Luke Littler has been “smashing them all to bits” on the dartboard since the age of nine.
Littler’s incredible run to the World Championship final at the age of 16 has transcended events on the oche and shocked the entire sporting world, but not St Helens Darts Academy co-founder Karl Holden.
Even esteemed French sports publication L’Equipe, a title not known for its darts coverage, devoted space to hail the teenage sensation after his semi-final demolition of former world champion Rob Cross at Alexandra Palace on Tuesday evening.
Littler’s appetite for hitting 180s and big checkouts on the big London stage are even greater than his well-documented love of kebabs.
But, while his name was barely known beyond his home town of Warrington before the start of the world championship last month, this is no overnight success story.
“He has been coming here since he was nine. We are all very proud,” Holden told the PA news agency.
“When he first came as a kid you could see he was very special and he just got better and better. Every year he was a bit better than the last.
“We put him up to the Under-14s when he was nine, but three months after that he was smashing all them to bits.
“He hardly lost so we said, ‘What do we now?’ We put him into the elite group, which is our best players, and he had just turned 10.”
St Helens Darts Academy members are planning a party on Wednesday to support Littler in his final showdown with Luke Humphries, his fellow Englishman 12 years his senior and the new world number one.
The pair last met in quieter surroundings at a Hayling Island competition in 2019 when Littler was only 12.
Holden said: “Obviously he puts a lot of hours in and we had to tell him to stop coming as he was so good.
“He needed to be playing at a better standard. He was good enough to win men’s tournaments at 13 or 14. And he did. His ability is second to none.
“The best players reach a level in their twenties that he’s reached at 16.
“We’ve produced some good players. Probably about 40 county players, but Luke is something else.
“We’re all behind Luke. It’s not just St Helens.
“Luke is a Warrington man through and through, a big Wire (Warrington rugby league) supporter, and the whole of Warrington is right behind him.”
Littler is known as ‘Luke The Nuke’ and the sale of darts with his name on has exploded in St Helens and Warrington.
So, too, has interest in darts at Padgate Academy, where Littler – who has been regularly serenaded by fans at Alexandra Palace that he has “got school in the morning” – sat his GCSEs last year.
“He’s putting darts on the map at the moment but he’s already done that here at the school,” headteacher Adam McMillan told The Guardian.
“He’s left such an incredible legacy at the school, lots of students have been inspired by him and gone on to be interested in darts.
“Through his sponsors, we were able to get dartboards, and we set up a darts club, which was really well attended. Many students then bought their own dartboards.
“He’s left his mark here but I think the wider impact will be seen in schools across the UK. We’ll see some sort of legacy from all this.”