When some of the world’s best darts players descend on Belfast tomorrow evening for a Premier League Darts event at the SSE Arena, they will take to the oche with a special ribbon for autism awareness.
That’s all thanks to darts-mad 10-year-old boy Oliver (Ollie) Armstrong, from east Belfast, who has become friends with many of his arrow-throwing heroes through social media site Twitter.
Ollie’s favourite player is the flamboyant Peter ‘snakebite’ Wright, who he has been lucky enough to count as a friend after he met Wright at the Premier League darts in Belfast in 2016.
Ollie was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, in 2011.
He has gained the backing of darts players including Michael Van Gerwen, Northern Ireland’s own Daryl Gurney, Adrian Lewis, as well as Wright, for his campaign to raise awareness.
Ollie has asked each player to wear a special autism awareness ribbon from the charity Autism NI to mark Autism Awareness Month, which takes place throughout the month of April.
Ollie’s mum Shelley Armstrong said the reception he has received from the world’s top players has been fantastic.
“Ollie just loves darts,” she said. “Darts and penguins are his two favourite things. My Dad plays for a local team so it has always been a part of our family — he’s actually not bad either!
“Peter Wright is his favourite player. I’m on Twitter, and Ollie used to come to me and ask ‘Mummy would you tell Adrian Lewis I said this’ or ‘would you tell Peter Wright I said this’ and after a while I decided to set up an account in his name.
“He tells me what he wants to write — he talks and I type. So it was through Twitter that we got quite friendly with some of the players and there was a fan’s forum where he got to meet some of them.
“Ollie wears his autism awareness badge from Autism NI to school every day, so we thought ‘why don’t we ask some of the players to wear one’ and they’ve been fantastic.
“Peter Wright and his wife Jo are absolutely fantastic with him,” she added.
Dave Allen, head of media at the Professional Darts Corporation, said: “We’ve got the badges on offer for any of the players who wish to wear them.
“A lot of them have been more than happy to support this cause.”