Michael Smith’s PDC World Darts Championship win is inspiring the youth of St Helens to take up the sport.
Smith, who beat Michael van Gerwen to be crowned World Champion on January 3, was born in the town and started attending St Helens Darts Academy when he was a teenager.
The Academy hosts sessions every Monday night for players between the ages of eight and 18 to hone their skills from the oche.
The Academy’s Secretary, Karl Holden, said: “We’ve gone from around 45 kids attending before Michael won the World Championship to around 70 in the last few weeks.”
Due to the increase in numbers, the Academy has had to bring the start time of the sessions forward to ensure that everyone attending gets to throw at least one leg of darts.
“St Helens is quite for famous for Rugby League having won the title [Super League] four years in-a-row but everyone in the town is talking about darts now,” Karl said.
Smith paid a visit to the Academy before the World Championship began. According to Karl, “one or two of the littler kids didn’t even know who he [Smith] was but they all know who he is now.”
In the final, Smith produced what Sky Sports commentator Wayne Mardle called the “most amazing leg of darts ever” by hitting a nine-darter after his opponent Michael van Gerwen had missed a shot at ‘a nine’ of his own.
Recalling that leg, Karl said: “I watched the final with a few friends, and I was twitching with nerves during the game.
“Even though I wanted Michael [Smith] to win, I actually really wanted van Gerwen to hit [a nine-darter] because, if you love darts, you want to watch a nine-darter.
“When van Gerwen missed that double 12 I was gutted. But for Michael [Smith] to hit it and do what he did, it is the best leg of darts ever.”
Despite a disappointing defeat in the semi-final of the Cazoo Masters last night, the 53-year-old is backing Smith in the Premier League, which gets underway in Belfast on Thursday.
“Sometimes you need that bad tournament, because it pushes you to train harder.
“Once he’s had a few games in the Premier League and settles down and gets used to being World Champion and World Number One, I think we’ll be seeing him winning most of his games.”