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Darts World Captivated By 16-Year-Old Lad Who Loves Kebabs

Luke Littler reacts after victory over Rob Cross (not pictured) on day fifteen of the Paddy Power World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace, London. Picture date: Tuesday January 2, 2024. (Photo by Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images)
Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images

On Wednesday, 16-year-old Luke Littler fell short of winning the title in the World Darts Championship final, the culmination of a weeks-long craze that began on Dec. 20 when he became the youngest person ever to win a match at the event. The average age of Littler's seven opponents was 41.5, and his only opponent who wasn't at least twice his age was 28-year-old finalist and eventual champion Luke Humphries. Still, it was a dazzling run for the lad fueled by kebab.

Littler built up a 4-2 lead to start, but the top-ranked Humphries took five sets in a row and closed out the championship with an impressive 7-4 finish. Humphries had to gut out several wins, though once he turned it on, Littler could scarcely match him. Humphries scored 23 maximums (180) and averaged 103.67 in the final; Littler scored 13 180s and notched a 101.13 average.

Littler made his run to the final in his fifth-ever Professional Darts Corporation premier event, though he's been in the scene for a little while now. "We’ve known about Luke for a couple of years because of his feats on our junior circuit," PDC chief executive Matthew Porter told The Athletic. "He was marked by experts in that environment as being at a different level early." While he's a back-to-back Junior Darts Corporation world champion and the reigning World Youth Champion, Littler entered the WDC last month with only four professional wins to his name and a ranking of 164. His goal was to win two matches at worlds to stay in the tournament past the holiday break, a reasonable, if slightly ambitious, expectation.

The Littler legend began when he defeated Christian Kist 3-0, then beat the world's 20th-ranked player Andrew Gilding to ensure he'd play past Christmas. He celebrated the break by turning off the Xbox to actually practice, open presents, and hang out with a couple of Arsenal players while attending the team's game against West Ham. You know, typical 16-year-old behavior.

The time away from gaming helped Littler. He beat Matt Campbell, 4-1, before taking down five-time World Darts champion Raymond van Barneveld, 4-1, in the Round of 16. In the quarterfinals, he dropped the first set against Brendan Dolan before storming back to win four in a row and take yet another 4-1 victory.

That set him up for a match with 2018 champion Rob Cross, who'd just pulled off a sensational 5-4 comeback in his quarterfinal. Cross took the first set, but Littler bounced back in style. The teen was close to hitting a Big Fish—that's two triple-20s and a bullseye, for a score of 170 and the highest checkout possible. Though he fell just short, he wasn't nervous at all, hyping up the crowd and making the most of his moment.

Speaking as a darts outsider, Littler's unflappable nature is why his emergence is so charming. There's real pressure around the precision required for the competition, and the 16-year-old's ability to stay cool and pick his moments to work the crowd makes him easy to cheer for. The combination of his age and uncanny beardedness also play a part. Darts is more forgiving to older players, which makes Littler's ruddy youth stand out. He feels like a natural and he genuinely is, an everyman who only needs to practice "30 minutes to an hour" each day.

Littler dropped out of school last year to compete full-time, and that decision has clearly paid off. He's earned himself a place in the top 32, which means he'll join the PDC Tour. In the immediate term, it's time to grub. "Probably just treat meself to a kebab, get meself a couple bottles of Fanta, probably treat meself to some more vapes," Littler said before the final.

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