James Wilson will make his debut in the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) version of the world championship, which begins at London’s Alexandra Palace next Thursday.
The Yorkshireman won the rival British Darts Organisation’s (BDO) Zuiderduin Masters in 2013 and World Darts Trophy the following year, but is one of the outsiders in a tournament expected to be dominated by van Gerwen.
The world No 1 has won 24 titles this year and is hot favourite to end Gary Anderson’s two-year reign.
But Wilson reckons the championship is wide open and insisted: “We can all challenge him, it is just on the day.
“He (van Gerwen) is fantastic at the moment, but to beat him you have got to get to his level.
“Everybody there has got the game to beat him, but you have got to do it on the day.
“He can be beaten. It is on his day as well, if he dips and lulls everybody will pounce all over him.”
For Wilson, who is ranked 36 in the world, a first visit to London’s Alexandra Palace may be more about gaining experience than having a serious shot at the title and the 44-year-old Huddersfield marksman is relishing throwing on the sport’s biggest stage.
“I am really looking forward to it,” he said. “Last year, I just missed out. That was my first year in the PDC, this is my second and I am in. I’ve never been to the venue, but I’ll be going a couple of days before to get settled in.”
The PDC event has become famous for raucous, packed crowds, creating a football-style atmosphere.
This is in stark contrast to scenes at the Lakeside, home of the BDO world championship, where fans are expected to observe the action in a more respectful silence.
Wilson – one of two Yorkshiremen in the event, alongside Bradford’s Joe Cullen – believes the noise and fervour at ‘Ally Pally’ will suit him.
He said: “I love the crowds, I prefer it to the BDO.
“In the BDO it is pretty quiet when you are throwing and you can hear one person if they shout out.
“In the PDC, it’s a constant noise, so you can get on with your game. It is a lot less distracting than one person shouting out.”
Wilson, who is known as the ‘Jammie Dodger’ and walks on stage to Daydream Believer by The Monkees, has had two years to adjust and is confident the unique atmosphere at the North London venue will not faze him.
“When I played Jamie Hughes at the Grand Slam (in Wolverhampton) I should have done better,” he conceded.
“That was hard work against his home crowd. It was new to me and I am still learning what goes on.
“Once I’ve learned and I’ve got used to it, I can keep getting better.”
Wilson is happy with his form heading into the biggest event on the calendar and has no regrets about his switch from the BDO.
“It is absolutely fantastic,” he said of life on the PDC circuit.
“It’s what you need in darts, the exposure and people watching you.
“You have to be on the ball from day one, from your first three darts.
“You have to settle really well or you get left behind. It is massively competitive.
“I remember playing in the juniors and there was not that much exposure, but now it is getting bigger and bigger and that’s a lot better for the sport.”
A strong performance over the next few weeks would lift Wilson in the rankings and boost his hopes of pushing towards the PDC’s top-10.
“I’m hoping to be in the top-32 this year,” he said.
“The next target will be the top-16 and then the Premier League – that’s the one I am aiming for.
“I always take baby steps, I never try and rush things. I set my goals and once I’ve achieved them anything after that is a bonus.”
If Wilson – who also works as a roofer when darting commitments permit – was to go all the way at Alexandra Palace, Huddersfield would have two world champions in the same sport.
Scott Waites won the BDO version this year and Wilson believes the strength of the local darts scene is the reason for the town producing two world-class players.
Wilson still plays for local teams the Royal Oak on Thursdays and Elephant and Castle, in Holmfirth, the following night.
“There’s a fantastic local league here,” he observed.
“Players in Huddersfield really take it seriously and that’s good for the game.
“There’s a lot of talented players here and that’s good grounding, for the match practice. It’s okay practicing, but that’s not the same as match practice.”