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Sunday, October 11, 1998 Published at 19:02 GMT 20:02 UK


Germany conkers the world

Helmut Kern lets his conker fly...

The UK has suffered another huge defeat at the hands of its international sporting rivals after Germany's entrant in the World Conker Championships, well, conquered all-comers.

The BBC's Janette Clucas reports on the tense final
Despite having invented the sport of bashing together horse chestnuts on the ends of string, the UK fell at the final round when Helmut Kern's "256er" conker, the number of wins it had notched up, felled plucky Londoner Paul Moody.

Mr Kern lifted his trophy in front of 5,000 spectators in Ashton, Northamptonshire, and declared himself overwhelmed by the momentous sporting achievement.

[ image: ...And walks away the victor]
...And walks away the victor
It was only the second time the title has gone abroad since Ashton Conker Club began the annual international meet of top-level athletes in 1965.

There was a consolation for UK conker fans when accountant Lesley Bullock, from London, won through a field of 80 to become women's world champion.

Mr Kern, who had traveled to the UK with 21 friends especially for the world championships, was one of a record number of 46 foreign entrants this year.

After hammering his way through other opponents with a technique that left conker aficionados breathless with admiration, he needed just 90 seconds to shatter Mr Moody's dreams in the dramatic and tense final.

John Venables talks to a man in a conker hat
Tournament Ring Master and Conker Club chairman Richard Howard denied the defeat meant that the sport was destined to follow cricket and football with national teams being repeatedly humiliated by those who had learned the game from the UK.

"This is no reflection of the state of the national game," he said.

"There are more games of conkers being played in Britain than ever before.

"If we encourage other countries to play conkers then this is going to happen.

"But the majority of players still come from British stock."

'Gamemanship' probe

The origins of the game of Conkers is lost in the mists of time but it is played avidly by children once horse chestnuts fall from the tree in the autumn.

[ image: Organisers all join in the fun]
Organisers all join in the fun
Almost every school child in the UK has at one time or other played the game, with many attempting to strengthen their weapon with everything from vinegar to cement formulas being poured into an empty shell.

This year's championship began under a cloud after allegations of unsporting behaviour during last year's event.

John Hardman, one of the championships organisers, said: "We noticed last year that one or two players who had got cracked conkers were not aiming to hit their opponents conker.

"That could put them in a winning position if we go to the penalty shoot out.

More conker madness: See a match take place
"It's being frowned upon really, because the whole aim of the game is to hit your opponents conker, whether yours is damaged or not."

Mr Hardman said the organising committee had taken vigorous action to ensure this year's event would not see a repeat of such poor performance.

"We've got stewards or referees who'll be watching every game," he said, adding that officials had also banned contestants from bringing their own conkers.

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