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I’ll certainly never forget the first county darts match I ever attended. Intrigued to witness the sharper end of the amateur game, I made my way to the White Eagle Club where Clubbie protégé Ryan Hope was in action for Kent against Staffordshire. Ryan, with seven wins from seven singles matches over the county season, was looking to help Kent on their way to victory by making it eight from eight and ending the campaign with an unbeaten personal record. There was another, more compelling reason to be excited about the afternoon though. Mikko Laiho, “The Mad Fin” as one friend called him but more legendarily known in darting circles as “The Practice Guru” was meeting us after agreeing to become Ryan’s long-term coach and mentor. He sent a WhatsApp to say he’d be leaving soon. He never showed. Then came the news on 30thApril, announced by GoDartsPro. The Practice Guru had passed away.
We met Mikko for the first time a week earlier for a two-day analysis session at a club in Newcastle-Under-Lyme. Four hours a day around a dartboard could seem like an eternity! It flew by; a serious examination of various aspects of the game mixed with fascinating insights and plenty of colourful language. The man’s knowledge of the sport seemed limitless: players, their stats, their darts, the sizes of each segment of the board to the millimetre (doubles are actually just fractionally bigger than trebles when one considers that you only really throw at the middle of them). Even the art of counting - he told us at one stage that there was statistically a 4% greater chance of taking out a certain check if you went a different way. The guy was a true darts geek with a cracking sense of humour.
There are two things I’ll remember most about his character from those brief encounters. The first was his enthusiasm for helping others improve, combined with a willingness to contemplate anybody’s perspective on a particular issue. As a non-darts-player I pointed out what I perceived as an alignment problem with our subject’s throw, an observation which he immediately commended and encouraged to be studied more as the session evolved. The second was his hilariously blunt nature. “You deserved that, you idiot” he chirped after Ryan carelessly threw at (and missed) a treble twenty when the bed was blocked. “How the **** did you get that in there?!” he yelled on another occasion, when his bed-blocking theory had been defied.
We left Newcastle-Under-Lyme with a warm feeling about the partnership to come, starting with that rendezvous in Stafford the following weekend. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.
One thing I’m sure of is that he’d have had plenty to say about Staffordshire versus Kent, which descended into a circus, Mr Hope being the focal point of an angry confrontation between the two sides after he stumbled over the line in a poor-quality contest, to complete his 100% record despite Kent taking a battering overall. Ryan, in some ways you’re lucky that Mikko missed it!
Our warmest thoughts go out to all friends and family of this infectious, nutty professor of darts. A tragic loss, and I dearly wish we’d met him earlier. Even though our experience was a short one, it was unforgettable.
R.I.P, The Practice Guru.