Confounding the naysayers makes success all the sweeter for Sherrock
Twenty-five-year-old single parent defied the internet trolls to break new ground for women
Fallon Sherrock: “The men I’ve played are all respectful and gentlemen towards me. I’ve never really had a problem. In the past a lot of people would go: ‘We’re playing a woman’ . But now they’re thinking: ‘We’re playing a good player’. Photograph: Jordan Mansfield/Getty
“Every little bit of hate just gees me on to do better and prove them all wrong,” Fallon Sherrock says with quiet calm as she explains how the abuse she has suffered online helped her to make history as the first woman to win a match at the PDC world darts championship in December.
“It made me a stronger person, and more determined. I don’t know if I’d still be as strong if I didn’t have all that hate. I needed hate to make me more determined.”
It seems the best and most coherent way of dealing with the epidemic of hate, especially towards women, that infects social media. Sherrock not only won two matches in the world championship but on Thursday in Nottingham she will become the first woman to play Premier League darts.
She has also been exalted too on social media, with plaudits for her sporting breakthrough ranging from tweets by Billie Jean King to Instagram posts by Sarah Jessica Parker who wrote of Sherrock: “Making history and our hearts stop as we watched in astonishment and awe.”
But, after 45 minutes in Sherrock’s company, it is plain that bleak misogyny has fired her determination.
It stretches back to the time, more than five years ago, when Sherrock fell ill soon after giving birth to her son. A mysterious kidney ailment caused her face to become bloated. She kept playing darts despite the wounding comments made about her appearance – just as she keeps on when she is vilified for daring to play professional darts against men.
Sherrock raises a wry eyebrow over her glasses, and taps her long painted fingernails patiently on the table, when I ask if online hate continues alongside the delight accompanying her world championship success.
“Yeah. You’re always going to get hate. Obviously no one says anything to me, but it’s different online. People just hide behind the computer at home.”
But she uses that hate?
“Definitely. If I’m feeling a bit slouchy, I’ll look at some of the comments and I’ll be like: ‘Okay, now I need to prove you wrong.’”
Sherrock also points out that she has not had to do this since the world championship.
“I’ve not been slouchy this year at all. A few years back I got complacent. That’s when I needed to fire myself up. Now if I see any of the bad comments I go past them. Or my management team takes it away so I don’t have to look at it. In the past I used to take it to heart. It made me stronger and more determined to prove everyone wrong. But if I hadn’t been strong-minded I could have buckled from all the nasty comments.”
Does she ever confront the trolls online?
“I’ve not been tempted to call anyone out because most of them making comments don’t play darts. So they don’t understand anything. And those just trying to be nasty need to be ignored. If I react it’s giving them fuel and I’m not that type of person. If I start commenting back, I’d be as bad as them. Anyway, if you just wondered what everyone thought all the time you wouldn’t achieve anything.”
Sherrock achieved a memorable and historic feat when she beat Ted Evetts in the opening round of the world championship. She was one of two women who had battled through the qualifiers to reach the main draw.
“I watched it at home and I was egging Mikuru on to win,” Sherrock says. “She missed out by a few darts. But that definitely inspired me. I’d never had the opportunity to prove myself before but I knew I had the game to beat Ted.”
As the match unfolded was she conscious of the crowd’s support for her?
“Definitely. It made me feel so comfortable and confident. I know it sounds ridiculous, because there were so many people, but I felt so calm up there. I didn’t feel nervous at all. But once I’d won I was overwhelmed and didn’t know if I wanted to cry or jump around. I was so happy and excited.”
In the past a lot of people would go: ‘We’re playing a woman’. But now they’re thinking: ‘We’re playing a good player’.
Sherrock’s victory unleashed so many tributes that, once again, she felt swamped by an intense mix of emotions.
“When Billie Jean King started tweeting messages to me I was like: ‘Wow, this amazing person’s actually contacted me’. I’m just a normal girl from Milton Keynes. This stuff doesn’t happen to people like me.
“And then it was the Instagram post from Sarah Jessica Parker. I watched Sex and the City so that was amazing as well. To have two massive people contact me was incredible. I was like: ‘Fallon, don’t get too carried away. Just put it to one side and you can come back and stare at it later’. I focused on what I had to do.”
In the second round she beat Mensur Suljovic. Sherrock’s face lights up at the memory.
“It was such a privilege to play Mensur. He was the 11th best player in the world and I see him on TV all the time. When I got over the line against him I couldn’t believe it. But the reason I won is that I finished it so coolly. I was proud of that. It was even more intense afterwards. I was in such disbelief but the spectators were a lot more behind me and they were jumping about. You could feel the electricity in the air. It was brilliant.
“But it was hard for Mensur. They were booing him quite a bit. I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to get booed doing something they love. But if there were more women playing more often, if we had more opportunities to play in the big tournaments, it wouldn’t be a novelty to watch. I want to be cheered because I’m a good player rather than because I’m a novelty underdog. I think I’ve changed that a little bit. People don’t just see a woman playing when they look at me. They see a decent player whose [gender] doesn’t matter.
“I lost to Chris Dobey in the third round but I enjoyed every moment. I put in a great performance and he had to pull out everything to beat me. I’m really proud I made him bring out his best game.”
How have the men on the PDC circuit reacted to her?
“We’re all friends,” Sherrock says. “But when we get to the oche we switch off and play hard. I think it was different a while ago but attitudes have definitely changed. The men I’ve played are all respectful and gentlemen towards me. I’ve never really had a problem. In the past a lot of people would go: ‘We’re playing a woman’. But now they’re thinking: ‘We’re playing a good player’.”
Sherrock admits it is more challenging for her to play against other leading women in Suzuki and Lisa Ashton.
“Against the men I have a point to prove. So I have more determination whereas, when I’m playing the women, we know each other’s games so well. I need that extra boost just to prove to the men we can compete against them.”
Last month Sherrock withdrew from the BDO women’s world championship because the prize money had been slashed.
“I got the email saying it was going to be cut from £20,000 to £8,000 and that’s a massive drop. The prize money is the main thing for me – because I’ve got to support my little boy. I could not justify playing in the competition because I also didn’t know if I was going to get paid at all.”
Suzuki won the tournament, beating Ashton in the final, but Sherrock says: “They still haven’t been paid and it’s a month later. So I don’t regret that decision at all.”
She played in a celebrity tournament in Germany instead, alongside Phil Taylor and Michael van Gerwen, and partnered Luca Toni, the former Italian footballer and 2006 World Cup winner. As the single parent of an autistic son, Rory, Sherrock has financial responsibilities while juggling her onerous schedules as a mum and a new star in darts.
“He’s quite happy at the moment,” she says of her son. “Every time I’m really busy, he’s like: ‘So what are you buying me next?’ I keep buying him a toy every time, and he loves it.”
Being a parent of an autistic child is not easy, as Sherrock acknowledges.
“It has been very difficult. But I’ve got a good family support and I’ve worked out a routine that works for him now. When all this kicked off at the worlds it just exploded. So we’ve had to adjust. I’m now at home in the week, looking after my little boy and doing all my work while he’s at school. He goes away to his nan’s on weekends when I’m playing. So it’s like he has my rules and then no rules at his nanny’s. So whenever I am away he feels like he’s on vacation. But any changes I need, my mum helps out a lot. So it’s working out.”
Fallon Sherrock will become the first woman to play Premier League darts on Thursday
Sherrock has been even more impressive since the world championship in the way she has coped with her sudden fame and increased commitments. This month, among 200 other players, she qualified for the UK Open, which will give her another chance to play against the world’s best men in March.
“I was absolutely delighted because after Q-School, where I didn’t get my [PDC] tour card, qualifying for the UK Open was my next goal.”
Her success at the world championship also meant Sherrock has been invited to compete in the Premier League as one of nine challengers against the top nine men in professional darts. Her debut in the competition marks another milestone for Sherrock and all female darts players.
“Any game I play on TV is a big deal for me,” she stresses, “because I just want to show people what I can do. And playing in the Premier League makes me so excited. Same goes for being invited to play in the World Series in New York and other places. I can’t wait.”
When she was a girl, Sherrock dreamed of becoming a forensic scientist. But, now, she is simply intent on making more sporting history. Can she beat Glen Durrant on Thursday – her first Premier League opponent?
“I’ve never played Glen but when I was on the BDO circuit he was a three-time BDO world champion. So I know how well he plays. He’ll just play the board and won’t worry about the crowd or playing me.”
Sherrock’s eyes glitter as she anticipates another big night in her transformed career. All the trolls and haters who haunted and then motivated her retreat further into the shadows as she says: “I don’t ever believe I’m going to lose when I go out there. If you don’t believe in yourself, there’s no point playing.”