Andrew Gilding wins UK Open: Ex-Metzger completes a darts miracle against the superstar

Darts miracle at the UK Open: The world number 41.

Andrew Gilding wins UK Open: Ex-Metzger completes a darts miracle against the superstar

Darts miracle at the UK Open: The world number 41. Andrew Gilding wins the "FA Cup of Darts", defeating superstar Michael van Gerwen in the final with 11:10. The triumph of the trained butcher is the biggest sensation in tournament history.

The word sensation was coined for what happened late Sunday night at the most special darts tournament of the year. Andrew Gilding, 52, ranked 41st in the world, wins the UK Open, creating the biggest darts miracle in tournament history. In the final against superstar Michael van Gerwen, Gilding played like he had years of experience in big finals. The trained butcher uses his first match dart, hits the double 20 and pocketed the equivalent of around 125,000 euros in prize money.

"I can't believe it. I didn't expect to win this game. I played consistently all weekend, but I didn't feel like I was playing particularly good darts," said Gilding in the winner's interview. Indeed, Gilding was more of a fly-under-the-radar player all weekend. Until he clearly defeated the German Martin Schindler 10:4 in the quarterfinals on Sunday afternoon and in the evening also won the semifinals against the second sensation Adam Gawlas (world ranking 62nd before the tournament, now 48th) with 11:6.

Luck of the draw is naturally part of the UK Open. The tournament is dubbed the 'FA Cup of Darts' because it is the only event of the year without a seeding. This means that the best players can take themselves out of the tournament early and underdogs can play the tournament of their lives, progressing further than their playing level would normally allow. Andrew Gilding played such a tournament on this first weekend in March. In the final, however, the taciturn Englishman, whose greatest emotion on stage is a thumbs-up after a 180, faced the most successful player of the past ten years.

Michael van Gerwen had played his way into the final without any luck at all. The three-time world champion defeated top 10 players Luke Humphries, Nathan Aspinall and Dimitri Van den Bergh along the way.

And the final then began just as the fans in Minehead, southern England, the TV experts and probably the finalists themselves had expected. Michael van Gerwen quickly took a 2-0 lead. Then "Goldfinger", which is the nickname of the Englishman because of his golden darts, was suddenly there. Four legs in a row went to Gilding. Van Gerwen struggled but pulled out of his hole and went on to win four legs in a row. After that, van Gerwen kept his lead, but without breaking away decisively. From a 5:8 deficit, Gilding first made a 7:8, and finally a 9:9.

Van Gerwen then shifted up a gear again, checked 170 points - the highest finish in darts - to 10:9. But Gilding bit it, equalized again to 10:10. A single leg had to make the difference between victory and defeat, with prize money of £110,000 for the winner and £50,000 for the losing finalist.

Michael van Gerwen had the advantage of being allowed to start and consequently earned a match dart on double 16, but missed it by an unusual amount. Gilding as if it were normal for the world number 41. in a major final, on the other hand, took advantage of his first chance to triumph. Double 20 lucky.

In the interview, Gilding was then asked why he suddenly became so good at the age of 52 that he was able to win one of the biggest tournaments of the year. "I stopped being lazy. I trained more, worked hard, it's paying off now. I finally took darts seriously," Gilding replied succinctly and added a smile to it: "Now I have to do all these big titles win".

That won't happen though. The fact that "Goldfinger" won the title at the UK Open alone is a sensation of historic proportions. At most, one-hit wonder Kirk Shepherd's World Cup final entry in 2008 or Rob Cross's World Cup debut victory in 2018 can keep up. Anyone who bet on Gilding before the tournament should now consequently bet on SC Freiburg as the German champions or 1. FC Nürnberg as the DFB Cup winners.

Gilding's victory also shows how unpredictable the sport of darts has become. Last year Danny Noppert won the UK Open, in autumn Ross Smith snatched the title at the European Championship, in January Chris Dobey won the Masters and surprisingly played his way into the lucrative Premier League. They were all or are still outside the top 16 in the world rankings based on prize money over the past two years, even after their tournament wins. Unlike the Gilding success, these were not sensations of historic proportions, but they were still remarkable achievements.

Darts is a sport that fuels surprises and sensations. The money is not as important as elsewhere, the entry hurdles in the sport are marginal. A dartboard doesn't cost a fortune and doesn't take up much space. And even older age is not a knockout criterion for a great career. "I've always had a dartboard at home but didn't start playing seriously until I joined my local pub team in 2008," said Gilding, who comes from Suffolk, north-east London, nine years ago. He had given one of his rare interviews to the local newspaper, the East Anglian Daily Times.

So, at the age of 38, Gilding's career began in a pub in Suffolk. He first played in tournaments organized by the amateur association BDO and surprisingly celebrated winning the Gibraltar Open in 2011. Shortly thereafter, the trained butcher and former factory worker made his TV debut at a major tournament. As a pub qualifier, "Goldfinger" was allowed to get involved at the UK Open 2011 of the professional darts organization PDC, and surprisingly reached the round of 32. The following year Gilding even qualified for the professional tour, and in 2015 he suddenly found himself in the semi-finals of the UK Open. It should be his only top result in a big PDC tournament for years.

In the meantime Gilding lost his status as a professional player again, at the end of 2020 he was only 146th in the world rankings. He collected less than £6,600 in prize money all year. Things initially looked better in 2021 when the Englishman surprisingly managed to qualify again for the professional tour. However, the first year in the group of 128 PDC professionals was disappointing. Despite being a pro, Gilding only raked in £8,000 in prize money.

The breakthrough towards bigger pots of money would eventually come out of nowhere in 2022. Gilding qualified for two finals at smaller tournaments on the Pro Tour and made the final of a European Tour event at the end of the year. In total, 90,000 pounds, the equivalent of around 100,000 euros in prize money, flowed into Gilding's account.

With the sensational victory at the UK Open, Gilding has now eclipsed even this sum. The 52-year-old is now 25th in the world rankings. For comparison, five-time world champion Raymond van Barneveld is 31 in the world, two-time world champion Gary Anderson is just two places ahead of Andrew Gilding, who has secured a place in darts history by winning the UK Open.