As the sun began to set on Dover’s Hill near Chipping Campden, a band of white-coat-clad competitors began stuffing straw down their trousers like their lives depended on it. To the uninitiated this might have looked like a Worzel Gummidge convention, but for the hundreds of spectators crowding the hill’s banks, it marked the beginning of The British Shin Kicking Championship 2008 – an annual highlight of The Cotswold Olimpick Games.
Veteran competitors had travelled from across the country to take part in this year’s event, with first-timers – including TV comedians Rory McGrath and Patrick McGuinness (yes, the same two who also competed in last week’s Gloucester Cheese Rolling 2008) – seen nervously getting tips from former champions before their first bout.
The sport of shin kicking has been practiced on Dover’s Hill since the early 17th Century. It was a popular part of the original games established by Robert Dover in 1612, and continues to draw the crowds from near and far.
While the painful pastime was so dangerous it died out in Britain by the early 1900s, the sport was re-kindled in Chipping Campden in 1951 – where it continues to be practiced as a far less aggressive version than in earlier years, when players were said to have hardened their shins using hammers and competitors were allowed to wear iron-capped boots.
According to J.R. Daeschner’s True Brits ‘In the bad old days, some shin kickers ended up crippled for life, while a few died from their injuries.’ Now, competitors stuff their trousers with straw and wear soft shoes, which means no one has ever broken a bone in the competition, although bruises are common.
As the players names were called out in twos, the first round of the British Shin Kicking Championships got underway when the players grasped each other by the shoulders and attempt to land well-timed blows to their opponent’s shins.
According to the rule book, only in mid-kick can a player attempt to bring his opposition to the ground, with a ‘stickler’ on hand to make sure a shin is hit before a fall can be scored. Each round features a best of three battle before winners go on to fight other winners – until only two remain.
This year, Rory McGrath was knocked out in his first round, Patrick ‘Paddy’ McGuinness made it through to round two, while an exhausted pair went head-to-head, or shin-to-shin more appropriately, in a dusk final with Steve ‘The Bull Dog’ Williams eventually being named British Shin Kicking Champion 2008.
Sunday 01 June 2008