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World Darts Championship: Biggest upsets including Michael Smith, Keith Deller & Kirk Shepherd

As the eyes of the darting world focus on Alexandra Palace for the 2024 World Darts Championship, we recall some of the most memorable upsets from the PDC's annual showpiece event.

The stage at Alexandra Palace, and before that at the Circus Tavern in Purfleet, have witnessed any number of jaw-dropping, wonderful feats over three decades of World Darts Championship action.

They have also been the setting for a number of spectacular upsets, with the 2024 event in full swing we take a look back at some of the more unforgettable ones.

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Deller makes 'Cocky Cockney' pay for 138 leave...

1983 World darts Championship
Keith Deller 6-5 Eric Bristow

'He's not just an underdog, he's an underpuppy,' those were the famous words of the iconic commentator Sid Waddell, who was commenting on 23-year-old Keith Deller's chances of beating Eric Bristow in the 1983 World Darts final. 

The unseeded qualifier had reached the final against all odds - knocking out world number three John Lowe in the quarter-finals and defending champion and world number two Jocky Wilson in the semi-finals - before backing up those heroics with an even more seismic success over the huger odds-on favourite Bristow. 

With the match poised at five sets each, and Deller just a solitary leg from victory, the Crafty Cockney made one of the less crafty decisions of his career - passing up on the chance to go for the bullseye, believing his opponent would fail to take out his 138 leave.

But, Deller then toed the oche... nailed treble 20, then treble 18 and finally double 12 to become world champion, and cause the biggest upset in World Darts Championship history.

"I tell you," said a stunned Waddell, 'I've never seen anything like it in me life!"

'The Power' switched off by newcomer Michael Smith...

2014 World Darts Championship
Michael Smith 4-3 Phil Taylor
Round 2

Twelve months after being crowned world champion for a record 16th time, Phil Taylor should have had the measure of 23-year-old Michael Smith, the 32 seed.

Smith's two previous world championships had ended in 3-0 whitewashes so there was nothing in the Ally Pally formbook to suggest the kid they called 'Bully Boy' could do a job on 'The Power'.

Indeed, Smith's first-round 3-1 win over Japan's Morihiro Hashimoto, with an underwhelming 79 average, merely confirmed that he was likely to be out of his depth against Taylor.

But No.1 seed Taylor floundered on the outer ring and couldn't shake off Smith who got up in the deciding set to record a famous 4-3 win. 

Taylor had suffered one or two other unlikely losses, notably 7-6 to John Part in a thrilling final in 2003 when he was almost unbeatable. And in 2012 – two years before his Smith reverse – he was battered 4-1 by Dave Chisnall, though 'Chizzy' had been a BDO world finalist two years earlier and looked a class act with a big future.

"I’m speechless right now and my heart's still pounding! I want to go on now and prove this win over Phil wasn’t a flash in the pan. Tonight’s win is a great achievement for me, but I want to win the whole tournament."

It didn't quite happen that year for Smith, but his day with destiny did finally arrive on the grandest stage of all 12 months ago, as he overcame Michael van Gerwen 7-4 to capture the iconic Sid Waddell trophy for the first time.

James Richardson curries favour with Palace crowd...

2012 World Darts Championship
James Richardson 3-0 Raymond van Barneveld
Round 1

The same year as Chisnall's second-round win over Taylor, a genuine upset had taken place in round one with debutant James Richardson taking down five-time world champ Raymond van Barneveld, and doing so in some style.

The crowd adored Richardson with his Vindaloo walk-on, though that same crowd were still right behind 'Barney' when the action started.

The Dutchman stormed off with a 12-darter against the throw but then lost his way, his confidence and his self-belief as Richardson raced to an astonishing 3-0 triumph. 

It was the first time in 11 years Van Barneveld had been bundled out in round one, and a day that Richardson will never forget.

"I'm genuinely lost for words after what's happened," he told the media after the shock victory. "I'm a bricklayer who's just beaten the five-time world champion in the most important tournament in darts."

John Ferrell makes mincemeat of Dennis Priestley...

1999 World Darts Championship
John Ferrell 3-0 Dennis Priestley
Round 1

'Barney' learned the hard way that reputations count for precious little on the biggest stage of them all, and other ex-world champs have suffered their own indignities.

Dennis Priestley, the very first PDC world champ, was a Circus Tavern powerhouse during the 1990s, until he bumped into London cabbie John Ferrell in 1999.

'The Menace' had been the beaten finalist in each of the three previous world championships but was whitewashed 3-0 by Ferrell, who went on to make the quarter-finals.

It capped Ferrell's deepest run in any premier darts competition, with only his last 16 appearances in the World Matchplay and World grand Prix coming close to his heroics at the 1999 World Darts Championship.

When Kirk Shepherd shook the world...

2008 World Darts Championship
Kirk Shepherd 6-4 Wayne Mardle

You can't talk upsets without an honourable mention for Fallon Sherrock and her remarkable debut in 2020 when she became the first female to win a match at the worlds, beating Ted Evetts.

And to prove it was no fluke the 'Queen of the Palace' was back on the oche four nights later to take care of 11th seed Mensur Suljovic.

But surely there will never be a greater upset than in 2008 when Kirk Shepherd, a sheet metal worker from Ramsgate, Kent and a PDPA qualifier, defied a world ranking of 142 and odds of 1000/1 to go all the way to the final.

After being staged at the Circus Tavern for 14 years it was the first year of the tournament being held at Alexandra Palace and no one expected anything like the dramas dished up by Shepherd.

He beat No. 4 seed Terry Jenkins - who missed seven match darts - in round one, Mick McGowan, Barrie Bates and Peter Manley to set up a semi-final showdown with Wayne Mardle, by now the favourite to lift the trophy after toppling Phil Taylor in the last eight.

But Shepherd had one more ace up his sleeve and saw off Mardle 6-4, who had tried every trick in the book to upstage his lesser-known opponent, finding himself in the final of the biggest darts event in the world.

The fairytale lacked the perfect happy ending, however, as Shepherd lost 7-2 to John Part in the final, though having already etched his name large in the history of the World Darts Championship.

"I beat Phil Taylor, tears were shed of sheer delight and joy and relief, and Dave Clark said 'Wayne Mardle world champion, how does that sound?'. I knew I hadn't won it yet but he was thinking it, other people were thinking it and of course, it rubbed off on me and I started thinking it," Mardle, a beaten five-time semi-finalist recently said.

"I got all casual, all blasé, double cocky and in the end I got what I deserved. The way I treated Kirk Shepherd that day... I've spoke to him since and apologised for my behaviour, it wasn't sportsmanlike, it wasn't polite, it wasn't pleasant."

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