When you’re certainly one of the most well-known darts gamers on the planet and also you need to pop to your native cafe in Milton Keynes with out being recognised, there’s a sure protocol to be adopted. A masks at all instances. An enormous beanie hat to conceal your blonde hair. No make-up, clearly. Even then, it’s removed from foolproof.
“Every time I go in someone recognises me,” says Fallon Sherrock, sighing. “As soon as I take the hat off, people are staring. I’m like, I just want to eat my burger …”
Fame hit Sherrock like a hand grenade. In a method, she’s nonetheless processing the aftershock. Nothing might actually have ready her for what adopted her groundbreaking run at the world championship in late 2019, changing into the first lady to attain the third spherical. There have been TV bookings, invites, photoshoots, messages by the thousand. Then got here the vultures and the web males, with curiously pointed opinions on every little thing from her darting capability to her look. For a daily 27-year-old with no explicit yearning for public consideration, it was so much.
“When it first started happening,” she says euphemistically, “I just got thrown in at the deep end. I had to learn how to deal with it.”
She has a administration crew now, who filter her social media feeds so she will nonetheless see the deluge of constructive messages with out having to sift by means of the trolls. But she’s nonetheless too timid to Google herself. “I’m scared of what I might see,” she says. “I’ve come off all the darts groups on Facebook. Otherwise I’m just sitting there looking and then I’ve wasted three hours.”
Does she get recognised so much? “Sometimes. Not all the time. Sometimes when I’m at the pub, people will ask if I want to play a game of darts and if they don’t know who I am I’ll say I’m not very good.”
Hang on. You hustle them? “Yeah, I love it. I last did it a couple of months back. But before lockdown I used to do it all the time. Just for a fiver. Or a drink. And then they go: ‘Oh, you’re actually quite good.’ And then I say: ‘Google me.’”
‘When I’m up on the stage, though there’s hundreds of thousands watching, I simply really feel like there’s a lot house,’ says Fallon Sherrock. Photograph: Shane Healey/ProSports/Shutterstock
This is the level if you realise that there’s extra to Sherrock than meets the eye. For the previous two years, you are feeling the complete sport of darts has been studying the same lesson.
Sherrock’s world championship success was broadly written off as an unrepeatable fluke. But in September, at the Nordic Masters, she grew to become the first lady to attain the closing of a televised PDC occasion, beating the world No 5, Dimitri Van den Bergh, and main the nice Michael van Gerwen 6-3 earlier than shedding 11-7. Then final month, at the Grand Slam, she shocked us once more.
In her closing group sport, she performed the imposing Gabriel Clemens. With the German on 68, needing yet one more leg to progress, Sherrock pulled off an unimaginable 170 end – two treble-20s, then the bull – to win.
In the video of her checkout, which has been seen nearly 2m instances on-line, you see her contorting herself in disbelief, unable to grasp how she had completed it. “I’d not taken out 170 in about three years,” she says. “Like, it doesn’t happen.” She went on to attain the quarter-finals, the place she pushed the world No 2, Peter Wright, all the method in a 16-13 defeat.
The curious a part of all that is that there was little or no in Sherrock’s document to recommend any of this was possible. She was an honest girls’s participant – ok to attain the Lakeside world closing in 2015 – however nonetheless a way behind Lisa Ashton and Deta Hedman, legends of the sport.
Week to week, in the smaller “floor events” that kind the bread and butter of the tour, she typically posted three-dart averages in the 70s and 80s: competent, however hardly elite.
But on the largest phases, beneath the largest strain, she turns into one thing else solely. Clutch doubles are nailed. Everything goes the place it’s meant to.
Against Wright she averaged 99, a shade beneath Gerwyn Price’s profitable common in final yr’s world championship closing. Put her on the stage, with a crowd at her again, and he or she ascends to the godly aircraft. It is, fairly merely, certainly one of the most breathtaking and baffling phenomenons in the world of sport. Ask Sherrock why it occurs and he or she’s not likely certain.
I’d say I was assured, however reasonable at the identical time. I’ve shocked myself at how I’ve handled conditions
“People ask me and I cannot explain,” she says. “Because on the floor, I can’t do it. I feel like I’m at the same level as everyone else and they’re all looking at me and I don’t like people looking at me. I get distracted. My head’s away. But when I’m up on the stage, even though there’s cameras and millions of people watching, I just feel like I’m … away from everyone. There’s so much space. No one can get me. I don’t understand it.”
Often you hear darts gamers speak about inhabiting a personality: a stage persona that permits them to shed their inhibitions and be whoever they need to be. A disguise, nearly. For Sherrock, the distinctive pink shirt and males’s prescription glasses (girls’s glasses don’t go well with her face, she says) are her costume. “I put the glasses on, and it’s like tunnel vision,” she says.
All of which leads to the query preoccupying the sport: is that this merely a superb purple patch? Or on the different hand, is there nonetheless extra magic to be unlocked? In quick: how good is Sherrock? “I don’t know,” she says finally.
“I’ve never been asked that one. I know I can average 100, same as every other player. If you can do that, you’re in any game, unless your opponent does something ridiculous. So I’d say I was confident, but realistic at the same time.
“I’ve shocked myself at how I’ve dealt with situations. I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else. I just think I can play the game to the same standard as everyone else.”
For the first time, Sherrock arrives in London for this yr’s world championship with expectations to fulfil. Her performances in latest months have made her certainly one of the headline sights in a sport that has by no means knowingly handed up a possibility to broaden its attain. There is rising strain on the PDC to admit her to subsequent yr’s Premier League, a profitable invitational competitors that includes 10 of the world’s finest gamers.
There are 128 gamers on the essential PDC tour and Sherrock isn’t certainly one of them. Every yr, a whole lot of hopefuls compete in a mass qualification occasion known as Q-School in an try to safe certainly one of the handful of obtainable tour playing cards. It is a brutal, exhausting course of and for the previous three years Sherrock has come away empty handed. Her main event appearances have come both by invitation or by means of women-only qualifying collection.
For some that is proof sufficient that she nonetheless wants to be taught, hone her sport, do her time, earlier than being allowed to leapfrog extra established gamers into the Premier League. “She’s definitely got the game,” Price, the world champion, stated just lately.
“It’s just whether she can do it week in, week out. If she earned a tour card, she could go up against all those boys in the floor tournaments. I think she’d do really well. But she needs to earn it.”
Fallon Sherrock reacts to beating Mensur Suljovic of Serbia in the second spherical of the 2019 PDC World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace. Photograph: Ian Stephen/ProSports/Shutterstock
Sherrock has largely tried to ignore the background chat. “I try not to get involved in the politics of it all,” she says. “I wouldn’t say no to it, of course I wouldn’t.”
But she’s additionally dwelling proof of the concept that always it’s alternative that drives potential, not the different method round. Had the PDC not put aside two world championship locations for ladies in 2018, we might by no means have found how good Sherrock might be. Given additional alternatives, what else might we uncover? Who else might we uncover?
“It’s harder to try and promote the women when they haven’t got the confidence,” Sherrock says. “Because a lot of them are like: there’s no point, we’re not good enough. But you can be good enough. You just need to put the effort in, get the opportunities, put yourself in that scenario. That’s when you find out what you’re capable of doing. This is how the world is now. If a woman does something, the world’s going to go mental.”
Doubtless we will anticipate extra hoopla if Sherrock will get previous Steve Beaton in her first-round match on Sunday night and extra nonetheless if she beats Kim Huybrechts of Belgium three days later. If she reaches the fourth spherical she’s going to nearly actually finish the yr in the world’s high 64, earn her tour card and keep away from the lottery of Q-School in January.
“I don’t doubt I can make a massive dent in the tournament,” she says. “But if I don’t get a tour card, then at least I can play on the [second-tier] Challenge Tour and develop my game a bit more.”
It is the present and the curse of all distinguished sportswomen to develop into standard-bearers for his or her gender, whether or not they need to or not. Over the previous couple of years Sherrock has bought used to being judged, being talked about, being seen.
But – as opponents, pundits and the startled pub patrons of Milton Keynes have found over the years – you underestimate her at your peril. Perhaps in the end, you might be nearly as good as the stage you’re given. And Alexandra Palace in December is probably the largest of all of them.