By Phil Lanning
JOE CULLEN admits he just wants to do his mum proud at the Ally Pally just two months after she died of cancer.
The Bradford battler was on the losing side of a classic clash with Michael van Gerwen a year ago and now returns to face Jim Williams today.
It’s the first World Championship since his mum Pam passed away aged 56 from lung cancer in October.
Cullen, 32, said: “I’ve had better years to be honest.
“Towards the end my mum told me to be everything you can. Try to win as much as you can. And that’s what I’m trying to do.
“She came to the World Matchplay at Blackpool in July when I played Chris Dobey. Before the match she said she probably wouldn’t get to see me play a proper game again.
“That’s why afterwards I got a bit emotional on stage. I didn’t plan it. That memory will stick with me for a bit.
“It might have been a bit trivial to people, a first-round game in Blackpool, but it meant a lot to me in the context of things.
“Her lung cancer was diagnosed on her birthday on June 30 and she passed away on October 9. It was really quick, the decline was so rapid.
“She was fine for a few months and then we realised, ‘S**t, it’s happening now’. To be honest, the darts is good, it’s a distraction.
“It’s when you sit at home on your own, that’s when it hits you ? when you sit and think about the reality of things is when it hits home the most.
“It’s been brutal. I didn’t really practise for three or four months because of my mum.
“But she’s at rest now and I can try and move on in terms of my darts and do her proud.”
As well as losing his mum, Cullen has endured other traumatic times including the passing of his close cousin as well.
He has a tattoo of a pair of glasses behind his ear as a tribute to his cousin Shaun, who lost his life at the age of just 38.
Cullen said: “One day he woke up with a headache and then he had a brain haemorrhage.
“He was nicknamed Four Eyes. I was going to get Shaun across my knuckles because that was his name. But I thought the glasses were more of a fitting tribute.
“In the same year that Shaun died, we lost darts player James Barton, who had been on the Tour. Then one of my best friends took his own life last March.”
Cullen’s clash with MVG in last year’s fourth round was an epic encounter.
He was 3-1 in front, hit acolossal 19 180s and missed two match darts at the bullseye before losing in a sudden-death leg.
He adds: “I think I was maybe just a bit too lazy to start with. I hindered my own development. If I’d had the right attitude four or five years before I took it really seriously, I’d be a lot better now.
“It got to the stage when you’re playing behind closed doors in places like Barnsley and Wigan and I was getting beaten by players I shouldn’t be.
That was the turning point. I put the work in for a solid year to see what happened and I’ve reaped the benefits.”
Images by Taylor Lanning.