Rob Cross: World champion's whirlwind year continues with PDC Champions League

Rob Cross with the PDC World Darts Championship trophy
Rob Cross won the PDC World Championship on his debut in January 2018
Paddy Power Champions League of Darts
Venue:Brighton Centre, Brighton Dates:22-23 September
Sat 22 Sep:BBC1 - 13:15-16:30; BBC2 - 18:30-22:30
Sun 23 Sep:BBC2 - 13:00-16:30; BBC2 - 18:30-22:00
Live text commentary of Sunday's two sessions

Long-distance flights are just one of the things that Rob Cross has had to get accustomed to since becoming world darts champion.

"I was never a big traveller - if I wasn't working, I would have a job to get out of my own postcode," said Cross, the former electrician who beat darts legend Phil Taylor to win the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) title in January.

His swift ascent to darting superstardom has provided opportunities he could have only dreamed about when, a year prior to reaching the pinnacle of his sport, he was earning £7 prizes by winning a pairs competition in a local pub.

Trips to tournaments in Australia, China and the USA have all been navigated during what has been a whirlwind 2018 so far.

Cross told BBC Sport: "It's been all new. My longest flight before doing Australia and Las Vegas was about four hours. To do the Australia one took about 27 hours so that was a little bit different.

"I always had a phobia of heights, but since I've been flying more regularly I have no problem with it now. I just go to sleep."

Cross, who turned 28 on 21 September, will only have an hour's drive from his home in Hastings for his next tournament - the Champions League of Darts in Brighton, which will be televised live on the BBC on Saturday and Sunday.

Family man Cross reflects on 'life-changing' win

Cross says the "life-changing" experience of becoming world champion has been a "learning curve" and something he has had to "get to grips with".

But the demands on his time, by fans and the media, are something he is now used to.

"I get noticed quite a bit now," he told BBC Sport while spending a relaxing morning out fishing.

"Sometimes it's nice to get a peaceful life, but at the same time we always give our two minutes and have a few selfies with people. Those people are the ones who pay to come and watch the darts and it's good to give that time for them."

Rob Cross and Phil Taylor
Rob Cross beat 16-time world champion Phil Taylor in his final match before retiring in January

The PDC calendar is as congested as it has ever been, with almost every part of the globe visited over the course of 12 months.

More tournaments and the added media commitments as one of the game's leading players, therefore, mean more time away from home for father-of-three Cross.

He continued: "When I used to work, I used to come home every evening and see my kids.

"Now sometimes we can be on the road for six days a week or three weeks at a time. That's probably been the biggest thing that's affected me - being away from my family.

"But at the same time, that's why we do it - to try to give them a better life.

"That's what it's all aid of and, I'm not being funny, I never moan about it. We have to get on with it and do a job."

A dream debut year

Few sportsmen can claim to have enjoyed such phenomenal success in their debut season as Cross.

But it could have all been so different had it not been for his 'Sliding Doors' moment in February 2016; his uncle convinced him to take part in a UK Open qualifier in Norwich - his last chance to qualify for a tournament that prides itself on allowing amateurs to test themselves against the very best.

He won that qualifying event and reached the last 32 of the main draw in Minehead, losing to world number one Michael van Gerwen.

The Dutchman was inspired on that day; in three successive legs he hit a 170 checkout, followed by a nine-dart finish, followed by another 170 outshot - but Cross had shown enough in a 9-5 defeat to convince himself that he could progress in the sport.

He dominated the second-tier Challenge Tour for the rest of 2016, earning a PDC tour card for 2017 in the process. Cross turned professional and the rest, as they say, is history.

Wins in ranking events supplemented strong showings in major televised tournaments, including a run to the final of the European Championship last October, when Van Gerwen again got the better of him. By the start of the World Championship in December, he was up to 20th in the PDC's Order of Merit.

And, in a tournament of surprises, Cross prevailed in a sudden-death leg of a thrilling semi-final against defending world champion Van Gerwen to set up the dream final.

Cross v Taylor. The talented newcomer against the retiring legend.

The script was written for Taylor to end his stellar career in style but Cross, who was not even born when "The Power" won the first of his 16 world titles, wrote his own name into the pantheon of darting greats with a 7-2 victory.

'The game is a profession now, not a hobby'

Rob Cross throws a dart
Rob Cross is third in the PDC world rankings, winning more than £700,000 in prize money over the past two years

Cross has been drawn in Group B alongside Peter Wright, Simon Whitlock and 2017 winner Mensur Suljovic in the Champions League, an eight-player event which is now into its third year.

"The tournament's special in that way because you never watch the top eight in the world challenge each other," said Cross, who will be appearing in the Champions League for the first time.

"The Premier League would be the closest thing, but to get that for one weekend is special."

He continued: "It's a brilliant thing being on terrestrial TV. We can maybe bring the next generation in - kids who haven't got satellite TV, for instance, can watch the darts and hopefully we can get a bit more interest into the game.

"The game in general is growing so much, it's massive already and it only looks like it's getting bigger.

"This game is a profession now, it's not a hobby any more. You can earn great money and there are loads of people earning a living out of the game."