So perky over pinkies

Alan Hubbard meets the foot soldiers of a toe-curling sport with ambitions of world popularity

What else is there to do on a wet weekend in Wetton except sit there twiddling your toes? But something is afoot. There they are, a dozen mean-looking men and eight nervous women, gathered in a marquee, pinkies poised and putting their best feet forward ready to do combat in what surely qualifies as the most bizarre event ever to be held in the name of sport: the World Toe-Wrestling Championships.

What else is there to do on a wet weekend in Wetton except sit there twiddling your toes? But something is afoot. There they are, a dozen mean-looking men and eight nervous women, gathered in a marquee, pinkies poised and putting their best feet forward ready to do combat in what surely qualifies as the most bizarre event ever to be held in the name of sport: the World Toe-Wrestling Championships.

Locking toes has become more than an annual village ritual deep in the Peak District, a decent hike from Ashbourne and on the borders of Dovedale. There they reckon they are worth at least a footnote in sporting history.

It all began in the mid-Seventies, when a group of walkers, putting their feet up at the inn, debated over a few pints how it was about time the British invented a sport at which they could actually win. So, after a few giggles, the World Toe-Wrestling Championships were born - and were promptly won by a Canadian. So they shelved them for a while, until the then publican, George Burgess, decided to resurrect the event seven years ago. Now he has retired to become the president of the World Toe-Wrestling Organisation, whose championships have progressed to become among the whackiest on the summer calendar, traditionally held in the middle of Wimbledon.

To the uninitiated it may seem that here we have the final repository for fruitcakes, but those who do indulge reckon they get a kick out of it - well, at least a bit of a twitch in the toes. Basically toe-wrestling follows the principles of arm-wrestling, the idea being to force the outside edge of your opponent's foot to touch the side of the "toe rack". Best of three legs, first the right foot, then the left and then the right again if a decider is needed.

You can be foot-faulted, even disqualified, for various infringements, including lifting the backside, or the heel off the floor. The non-wrestling foot must be kept off the ground once the big toes are carefully interlocked by the referee, who calls "Toes away". The referee's decision is "toetally final" in bouts which can last up to half an hour.

You will gather that the propensity for puns is endless, and even more excruciating than the toe- holds. Ask president Burgess whether men and women are permitted to grapple toes with each other and his deadpan reply is: "No, we don't want to encourage myxomatosis".

No toe justes are left unturned. Contestants sit opposite each other on the "toedium" and the winning move is termed a "toedown". A submission must be accompanied by the cry: "Toe much!" and, inevitably, the dish of the day on the pub grub menu is "Toed in the Hole".

Proceedings begin with the foot inspection, conducted by the president's daughter, Terri, a trained nurse who is also one of the referees. She has been known to turn away would-be hopefuls with corns, calluses, bunions, verrucas and, of course, athlete's foot. Flat feet, however, are permissible. Nail varnish is considered a performance-enhancing drug. But the foot inspector also has to be on her toes. "You'd be surprised what some of them try to get away with," says Terri. "I keep a special watch-out for specially-sharpened toenails."

The reigning men's champion, Gareth Allcott, did not defend his title this year. George Burgess reckoned it was because he had heard that the event was being sponsored by the American ice-cream company Ben and Jerry's, and got cold feet. Actually, he was away teaching in the Far East.

So, first on the toedium and quickly eliminated was local man Brian "Toelock" Holmes. Some five hours later, a veritable feat of endurance you might say, the winners were collecting their prizes - £50 and a year's supply of the sponsor's product. The Big Toe of 2000 is 41-year-old Alan "Nasty" Nash, a JCB technician from Stoke who con-fessed he had been wrestling with a foot he fractured at work a few days before. Three times a world champion, he defeated his rival Ian "Destroyer" Davies, 31, a Sheffield drayman, in a toenail-biting finish.

Shaven-headed Nash is the The Undertaker of toe-wrestling. After one of his earlier championship victories he was invited to show the Americans how it is done on the Jay Leno talk show. After his triumph he talked us through the technique, explaining that the strength comes from the shoulders through the buttocks and adductor muscle to the ankles and ultimately the big toe.

He insists it's more than just a bit of fun: "You really feel it the next day when the feet ache and start to swell." There's always the risk of injury, too. Sometimes the non-wrestling toes get mangled, dislocated, even broken, as the foot slams into the side of the toe rack. Nash has damaged three toes, one of which had to be remoulded by surgery.

If Nash is Dr Death, then Davies fancies himself as Sergeant Slaughter. A former Sheffield Eagles rugby player, he wrestles complete with ear stud and builder's safety helmet. The champion in 1998, he had been hoping to complete a family double. His wife, Karen "Kamikaze" Davies won the women's title from a field which included a beautician, an ex-ballet dancer and the landlady of a local B&B. No chiropodists, though. Karen does have a bit of an advantage. She's not only 6ft tall but has size 10 feet. So do she and hubby Ian practise playing footsie at home? "Only as a party-piece," she laughs.

You may think they are all as mad as hatters, but it seems harmless. And the substantial proceeds go to a local children's charity. Tongue in cheek (or was it foot in mouth?), they even applied for toe-wrestling to be included in the Olympics. But it can't get a foothold, although they did receive a polite communication from the International Olympic Committee asking whether it was a winter or a summer sport.

Overseas interest has been kindled. "We've just had a request for the rules and regulations from the Japanese, who want to stage their own version of the World Championships," said Burgess. He sniffs: "Presumably they'll want to put it on in Toe-kyo."

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
books
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Chosen to lead the women's wing of the ruling Zanu-PF, the wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding the 90-year old
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model of 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
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution