Keith Deller: A Legacy in 138

Keith Deller’s momentous 1983 World Championship victory has permanent pride of place in the darting chronicles.

Darting folklore has it that, as a fresh-faced 23-year old, Deller entered the tournament as the ultimate underdog. A brave qualifier who had stepped into the lion’s den to play with the big cats.

The final against the late, great Eric Bristow was billed as a David meets Goliath parable. Yet, it was Deller who prevailed and in doing so, produced another defining moment of tungsten history – the famed 138 checkout which now bears his name.

But did a virtual unknown from Ipswich really create a magical fairytale that even Hans Christian Anderson would have been proud of? 

Apparently not. Amongst the inner sanctum of the darting hierarchy, Keith Deller becoming a World Champion was perhaps not the huge shock it was perceived to be.

He explains: “Although I wasn’t a household name amongst the fans, all of the players were aware of me. And more importantly, they knew how good I was.

“My journey to that 1983 BDO World Championships began the previous year when I went over to America and won the Los Angeles Open.

“It was an incredibly strong field and en route to victory, I defeated Bobby George and Bob Anderson before beating Denis Ovens in the final.”

Ahead of the World Championships, the BDO decided to host a qualifying event in the Rainbow Suite in Kensington. By virtue of winning the title in America, Deller was amongst a group of players invited to compete for one of four spots.

He added: “I was determined to make it through, knowing full well I could do some damage if qualified. So I went to that play-off event and won all three of my matches, dropping just one leg all day.”

Prior taking permanent residency in the Lakeside, the biggest tournament in global darts had set up camp in Jollee’s Cabaret Club, Stoke-on-Trent. And that was the scene of Keith Deller’s historic feat.

Reminiscing, he said: “I wasn’t afraid of the big guns. Seeing all the huge television trucks outside the building made me even more eager to get up and compete on that stage. I’d already beaten Eric [Bristow], Lowey [John Lowe], and Jockey [Wilson] in recent exhibitions so weren’t phased by playing them.

“At that time, I was representing London in the Super League. We were an extremely strong county so I didn’t fear any player. No one ever intimidated me on the oche.

“At the World Championships, Eric Bristow’s father George used to come into the practice room about 20 minutes before my matches and ask if I was going to win. Naturally, I informed him that I was – then apparently, he was having a flutter on me!”

Deller was gaining massive momentum as the week went on and, against the odds, had just dumped out the 1979 world champion, John Lowe to reach the semi-final. 

Next in his path was the man wearing the crown, Jocky Wilson. But a superb performance, taking the contest 5-3, in sets, gave the qualifier a place in the final at his maiden World Championship.

Recalling the match, Deller added: “Jocky actually missed D18 for a 9-darter which would have pocketed him £52,000 – the winner of the tournament only got £8000. 

“Of course, this was still a couple of years before John Lowe hit the first one on live television and I think missing out on that windfall put Jocky off his stride. Thankfully, I capitalised and got the win.

“After that match, the BBC interviewed Jocky where he admitted that, amongst the players, I definitely wasn’t an unknown quality and predicted me to beat Eric in the final.

“By this stage, my story had generated such a national interest that Grandstand wanted to broadcast some of the final live. So they approached the BDO and insisted we play three sets in the afternoon. They duly obliged. Then we continued the match later that evening.

“Myself and Eric arrived in the venue for the final, which now began at 2.30 pm, and got prepared. There were two rooms for the players to get ready and Eric always preferred ‘the band room’, so I got there first. 

“In fact, Eric told his Dad to put a few quid on me against for the final. If his son won the title, surely it would soften any blow for losing a bet. I’m not sure if George did or not.

“Everyone talks about the 138 finish but at 5-3 up in sets, I missed seven match darts. He pulled it back to 5-5 then broke my throw in the opening leg of the deciding set.

“I levelled the match up with a 12-darter, then held my darts before winning it with the much-publicised checkout after Eric famously refused the bull. 

“I’ve got to admit, if my opponent was sat on any kind of finish to win a World Championship or any match for that matter, I wouldn’t take the chance – I’d be going straight for the bullseye. If I missed then so be it, but I would have definitely gone for it.

“But thankfully he didn’t and we all know what happened next.

“Eric shook my hand immediately then later backstage, promised to get the trophy back the following year. And to be fair, he did in style. Dropping just one set all tournament – I must have really annoyed him!

“When I was sat in the studio with the trophy, Peter Purves of Blue Peter fame informed me that he’d bet £20 at 66/1 on me at the start of the tournament. They were offering 80/1 in my local bookies but I doubt he cared when counting his winnings.

“Apparently, the Observer listed my victory as the sixth biggest UK sporting upset of all time. Nearly 10m people tuned in to watch our final which was huge numbers in those days – even today it’s a lot.

“Funny story……a few months later we played one of our many challenge matches recreating that epic final. On this particular night, we were in the Ipswich Corn Exchange and the scoreline read 5-5 in sets. 

“Then it happened! Referee Tony Green called out that I required 138 and Eric’s face was a picture when I took it out. 

“I did smirk when someone told me that Eric refused to get on a bus whilst on holiday in Tenerife because it was numbered 138!

Those three digits do not merely form one of the dart’s most indelible memories for armchair fans. As Keith concludes:

“… the impact that match had was enormous. Apparently, it’s the first game Gary Anderson remembers watching and Barney [Raymond van Barneveld] says it was the reason he took up darts.”


For more from Keith follow @KDeller138

138 – Game Shot and The Match – Keith Deller’s autobiography is out now.

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