Darts’ breakthrough star: Keith Deller was a virtual unknown when he won the 1983 World Professional Championship. A now infamous 138 checkout – taken out with a treble 20, treble 18 and a double 12 – crowned Deller as the conqueror of the darts world at just 23 years old. “When I beat the top 3 seeds [Eric Bristow, John Lowe and Jocky Wilson] to win the World Championship, I knew it was a big upset and that 10 million people watched the final,” Deller spoke of his incredible victory.
“After I won, I went on a lot of TV shows and my life changed dramatically. The 138 was a finish I did not think I would take out at the time but now people who know darts remember it, 35 years on.”
“Players are now millionaires due to our brave stance”
The Ipswich star wasn’t the only one who thought he wouldn’t take it out. His opponent, world number one Eric Bristow rued an opportunity to level proceedings in the eleventh set of their World final. On 121, after hitting a single 17 and a treble 18, he decided against poising for the bull, instead hitting a big 18 to leave his favoured double 16. He never got the chance to take the game into a deciding leg.
In the years following, Deller was elevated into darts stardom. Along with Eric Bristow, John Lowe, Jocky Wilson and others, Keith enjoyed darts’ pomp. Although he never regained his World Championship title, ‘The Milky Bar Kid’ still packed up his trophy cabinet, and he reflects proudly on that spell of his career. “After I won the World Championship, I won the next tournament which was the Diamond Masters, where the final was live on ITV. I lost the following year in the final of the World Masters and made 2 British Matchplay finals. I won the British Professional which was on BBC all week which, at the time, was the hardest tournament to win. Only me, Eric and Jocky won the Worlds and the British.”
Deller was also a part of another pivotal moment in darts history when he was on the receiving end of the first ever televised nine-darter. Rival and three-times world champion John Lowe delivered the perfect leg at the MFI World Matchplay in 1984, pocketing an incredible £102,000. Keith reflects fondly on the game, “When John hit the perfect game, it was great to be a part of history. To do the first 9 dart game was a tremendous achievement by John. The next leg, I went out in 12 darts and John then did the same to win the match. Like my final with Eric Bristow, the nine dart finish will be a special part of history.”
In 1993, Keith was one of 16 darts ‘rebels’. Discontented with the state of darts and the gradual decline of TV coverage, Keith and his fellow united players took the plunge and made the decision to leave the BDO, a year after they founded the World Darts Council [WDC] in an attempt to boost PR and attract TV coverage, having already held their own event late in 1992. The effects of the decision can still be seen in darts today as the two separate bodies – the BDO and the now renamed Professional Darts Corporation [PDC] – operate independently.
“Eric was the one dart player that the whole of Britain knew”
“I was one of the 14 players that left the BDO and the main reason was due to lack of TV events. It hurt the sport at the time but now players are millionaires due to our brave stance. I do not think today the current players appreciate what we did but now, with packed out arenas and massive worldwide TV exposure, it was the right decision. I do not think there will ever be one body as, in my opinion, apart from 2 or 3 players, the BDO players are not good enough.”
As well as forging the path for future generations of darts players, Keith was also a key part of the ‘golden era’ of darts, with leading arrowsmiths becoming household names across the country. Despite the recent reemergence of darts into the mainstream, Keith believes that things just aren’t quite the same today, “In our time, we only had 4 TV channels so we would walk down the street and the public would recognise us but I do not feel that is the case today. Today, it’s all about money to the players so it’s a lot more cut throat.”
Since retiring from the darts circuit in 2007, Keith has retained his involvement. Working as a spotter for Sky Sports, his depth of knowledge and understanding of the game aids cameramen to move the cameras into place to record key shots. And, although it’s a challenging job, Keith enjoys it, “I started spotting for Sky Sports 25 years ago. It’s great fun but you have to concentrate.”
‘The Milky Bar Kid’ has also lent his expertise to two-times world champion Adrian Lewis, working as his manager. Since first working for Adrian in 2010, he has helped the Stoke-on-Trent star to two world titles and, despite a poor 2017, ‘Jackpot’ appears to be well back on track and will be vying for a third world title come December when the World Championship kicks off at the Alexandra Palace.
“I managed Adrian when he was 6 in the world. We changed a few things and he won back-to-back world titles. Adrian has had a tough year but he is working hard to get back. The standard is very high so hopefully he will keep improving and get back to playing in all the marquee events.”
Keith hasn’t permanently hung up his arrows though. In 2008, he participated in the Betfred League of Legends event, showcased around a variety of venues across the country, eventually culminating at the Circus Tavern in Purfleet, with Keith finishing as runner-up. Despite being the only ‘seniors’ darts event to have been broadcast on TV thus far, the recent introduction of a ‘World Seniors Tour’ in snooker has led to many begging the question of whether or not darts may take suit.
“I feel there is a place for a legends event,” Deller said. “I think we could put up a strong field where the public will know all the names. It all comes down to find a main sponsor and whether or not the TV would come along.”
Finally, this year, the world of darts lost a legend of the game with the sad death of five-times world champion, Eric Bristow, in April. Keith was a close friend of Eric and, as well as being the player who he defeated to win his World Championship crown, played with him on the professional and exhibition tour for a number of years. As well as being highly successful on the oche, Eric also left an indelible mark on his fans and supporters of many years, being one of darts’ first household names.
“It was a sad time when Eric passed away. Having known Eric’s family for over 25 years, it was a shock to us all. Eric was the one dart player that the whole of Britain knew and what he did for darts is why the success of darts is at its premium now.”
Image Credits: Getty Images and Linkedin
Thanks to Keith Deller