THE conversation goes full circle and starts and ends with a love of the darts. In between, Alan Soutar talks about his country and his community.

To those he served with as a Commando, he will forever be a comrade. To those he works with at Arbroath Fire Station, he is a friend and a colleague.

Others should see the 44-year-old as an inspiration as he gives up his free time to teach Angus kids about the game or to train guide dogs alongside partner Amanda. Come Friday afternoon, he will simply be Soots.

The Scot was one of the stories of the World Darts Championship last year as he overcame Diogo Portela, Mensur Suljovic and José de Sousa on his way to the last 16. His run ended in a 4-1 defeat to Callan Rydz, but his name in the game was made.

Soutar the man was forged long before that, though. After joining the Cadets aged 13, he was destined for a life of service and 27 countries were ticked off in nine years as a Commando as he wore the green beret with pride.

"It probably did shape me," Soutar told Herald and Times Sport. "It was about serving your country, serving The Queen, and I still have that same ethos now. You had to do that bit extra, they tried to push you to break you.

"When you are on a stage and the crowd are booing you or you are losing, it is no big deal. I have been through a hundred times worse in terms of adversity in the Forces.

"I have done a lot of mad stuff in the Forces, so going on a stage and being booed by English people or being 2-0 down to Mensur Suljovic didn’t really faze me.

"I have got a good resolve and a bit of dig and fight about me. The Forces did shape me into the guy that I am today and that dig that I have got, I have always had that."

When Soutar graced the Ally Pally stage in his tartan trousers and Saltire shirt 12 months ago, few would have known about his remarkable story. His rise and rise in a sporting sense is inspiring in its own right, but his is a life well lived in the line of duty at home and abroad.

His Commando course photo from 1996 is just one memento that adorns a wall in his house as images from the likes of Oman and Norway tell of Soutar's service. Social media allows former colleagues to keep in touch and one request - for a shirt from his Grand Slam of Darts appearances - will now be used to raised funds for the Lesmahagow Juniors side that his best mate Tam follows.

"We were the first folk into Kosovo when it was first liberated and some of the things we saw and done were essential but also rewarding," Soutar said. "We stopped what was happening in Kosovo, and Pristina especially.

"I served in Northern Ireland as well, which was eye-opening to say the least. We were only in Bosnia for a few weeks, we had our task and we did it and came home. People can take from that what they want.

"But all the things we did, they were pretty important for national security and world security. I was in the mix in quite a lot of things and on the front line doing what we had to do."

That mindset of doing the job that needs done, that determination to be in the right place at the right time, is symptomatic of Soutar. For almost two decades now, he has been a firefighter in the town where he was raised and still resides.

His Green Watch will be on shift when he faces Mal Cuming in Round One next Friday afternoon and a meeting with Daryl Gurney the following day is the prize. Whatever happens, Soutar will report for duty for four days over Christmas.

"It is maybe the only reason that I went for a Tour card, because I knew that my work was flexible enough to allow me to get the time off," Soutar said. "It is not a normal Monday to Friday job.

"I work a lot of weekends and night shifts but there is time and scope to swap with other guys and the guys on the other shifts have been great. A lot of them will step forward and offer to do swaps when I need to and that helps.

"I play at 12.30 so hopefully they get time to get a bit of food and sit and watch the game."

Events in London have the potential to transform Soutar's career and his bank balance but his life and his outlook will never change regardless of what he achieves on the oche.

His time in the military and the life or death situations he faces each day keep him grounded and offer perspective. Winning won't define Soutar.

"It is just darts," the world number 36 said. "It is professional sport and it is very lucrative. But it is just darts.

"I have always looked at it that way. If I get beat at darts, I am not one of these guys who is throwing his darts in the bin and wanting to lash out at people.

"I take it on the chin. At the end of the day, it is sport.

"You are high profile and you are in the public eye, especially on Sky Sports at Christmas. But it is secondary to my job and my life here and my job is still the same and still my number one thing.

"The darts is secondary, but it is a cool second thing to do. It is not a second job as such, it is just a hobby that allows me to enjoy different things and travel around the world."

While Soutar is on the road, like he was during a run to the last eight of the Grand Slam last month, life goes on back in Angus. The house has one fewer resident these days, though, after guide dog puppy Disco went into training in Forfar last week.

"It goes back to linking up to the military and service and serving the country," Soutar said of the work that has seen him train five dogs. "I served my country but that is still embedded in me.

"I am not in the Forces anymore, but I still serve people being a firefighter in the community and the dogs are something that Amanda and I can do together. She is the number one, she has got the dogs mostly while I am around the world playing darts.

"When I am at home, I enjoy taking them out and training them. It is all about taking that dog on the journey that it needs to."

That journey took the Soutars to Belfast earlier this year to visit their first dog, Quando. Its owner was a 90-year-old woman who had been blind for the last five decades and the warmth of the conversation and the heartfelt appreciation was even greater than the spread of food and drinks that had been laid on as a thank you.

"It is about being an example to people and everyone should try and do something for someone else," Soutar said. "I think that is something I have embedded in me and I would love people to be more friendly, more open and more service orientated.

"In 2022, everyone is in their own bubbles, they are on their phones constantly. Just look up and think ‘what can I do for someone else?’.

"We have lost that a bit in society so it would be good for more people to become involved with Guide Dogs or a charity that they have close to their hearts. People should do it more."

Many would say that Soutar already more than does his fair share. Come February, he will do even more as the Angus Darts Academy opens its doors once again.

Soutar lost in the first round of the BDO Championship the year before the Academy launched in 2012. How times have changed. After a Covid-enforced shutdown, Soots now has a new-found platform to make a difference.

"It is not about creating a Nathan Girvan, who went on to be in the World Youth final, it is another young lad from Forfar like Keegan Hart," Soutar said. "He is an autistic boy, quite high up on the spectrum, and he just loves darts.

"It doesn’t matter if he wins tournaments or goes on to be a start, his Thursday night at darts academy was his night. He didn’t play football or any other activities, he just loved the darts.

"We had 70 kids at one point going every Thursday night. We were taking a lot of kids from Angus and giving them something to do on a night and engaging in darts."

From Thursday afternoon until the final on January 3, all eyes will be on Ally Pally as Peter Wright defends his title and one of the most engrossing sporting spectacles captures the viewing time and imagination once again.

Soutar has beaten 19 of the top 32 in the world over the last two years. He has the game, and he certainly has the mentality.

"Last year was pretty phenomenal to get to the last 16," Soutar said. "I don’t really set targets like that.

"I am going into it as a second year Tour Card holder so, for me, it is another free hit at putting money on the rankings. That is the way I look at it, for this year anyway.

"Hoping to win the first game and then we will see what happens against Daryl. That is as far as I need to look really."