by Dr. Patrick Chaplin
I thought I would delay writing anything about Fallon Sherrock's magnificent achievement at the PDC William Hill World Darts Championships until now; merely letting the furore abate. Fallon should be (and of course is) justly proud.
I've been banging on about giving lady darts players more opportunities for years. Way back in the 1970s and 1980s, although the British Darts Organisation (BDO) ran numerous women's tournaments and, eventually, a Women's World Championships there were hardly any major events that actually pitched the girls against the men. Eventually ladies were allowed to try and qualify for the Embassy/Lakeside World Championships and Deta Hedman nearly made it one year, falling at the last hurdle/qualifying event.
In those early days women's darts simply did not receive the coverage like the men's; in fact next to nothing. Thus, with no TV exposure, they attracted little or no major sponsorship,
with the exception of the No. 1. Women's' player Maureen Flowers and perhaps one or two others during the 1980s.
The traditional reason given for women not being able to play as well as the men was always around the 'fact' that they had little time for darts and that they should spend their time making house and having babies. That was never true and in any event would now be politically incorrect. Truth is. The opportunities were never there.
Thankfully, the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) through its Tournament Director, the late Tommy Cox, took the initiative in 2000 to run a separate women's world championship but due to 'politics' only one competitor, Canada's Gayl King, stood up to the plate. All the others backed down for 'personal reasons' but those in the know knew the real reason.
With no choice but to cancel the women's tournament the PDC did not ditch the idea of having a woman play in the World Championships. They invited Gayl to participate in the PDC Skol World Championship which, until that year, had been composed entirely of men.
In the competition, played out in late December 2000, Gayl faced England's Graeme Stoddart in the first round. To everyone's surprise, except perhaps her own, Gayl took the first set off of the world men's No. 29 and the crowd went wild. I was there and watched the match at the Circus Tavern, Purfleet, Essex. When Gayl took that set off of Graeme the crowd's reaction was deafening and there was, albeit for a short while, a real sense of anticipation that Gayl could do it. According to one newspaper, losing the first set left Graeme 'shell-shocked'. However, Graeme immediately upped his game and eventually won the match by three sets to one.
Gayl left the Circus Tavern stage to a standing ovation, with her head held high and her place in darts history assured.
No win but it was a start.
Gayl was a history-maker that day. National newspapers in Britain, Canada and the USA seized upon the story and for a while Gayl was the subject of a media frenzy. 'King aims to be queen of darts' said the Ottawa Sun whilst the New York Times described Gayl's imminent appearance in the World Championships as 'a day of liberation for darts'. As usual the British press relished the challenge as The Times announced 'Woman with guts shakes up beer bellies' and The Guardian weighed in with 'Gayl force hits the bull's-eye.'
But that was twenty years ago.
Fallon's victory over 'Super Ted' Evets is something else
Her subsequent win over the 11th seed Mensur Suljovic further emphasised her power and skill and her calm and confident ability to mix it with the men. Sadly for Fallon and all her
fans, Chris Dobey ended her run but the dream hasn't ended.
It's only just begun!
Fallon has come a long way from when I met her briefly a few years ago at the WINMAU World Masters in Hull. She had played poorly by her standards and had been knocked out of the tournament. As she approached the players' room I said, "Unlucky Fallon" to which she replied simply, "I played sh*t".
Not so now Fallon.
She works hard and plays darts with confidence, coping admirably with being a professional darts player and a mother and is now reaping the rewards. Fallon has shown herself to be a force to be reckoned with and, with a place in the UK Open in March and the PDC US Masters assured for next June and as one of the nine 'challengers' in the forthcoming Premier League who knows what this young woman is capable of achieving over the next couple of years.
As one TV commentator shouted when Fallon's winning double 18 went in, "The glass ceiling has been shattered!"
Severely cracked maybe but not, in my view, 'shattered'.
What Fallon has done is to show that a woman (the only one so far at a World Championship) can take on the men.and win. Her future in darts and darts history is assured but there is much more to come from her and, I sincerely hope, other top lady darters such England's Lisa Ashton and Japan's Mikuru Suzuki. Lisa of course earned her PDC Tour Card in January so many congratulations to her on being the first female darter to do so.
Other women darters will doubtless follow, inspired by Fallon success with those very significant victories at the Ally Pally and by Lisa's well-earned Tour Card.
Remember, it was only a few years ago when if anyone mentioned women playing football or cricket, let alone darts, at a top level, you would have been laughed out of the pub.