How nine darts from the gods carried Luke Littler to Premier League glory

Littler produced an astonishing nine-darter during the Premier League final to beat world No 1 Luke Humphries and claim the biggest win of his career so far

Lawrence Ostlere
O2 Arena
Friday 24 May 2024 07:26 BST
Luke Littler roars after winning the Premier League final
Luke Littler roars after winning the Premier League final (Getty Images)

Luke Humphries stood and applauded, because, really, what else could he do?

Luke Littler had just thrown nine immaculate darts, each one greeted with a louder roar than the last. The first three landed while some of the crowd were still settling back into their seats after a break, spilling beer as they took their place. But by the end of the next three they were fully invested in the moment, and when Littler stepped back to the oche needing 141, grown men could be seen standing with hands on heads, gloriously bewitched and bewildered, knowing they were about to witness the live workings of teenaged genius.

Triple 20, thud; triple 19, thud. Double 12, thud. For the first time all night, Littler let his concentrated face slip and held his arms out to the delirious crowd with a grin as if to say, well, what did you expect?

They had reached the break at 5-5 but Littler’s second-half performance was mesmerising, darts from the gods. He backed up the nine-darter with a break of throw in the next leg and followed that with a flurry of 180s, eventually winning 11-7. The night ended with Littler dancing on stage, shuffling to music with a giant trophy under his arm and an adoring crowd in the palm of his hand.

Luke Littler (left) won the Premier League darts (Zac Goodwin/PA)
Luke Littler (left) won the Premier League darts (Zac Goodwin/PA) (PA Wire)

His career is still only a few months old and yet Littler has already ascended to the top of the sport. He is not yet world No 1, not yet a world champion and yet to play in several major tournaments, but the Premier League is arguably the purest test in the game, where only the eight best (or most interesting) players are invited to the 16-week slugfest, landing in a new European city each week. It is a test of endurance as much as skill, a test of the mental strength to be confronted over and over again.

Littler’s inclusion was questioned when it was announced back in January, with doubts about whether he could handle the schedule and the scrutiny. He responded emphatically, winning the league stage and winning finals night too. Those questions clearly irked him.

“For all the doubters, hello?” he bellowed into a microphone while holding the trophy in his hands. “I’ve just picked up this. You’re not doubting me any more.”

The entire evening revealed a different side to Littler. This was Business Littler, hair slicked down, face focused, eyes narrowed in a bubble of concentration. Often during this campaign he bounced off the crowd or played with them, but here he never strayed from the board.

The picture painted at the World Championship was of a teenager who eats unhealthy food and plays computer games, and thus someone who doesn’t really care. But Littler wanted to win this final, desperately so. He cried as he embraced his family and later described it as the best night of his life.

Littler produced magical darts to win finals night
Littler produced magical darts to win finals night (Getty Images)

He has transformed this sport from top to bottom, and here was the evidence. The O2 Arena was full to the brim with fans who had come to see the world’s top three ranked players, yes, but mostly to see a freakishly talented child.

Two hours before a dart was thrown, the evening establishments of the O2 were overflowing with punters. Zizzi was abuzz and All Bar One was positively jumping. There were lads dressed as bananas, lads dressed as Romans, lads wearing soft traffic cones on their heads, with enough dressed as Mario characters for a race around the building.

The 14,000 sell-out crowd was a UK record for any PDC event. They watched on giddily as Littler delivered, first demolishing Smith in the semi-finals, averaging an untouchable 118 in the first five legs to kill off the contest in about 10 minutes. He led 7-3 at the break and came back to wrap up a 10-5 victory.

Humphries was just as brutal, dismantling the seven-time champion Michael van Gerwen to set up a rematch of the World Championship final. Littler won the bull shootout backstage to throw first, and he held the upper hand during the walk-ons too as Humphries arrived to jeers, simply for not being Littler. “Now they boo me,” he smiled.

Initially neither player found any rhythm: Humphries later blamed a draft coming across the stage, while Littler was distracted because he needed the toilet. Leading 2-1, Littler wasted two visits trying to take out 80 and Humphries pinched the leg. Then, down 4-3, Humphries pulled off a vital 116 checkout to draw level.

But after the break, Littler produced a nine-darter for the ages. The only other player to have done it in the Premier League final is Phil Taylor. On the last three, Littler said: “If the treble 20 goes in, one of the hardest things is dropping down for treble 19 and then going back up for double 12. Luckily they went in too.”

Littler hit a nine-dart finish on his way to becoming the Premier League champion (Zac Goodwin/PA)
Littler hit a nine-dart finish on his way to becoming the Premier League champion (Zac Goodwin/PA) (PA Wire)

From there, Littler never looked back. “I thought, don’t use up all your energy celebrating, you’ve still got five legs to win.”

He willed himself to an altogether different plane, and Humphries could only smile and clap along with everyone else.

“I was trying to hang in there, but all of a sudden he just played much better,” Humphries said. “He’s a fantastic player. Tonight he deserved it, and if you look at the season as a whole, he deserves to be Premier League champion.”

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