He is the darts ace lauded for humbling the mighty Phil Taylor but Michael Smith’s career at the oche couldn’t have begun in more unusual circumstances.
In an exclusive interview with the St Helens Reporter, the affable 23-year-old has revealed how he didn’t pick up an arrow until eight years ago, and that was only because he was laid up after suffering a broken hip!
“I started playing darts when I was 15 and I didn’t even throw a dart once before then,” he said.
“I broke my hip when I was going to school. I was wheelie on my bike on the way to school and I just flipped it and fell and as I slammed my foot on the ground my hip just shot up my side.”
Laid up on crutches for 16 weeks, the teenage Smith quickly became bored and picked up his dad’s set of dads to while away the hours.
“I was practicing the whole time I was on crutches,” he says, “because that was the only thing I could do without using my legs.
“My dad used to practice in the house because he used to play for the pub team. I got a set of his darts and starting playing. I even got my first 180 while I was on my crutches and I just thought ‘I might take this up’.
“It felt natural right away, it felt like I had been doing it for ages. I was never that good at first but I felt good doing it.”
The hours of practice made off as Smith, who grew up and still lives in Sutton and attended St Cuthbert’s High, quickly grew in prominence on the local darts scene.
That was before injury struck again, but this time it left Smith fearing his darts career was over rather than just beginning.
“Four years ago on Christmas Eve I slipped over on the ice and broke both wrists. And ever since then and getting my casts off things changed,” he explains.
“Before then I had sort of fallen out of love with the game. So when I broke my wrists, and was out for 20 weeks then and I wanted to practice and I knew I couldn’t.
“I thought my career was over before it had really even began and ever since the casts came off I have never really looked back – that’s when I started winning things.
“I saw what my career could have been and what it had ended up being like. So I got a second chance and I have never needed a third time of asking.”
After leaving school he enrolled on a joinery course but the lure of the oche was never far away.
“I only went to college so I didn’t have to pay my mum and dad rent,” he admits. “That’s what they said to me ‘either get a job and pay board, or go and get an education’.
“But when I was 19 I dropped out.
“I had one exam left or I had a darts competition the same day and I went to darts instead. It was the best decision I ever made.”
“It has not been very rewarding until this last year or two. Before then I would be struggling for money or constantly borrowing off my mum and dad but now I don’t really have to worry about money.
“Especially for a kid my age, I feel like a millionaire, although obviously I’m not!”
His progress since then has been remarkably swift, culminating in his toppling of ‘The Power’ Taylor in the World Darts Final.
Of his victory over Taylor, Smith said: “I thought in the first set I was going to get smashed four set to nil but when I got the second set and I saw Taylor wasn’t firing I thought ‘I can win this’. Every time I went behind, I always thought I could win the match because Taylor didn’t really put his stamp on it.
“I know now I can beat the best player in the world, so I can beat anyone. It’s a massive boost to my darts and my career. One of the biggest victories, certainly.”
Practice takes up four or five hours of his day, but Smith is single-minded when it comes to his ambitions.
“To be world number one, being the best out there. I know I can do it. I have beaten the best, so I know I have got the game to beat anyone. I have beaten most of the players on the circuit anyway. It’s just doing it consistently now.”
As most observers will attest, with his undoubted talent and commitment to hard work, how far Smith goes in the game is up to him.