An atypical teenager is running through the components of a typical day in his life. As a recipe for sporting brilliance, the routine is rather like Luke Littler himself – unique and quite astonishing.
He starts his description with his nights, which happen to mimic his afternoons, and combined they offer an intriguing portrait of the dartist as a young man. They might also raise a thought: if he is this good at darts, one can only imagine how effective he must be with a video game controller.
‘I don’t know why but I am always up until, like, 2am or 3am on my Xbox,’ Littler tells Mail Sport, and it is hardly worth recounting at this point, before we get into the details, that he is a lad who only turned 17 three weeks ago.
Or to put it another way, he is a prodigy who last month reached the final of the World Championship at 16 and a fortnight later won his first professional title after 10 minutes’ practice. We mostly hadn’t heard of him eight weeks ago and today he has 1.1 million followers on Instagram, £220,000 in prize-money and was recently granted a private audience with Sir Alex Ferguson.
But let’s go back to that regimen to see how he has built it.
Darting sensation Luke Littler has revealed he practices for just 20 to 30 minutes every day
Littler, 17, shot to stardom overnight after reaching the final of the World Darts Championship
His rapid rise saw him invited to attend a Manchester United game and meet Sir Alex Ferguson
‘I wake up at 1pm or 2pm and I do the same every day,’ he says. ‘I might need to get in a routine of going to bed at a normal time – I never see the morning. I get up, I go on my Xbox, when I get bored of that, I go on the practice board, and when I get bored of that, I go back on my Xbox.’
And that practice? What does it look like in a nuanced, capricious game where Phil Taylor, the 16-time world champion, would do upwards of 10 hours a day in his garage to stay on the wave? ‘Maybe 20 minutes or half an hour,’ he says. ‘Just to keep my arm loose.’
It’s remarkable, really. It’s baffling and brilliant and open to all kinds of misinterpretation, because the geniuses of sport usually are.
To Littler, his day-to-day goings on are ‘a lot of the stuff that a 17-year-old boy would do’, and that is about right for some of it. But the rest is the stuff of a phenomenon. Of a Warrington lad who doesn’t seem to waste many thoughts about why it all works, only enough to know that when he wants a dart to go somewhere, it usually does. We will return to that because it is fascinating.
For now, the upshot of his gifts has been extraordinary, both for his success and the attention it has brought to Littler, the new face of a sport that has never before generated this level of interest.
He has launched those boundaries outwards – his loss in the World Championship final against Luke Humphries was watched on Sky by 4.8million people, the largest non-football audience in the broadcaster’s history, eclipsing the Ryder Cup and Ashes.
On a typical day, Littler will rise after 1pm and practice just to keep his throwing arm loose
Littler is the new face of darts, a sport that has never before generated this level of interest
James Maddison invited Littler to a box at Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium earlier this season
By then darts had long outrun its patronising, dated reputation as a pub game, but Littler has crossed over to new places entirely.
A couple of weeks ago that extended to an invitation to meet the Manchester United squad, where he took on Harry Maguire and Christian Eriksen in a challenge. After Maguire set a nine-dart target of 171, Littler threw a 180 with his first three and the game was over.
‘To be honest it was good to get out of the house,’ he adds, and that’s just the deadpan way of a guy who left school with one GCSE, has magic in his hands, and has found the whole business in his name a bit bemusing.
‘I support United so it was nice to meet my idols at my home club,’ he adds. ‘It was a good day out. I watched them train for a bit but it was raining and I went in when they started doing tactics and all that stuff.
‘I also met Sir Alex at United-Spurs a few weeks ago. That was good. My dad had seen their glory years, witnessed ’99, and so it was good for him to meet him. It was good to chat. I didn’t get much out of him, cause of his accent, but he did say keep going and stick to it.’
That experience, and the wider glare on him since that World Championship at Alexandra Palace, has been ‘crazy’, as Littler describes it. He is mostly comfortable – ‘the more I win, the more attention I get, so I just get on with it’ – but it has also been a touch suffocating. He tells a story about taking a one-week break in Wales after the worlds that supports the point.
‘It was the middle of nowhere, I couldn’t even tell you where, and I got recognised outside Asda,’ he says. ‘Soon as I walked in someone wanted a photo. I had to go and sit in the car!’
Littler has admitted the wider glare on him since his Alexandra Palace heroics has been ‘crazy’
Littler also posed for a photo with Manchester United captain Bruno Fernandes at Old Trafford
Humphries, the world champion and a good sort, has taken to keeping an eye on the kid he beat at the Palace. ‘We should look out for him,’ he told Mail Sport last week. ‘He has handled it so well but it is a lot.’
Comparisons with Emma Raducanu are fair to some extent, if not necessarily for the magnitude of their relative achievements and spotlight – Raducanu’s experiences exceeded Littler’s on both counts – but for the cautionary notes of how quickly it can go south in sport. If that’s a concern for Littler, he hides it effectively.
Actually, he doesn’t seem bothered by much: ‘I’ve not really looked into anything like that to be honest.’
Is he familiar with her story? ‘Not really.’
You have to laugh at that. Just as you have to warm to his indifference to the fuss.
So far, his sporting performances can be plotted on a steep, upward curve – after that World Championship final, Littler beat Humphries and threw a nine-darter in winning a title in Bahrain, having practised for 10 minutes on the back of his week off. He then made another final a week later in the Netherlands and has since beaten Humphries twice more on his debut in the Darts Premier League.
The prodigy’s sporting performances to date can be plotted using a steep, upward curve
Declan Rice and Aaron Ramsdale pulled Littler over at Arsenal’s team photo to take a picture
Even if we can safely assume the interest will dwindle, that the novelty will fade, there is no current evidence to suggest his game won’t go the distance.
Which takes us back to the subject of how he has sculpted a talent that was always obvious, rewinding to a time when he was a child getting in Under-21 teams and through to a teenager cleaning up world youth titles.
‘I have always been OK at the game,’ he says. ‘I started in the pub leagues when I was around 10 and before that I was in the St Helens Dart Academy, every Monday from 6pm to 10pm. I guess people noticed me. I would beat adults and sometimes there was a reaction.
‘I think a big thing was when we first went into lockdown (in 2020) I was doing four or five hours a day because there was nothing else to do.’
What follows is as close to a perfect description of raw sporting gifts as you can find within short answers.
Littler cannot remember the last time he felt nervous – but this is no brag, it is simply just him
‘Now maybe it is 20 minutes or half an hour,’ he says. ‘Because I have my talent I don’t really need to do silly hours again.’ In a separate comment he will add: ‘The hard work paid off and I don’t need to overdo myself any more.’
It is very different to the likes of Taylor, but it also rings of Ronnie O’Sullivan, who told Mail Sport last year that he regrets tinkering with his game and losing himself to technical obsessions.
If he had his time again, O’Sullivan said he would remain the 14-year-old boy who played on instinct and feel and stay in that space as long as he could. At 17, Littler is in that zone, where if it works, it works, and if it works, why change it?
‘I don’t even remember the last time I was nervous,’ he says, and it’s no brag. It’s just him.
Some boring souls might mistake it for complacency. Others would see it as genius and they have Littler’s results on their side of the argument.