They came, they saw, they conkered: Briton triumphs at World Conker Championships

Despite fierce foreign competition, Sam Masters sees a British triumph at the World Conker Championships

They came from France, Latvia… even Venezuela. The finest conker swingers on Earth descended on a pub in Northamptonshire yesterday for the World Conker Championships – but were vanquished by an Englishman from round the corner in Kettering.

Simon Cullum overcame driving rain and contenders from 15 countries to be declared Conker King at the Shuckburgh Arms, in Southwick. “We usually just come here for the real ale, but this year we had to take it a bit more seriously,” he said.

In the final Mr Cullum defeated another local man – Dave “The Pig” Bloomfield – whose concentration was perhaps impaired by the fear that press coverage of his unexpected progress could alert his boss to the sickie he had thrown to enter. The home victory – in the face of hotly tipped challengers from France and Germany – represented a huge boost for the UK conker fraternity, after the last two championships were called off because of bad weather. According to conker lore, the event was first organised by a group of men in the village of Ashton, near Oundle, when bad weather forced them to abandon a fishing trip in 1965.

Since then, the Ashton Conker Club, like the International Olympic Committee, has organised the sport’s premier event. Yesterday, at the 47th championships, men and women were pitted against each other for the first time. Sue Howes, the 2009 women’s champion, who has played in more than 20 competitions, said: “They wouldn’t let women play at all before. When I asked to play they said ‘no’ and I had always wanted to join in. But I have always been determined to play.

“There’s no secret to it, just hit the other conker. But get one dicky conker and you’re out.” After her unexpected exit in the middle rounds, she blamed that “dicky” conker.

When asked for his thoughts about women playing men for the first time, one morning-suited contestant battling through the rain said: “They should be at home making a nourishing stew .” Another gentleman, dressed as the shorts-wearing schoolboy Just William, said: “Now I’m going to be knocked out in the first round by a woman.”

His female companion added that men were “just too violent with their nuts, and keep breaking them”.

At exactly 1.04pm the sun appeared. By 1.05pm it was gone again, shortly afterwards Ray Kellock, from nearby Kettering, the conker world’s multi-world champion equivalent of Roger Federer or Tiger Woods was defeated. Occasionally, in what amounted to high excitement during contests, both competitors’ conkers shattered.

All conkers are assigned by the organisers before each match, to prevent competitors getting an unfair advantage with old schoolboy tricks such as soaking them in vinegar or putting them in the oven. While many, if not all, of the adult matches were conducted with admirable decorum, the children’s competition brought numerous allegations of contestants moving their conkers, which are supposed to be stationary. “The rules are not being enforced,” the father of a competitor from the US complained.

The event’s organiser, St John Burkett demonstrated the “Southwick Swipe” to the crowd of around 200. He performed the three main shots: the straight-down smash, the side swipe and the angled 45-degree attack designed to chip another horse chestnut. “It’s easy,” the former champion and expert competitor said. He later took on The Independent in an “exhibition” match for the crowd’s benefit between rounds. Despite many lusty blows, this newspaper was honourably defeated.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Ricky Gervais performs stand-up
people
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Automation Test Lead (C#, Selenium, SQL, XML, Web-Services)

£50000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Automation Tes...

Business Anaylst

£60000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Business Anal...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering