“The fish fingers are on,” Fallon Sherrock informs me, as she Zooms in from her home in Milton Keynes. Her son, Rory, is off school with a tickly cough (“I’m like: ‘Please don’t be Covid.’ I can’t afford to catch Covid,” Sherrock says with a nervous laugh) so she’s balancing lunch duties with press, stopping me halfway through to make sure she doesn’t set fire to the kitchen.
A year ago, contestants on ITV quiz show Winning Combination were asked which sport Sherrock played. Nobody could answer, but 12 months later, a lot has changed – Sherrock now counts Billie Jean King and Paddy McGuinness as fans, and is surely the most talked-about player on the darts circuit.
The cowboy-esque cadence of “Fallon Sherrock” certainly sounds like a future household name. Its distinctiveness also frees the 27-year-old from the shackles of her sport’s penchant for daft nicknames: Peter “Snakebite” Wright, Nathan “The Asp” Aspinall and Jonny “The Ferret” Clayton weren’t so lucky.
Sherrock’s exploits at the 2019 PDC World Darts Championship did, eventually, earn her the performance-related moniker, “Queen of the Palace”. By defeating Ted Evetts, she became the first woman to win a match at the PDC Worlds. She then went one better, knocking out the 11th seed Mensur Suljovic in her next.
Sherrock’s return to the famous PDC Worlds stage begins in December as she faces veteran competitor Steve “Bronzed Adonis” Beaton in the first round. Sherrock carries good form into the tournament too. Social media erupted as she checked out a magnificent 170 to beat Gabriel Clemens in November’s Grand Slam of Darts.
“I haven’t hit a 170 in about three years,” Sherrock says (170, known as the “Big Fish”, is the highest checkout in darts). “If anything, I was a little bit shocked when it went in because I can just never hit a bullseye. My bullseyes are really bad…” But any confidence issues are hard to detect. Sherrock is a calm figure, both at the oche and in the post-match interviews, in contrast to the delirium of her surroundings. “I’ve just learned to breathe, and have a calm mentality. There’s no point getting nervous because no one else can help you once you’re up there.”
The world she exists within is pretty blokey, one of heavy drinking, big chat and a fascinating walk-on ceremony, where players drift theatrically through the sea of supporters accompanied by big light shows and epic entrance music. Perhaps the façade obscures the truth that, in darts, there’s no physical reason why men and women can’t compete as equals.
Sherrock’s swift rise isn’t enough to dislodge some of darts’ more eccentric displays of masculinity, she concedes. “It’s gonna be like that for a little bit, because it’s not common to see women playing amongst men. Now though, [women] are getting more opportunities, and over time, that will cut down on the manliness. But because so many men play it, I don’t think it’s ever really going to go away – darts is just going to be more accepting of women participating in it.”
Can she imagine a darts world without the bravado? “I could. I don’t see the benefit in having the manliness there. You are just playing darts.” She hopes to see a coveted PDC Tour Card [darts’ golden ticket to international ranking events, given to the top PDC players every two years] as the reward for winning the Women’s Series and is pushing for increased opportunities generally for the growing numbers of women in the game. “Then that’s less pressure on me and [four-time British Darts Organisation women’s world champion] Lisa all the time.”
Despite growing up in a darts mad family, Sherrock was first drawn to forensic science (“I’m intrigued by criminology, and I reckon I’d be able to deal with all of it really well – rumours, searching for evidence, that sort of thing”), before training as a hairdresser to financially support her sport. “I knew no one making a living from darts. Everybody was just playing at work, or down the pub.” Now, with increased visibility and more TV coverage, women like Sherrock, Ashton and Mikuru Suzuki can make a decent living from playing, a realisation that came as quite a shock to Sherrock. “If I’d have told myself I’d be here when I first started, I wouldn’t have believed it – not for one second.”
Sherrock’s following has skyrocketed following some impressive televised performances, and with success comes choices. Her management reacted tersely to speculation from Jacques Nieuwlaat’s podcast Double Trouble that Sherrock had snubbed an invite to the 2022 World Darts Federation’s Women’s World Championship, in favour of a more lucrative gala event in Germany. (Sherrock says they made the claims before she even received the invitation.) Two weeks later, news broke that Sherrock had indeed declined the invitation. Why?
“There’s not one specific reason,” she says. “I’ve stayed off social media as I can only imagine what’s been said. I’m just trying to make the best life I can for my little boy. And yes, I am not going to be the world champion at the WDF this year, but what’s to say I can’t do it next year? Who’s to say I can’t be, well, world champion at the Ally Pally as well?” Sherrock also cites a timetable clash, as she returns to brutal darts boot-camp Q School in the new year. Successful competitors receive a Tour Card and, currently, Ashton is the only woman to hold one. Is it Sherrock’s ambition to join her? “Obviously,” she says.
Speaking of ambitions, Sherrock reaches quite naturally for the “taking each game as it comes” phraseology popular with in-form Premier League footballers. But here, those clichés hit differently. “I don’t know how long this is going to last for. It could last forever, it could last a couple more months. I mean, it could end next week, you know. Who knows?” It’s quite a fatalistic take for someone so junior in darts terms; by comparison, Ashton is almost double her age. But lost income from Covid cancellations made Sherrock acutely aware of her breadwinning role – when I ask her what she’d be doing if she wasn’t playing darts, she replies resolutely: forensic science, or hairdressing.
A considerable amount of Sherrock’s energy is devoted to Rory, who has autism. How has he reacted to his mother’s fame? “He walks into school all smug about it, but I think he enjoys it because he gets Roblox every time I come home from work.” The darts schedule is not designed for those with young families, and it’s particularly hard for Sherrock as Rory is unable to attend. “He just can’t deal with the noise and the massive numbers of people.” At least he can see his mum on the TV? “Well, he has always had it on at home. Whether he watches it or not, I don’t know,” she says.
We round up sharpish; I can tell Sherrock has places she needs to be. There are trebles to be hit, fish fingers to be eaten, and Bronzed Adonises to be conquered.