An embarrassingly fawning piece in today’s Times by Rick Broadbent, titled, “We’d beat men more often given the chances” in today’s Times. You’d be forgiven for believing, after reading the article, that Fallon Sherrock won the recent 2020 PDC World Darts Champtionship. She lost in the third of seven rounds, thereby proving nothing more than the best female darts players can beat the poorest male players. This was no challenge to Buchanan’s Law on Gender Competitiveness:
When performance in an activity can be objectively measured, few if any women perform at the top level.
We can be sure darts competitions will be made fully open to women in future, they will reliably lose in the early stages. The Times article:
The image of Billie Jean King, trailblazer and feminist icon, being enthralled by the darts from Ally Pally was an incongruous one to usher in a new decade. This is the Fallon Sherrock effect. When the 25-year-old from Milton Keynes became the first woman to beat a man at the PDC World Championships the venue was so packed that, to borrow from the pub Plato, Sid Waddell, even a garter snake smothered in Vaseline would not have been able to slide in there. The wider world was watching and, by making history and the third round, the former hairdresser shoved her sport into the mainstream and the Twittersphere.
It has been a happy shock to the system. She looks tired as we meet in a hotel off the M1 in between yet more meetings. Plans are afoot to meet King, the tennis legend who fought for gender equality in her sport and famously beat middle-aged misogynist Bobby Riggs in a groundbreaking exhibition match in 1973. Quick to tweet her congratulations, King, 76, has since asked to visit Sherrock when she is next in the UK. Since defeating Ted Evetts and then Mensur Suljovic, the world No 11, Sherrock has played darts with Piers Morgan and been mystified as Sarah Jessica Parker, the Hollywood actress, wrote about her “making history and our hearts stop”. Stephen Fry was another impressed. Next week she is back to reality, trying to earn her tour card at the PDC qualifying school in Wigan.
“A woman was always going to win eventually but nobody wanted to be that man to lose to her,” she says. “Now I’ve done it twice everyone just thinks it’s a level playing field. Ted was such a gentleman about it but all the men were so supportive. It’s helped darts for everyone. Their attitude now is, ‘We don’t see you as a woman any more; we see you as a competitive player.’ They switch off from the sex.”
Darts has long been viewed with snobbish disdain by some but it is far more than sport on a stag do. It is also far more egalitarian than most sports already. “We can beat the men,” Sherrock says. “I’ve proved it. We can play like the men. And if we had more opportunities we would prove it more often.”
Hence, she would like the two qualifier spots doubled next year. “I will have a target on my back now and there will be lots of full-on games and that’s what I want. I want people to throw everything at me.”
Sherrock is not a lone woman in a man’s world, but darts chiefs know she is the golden goose. So she will play in the World Series this year in places such as Denmark and Australia, as well as in the Premier League. She pulled out of the BDO World Championships, which are being held at the 02 arena and have been hit by paltry ticket sales and a hugely reduced prize pot, but Beau Greaves, a 16-year-old from Doncaster, was playing in the women’s semi-finals yesterday and will surely have been inspired. “I feel like I’ve broken down some barriers and am encouraging more people to watch darts and take it up,” Sherrock says. “It’s opened more doors for us.”
She made £25,000 from her two wins in London and, if that sounds like chicken feed against the mores of modern sport, she says it is huge. A single mum with an autistic son Rory, aged five, Sherrock is used to scrimping and saving. She has three A levels and thought about going to university to study forensic science but found that “apart from the SOCO [scene-of-crime officer] suits I preferred the darts.” Her parents, Sue and Steve, played darts but she was not interested until she was 17. She tried it, liked it and loved “power-scoring”. The first man she beat was her dad and she thought, ‘Right, I’m not playing you for a while’.
Sherrock is clearly resilient and “I’m quite a strong person” is a palpable understatement. “It is really hard to make a living with the money you get from the ladies’ game,” she says. “I make do by winging it. Whatever little I got I stretched and I’m really good with money. You can get by — as long as you win. That helped me at Ally Pally. I could deal with the pressure because I always have to win. I was used to it. Now it’s life-changing. There’s the money and offers from TV but nothing has been finalised. I have no idea what it’s been worth. I’ve left that to my manager. I think that’s why it hasn’t sunk in and it still feels surreal.”
It is no wonder she seems keen to plunder the moment while being slightly baffled by it. It may be down to perspective honed from harder times. After she gave birth to Rory when she was 21, her immune system attacked her kidneys and she developed what she says were “quite serious” problems. That word “quite” again. “Well, my kidney function was low and if it got any lower then I’d have been on dialysis. I was a bit scared but when I thought about my little boy and I had to stay strong. I’ve had a lot of stuff go on that has helped me that way.”
That loaded line includes the savage trolling when her kidney condition required medication, which led to a swollen face. When she appeared at the BDO World Championships in 2017 she was trolled as “Moonface” and much worse. She admits women players get called “lesbian” but she has perspective gleaned from real life rather toxic anonymity.
“When I got all the negative comments about my face it just made me more determined to prove them wrong,” she says matter-of-factly. “That’s what’s helped me to get past any negative comments since. I’ve learnt to ignore them and move past them.
“It is easy for me when I go home to my little boy because I focus on him and it is easy to switch off. I’ve learnt how to cut everything else out. This is what I have to do.
“I literally get up in the morning, take Rory to school, get a few hours in the day to sort out everything, shopping, food, pick him up, sort him out, put him to bed and then I have a few hours’ practice before I have to go to bed.
“I have a very supportive family to help. My mum and dad are quite strong people and I learnt from them but also from life. You have to do that, especially with Rory being autistic. I have had to not worry about what people think and I don’t. When he has a meltdown you get people looking and I get strength from not caring what they think.”
She is glad her new-found fame has enabled her to raise awareness about autism as well as money by the auctioning of the board on which she beat Evetts. She says she is up for anything and the most exciting aspect of a transformative month is she has “no idea how far this can go”. Rory is just happy to see his mum on TV.
In the aftermath of her success she admitted she did not know what the word “feminist” meant. “No idea,” she confirms. “I have not got the time and it will make no difference to my life.” She is less interested in tags than titles and tries to imagine the day when a woman becomes world champion. And then she is back to earth and soon the M1. What has she done? “I’ve shown I can play darts.” And so to Wigan.
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