I was a darts superstar & youngest-ever to make World Champs final as 1,000-1 outsider… but then my life fell apart | The Sun

A DARTS superstar who made the World Championship final when he was just 21 has told how his life then spiralled out of control.

Kirk Shepherd had been earning just £5.25 an hour working in a sheet metal factory before finding fame as a 1,000-1 rank outsider at Alexandra Palace.

Just four years later after reaching the PDC Darts World Championship he was down on his luck having gone, as he says, “a bit doo-lally” due to drink and gambling.

He was living in squalor and battling to keep his Tour card as he slipped further and further down the world rankings.

Kirk eventually became so stressed by anxiety that he became a hermit and has not picked up a dart in nearly three years.

When the Paddy Power World Championship kicks off next Friday at Ally Pally, London, Shepherd, now 37, will still be youngest-ever finalist at the tournament.

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At the tournament 16 years ago his highest average was 89.70, as he took on and beat Terry Jenkins, Peter Manley and Wayne Mardle in a remarkable run where he was only defeated 7-2 by John Part in the final.

Kirk told the Daily Star: “It was a fantastic run, one of the greatest weeks of my life.

“What kept me going was being the underdog – I was riding the wave, I went up on that stage fearless and relaxed because I had nothing to lose, and I didn't want it to end.

“But I went from being a normal lad working in a factory to back-page headlines and a nice big pay cheque. After that, the devil came for me. I went a bit doo-lally and got carried away by it all.”

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He thought this would a start of a bright new future for him but he admits he “stopped putting in the effort” and became lazy.

He went from getting £50,000 as runner up at the World Championships in 2008 to living in a “flea-ridden one-bed flat” four years later.

Kirk said: “I went through a crazy phase because I had suddenly come run into all this fame and I didn't know how to deal with it. I'd gone from nowhere to a big final, without reaching the last 16 or quarter-finals of other competitions along the way, and I had nothing to fall back on by way of experience.”

He was gambling and hitting the bottle and had no manager to straighten him out.

With the benefit of hindsight,  he now admits that getting to the final was “too much, too soon”.

Kirk said: “In hindsight, reaching that final at Ally Pally was too much, too soon. It was my first-ever success at a major tournament and, in hindsight, I wasn't ready for it.”

As he was slipping down the rankings ‘dartitis’ struck – a mental block which prevents players from letting go of the arrows.

He handed his Tour card back two years ago and became a recluse.

Kirk said: “I don't know where it came from, but I haven't picked up a dart in about three years. I was just stood there on the oche one day, I went to throw a dart and my arm simply wouldn't go forward.

“I knew straight away what it was and I tried to play through it, but I went to a Pro Tour floor event in Barnsley and got beat 6-0. I went home and told the missus, 'I'll never throw another dart again.' It was causing me a lot of stress and anxiety, this game I had been playing for 20 years, and all of a sudden it was giving me panic attacks.”

He didn’t leave the house for 18 months.

Fortunately, things are now looking up for him thanks to a lot of support from both the players union, the PDPA, and the PDC who sorted him out with counselling and he’s in a “much better place now”.

Kirk has been getting his life back together and has been qualifying as an electrician with the firm Bilfinger in Haydock.

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He’s also the dad to three boys, aged 15, 13 and six and things are so much “brighter” now he is even considering picking the arrows once more.

Kirk said: “I might have left darts, but darts has never left me.”

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