring of adulation and praise from fellow Singaporeans. Overnight, they were thrust into the limelight again, with the news of their achievement going viral online.

Paul, 63, said: "At the end of the match, when I hugged Harith, it was such a great feeling of accomplishment and it felt so satisfying.

"Prior to the match, people were already saying who Scotland would be playing in the next round. We were not even mentioned and we were written off.

"For many years, it has always been just Harith and I who have been competing."

Harith, 47, added they were surprised to see the outpouring of support from Singaporeans online.

SHEDDING ITS TAG

Darts has changed a lot from the early days. It has shaken off that image... You will see many young people, families who are playing it.

PAUL LIM , Singapore darts player, believes that darts has cultivated a family-friendly image over the years.

ROCK STAR TREATMENT

The reception we received was just crazy... After so many years, we've finally got back the recognition.

HARITH LIM, Singapore darts player, on the attention the duo received after shocking top seeds Scotland in the opening round and reaching the World Cup of Darts quarter-finals.

He said: "The reception we received was just crazy. When we saw it, our first reaction was like 'wow'. All the attention lasted for a few days. After so many years, we've finally got back the recognition.

"In every sport, the standards of the game and its players rise through the years. When you were able to do it 30 years ago, then still be able to do well 30 years later at a higher level, it's an unbelievable achievement."

Many took to social media to congratulate them. Achmad Sobirin left a comment on Facebook, saying: "Congratulations! You guys did a wonderful job! Be proud of yourselves. You have set a precedent and in years to come, other promising local players will follow in your footsteps. Your names will be cast in stone. Well done!"

It was a sense of deja vu for both Paul and Harith, who have been friends for 32 years.

In 1990, Paul, then 36, made his name as the first man to record a perfect nine-dart game at the World Championship. Harith was just a 16-year-old when he rose to fame by becoming the world youth champion in 1986.

Over the years, Singapore might have forgotten the duo's exploits as the attention to the sport died, and the Singapore Darts Association went on the decline.

But overseas, they are still revered.

Paul, who is married to a Briton, Janet, said: "Each time I go to England, people who were five or six years old then (in 1990) and now in their 30s, when they see me, they would call me Legend."

The likelihood is that their latest feat might be forgotten again, but Paul, the oldest competitor at the World Cup, is still thinking of furthering his darts career.

If he does not extend his current job as a consultant for dart board distributor Dartslive next year, he plans to join the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) qualifying school and play full time on the PDC circuit for two to three years.

Paul, who is based in Hong Kong, said: "It might be late for me to pursue this, and I've asked myself the question many times why I continue competing.

"Nobody really understands the passion I have for darts - it goes really deep."

He picked up the game at pubs in the mid-1970s while he worked as a trainee under the head chef of Knightsbridge Hotel in England, after completing his national service as a military policeman in 1974.

Just as his culinary skills in French and European cuisine improved as he progressed from cleaning dishes to washing vegetables to later becoming a certified chef, his love for darts, a game which originated in Britain, took off.

He reached a career-high ranking of world No. 3 after moving to the United States in 1986 to become a professional darts player.

But for the first two years, he worked as a chef in a gastropub from Monday to Thursday, while training and competing from Friday to Sunday.

Paul said: "I went there (US) with not much money, but I had to give it a shot to see how good I could be. I wanted to make a life out of darts. Even if I were to become the worst darts player, at least I would have a job to fall back on."

From struggling to find sponsors 30 years ago to asking a poultry company in Hong Kong to sponsor him meat to cook instead of money, life is different for Paul now.

Times have changed and the game itself has also undergone an image makeover. Darts is no longer just played in dingy pubs inhabited by middle-aged men.

Nowadays, a majority of Singapore players, including Paul and Harith, have also switched from steel-tipped darts to soft darts, also called electronic darts.

Dartslive said there are around 23,000 soft-darts players, and more than 500 machines in 120 locations such as Nanyang Technological University, Republic Polytechnic, Safra Mount Faber, and cafes across the Republic.

Paul said: "Darts has changed a lot from the early days. It has shaken off that image of old people sitting at a bar having a beer. The environment is different now. You will see many young people, families who are playing it."

Harith, a director at a property developer, said: "Darts has been around for many years in Singapore, and perhaps it used to be associated with alcohol and cigarettes.

"But the soft darts industry now is now thriving. It's blended well with entertainment venues and healthy locations, like cafes where parents can bring their kids."