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Last Updated: Friday, 3 June, 2005, 18:59 GMT 19:59 UK
Old shin sport alive and kicking
By Neil Leighton
BBC News, Bristol

A flyer for the Cotswolds Olimpicks
Shin kicking is just one of many rural sports at the Olimpicks
Dozens of people climbed a hill in rural Gloucestershire on Friday evening to witness an ancient and little-known sport - shin kicking.

While it may be widely acknowledged by schoolboys the world over as a useful form of playground retribution, shin kicking has largely gone unnoticed as an organised sporting activity.

But the sport has been practised on Dover's Hill, near Chipping Campden, since the early 17th Century.

Although not as aggressive as earlier versions, where players were said to have hardened their shins using hammers in over-zealous preparation for the main event, the competition remains the highlight of the Cotswold "Olimpick" games.

Players, wearing the traditional white smocks of shepherds, grasp each other by the shoulders and attempt to land well-timed blows to their opponent's shins.

Only then - in mid-kick - can a player attempt to bring his opposite number to the ground.

People stuff their trousers with straw and must wear soft shoes
Robert Wilson

A stickler, the ancient name for a judge or umpire, is on hand to make sure a shin is hit before a fall can be scored.

Competitors must kick their way through early qualifying rounds, and swing their legs in a three-stage final to be crowned the shin kicking champion.

"It's part of the original games," said organiser Robert Wilson, referring to the rural competition established by Robert Dover in 1612.

"It was vicious in those days, there was a lot of inter-village rivalry and lads used to harden their shins with hammers and were allowed to wear iron-capped boots.

"We won't permit that. People stuff their trousers with straw and must wear soft shoes.

"We never have broken bones but there are some bruises."

In 2004, more than 2,500 people turned up to watch the Olimpicks, which feature other rural challenges such as tug-of-war, sledgehammer throwing and Spurning the Barre, a Cotswold version of tossing the caber.

A picture of shin kickers in action. Picture courtesy of the True Brits website
There was talk of a band of mystery challengers from outside the area

It's a far cry from the 30,000 who are said to have gathered on the hill in the 1830s.

Then, growing popularity of the games, and associated rowdiness and thuggery - no doubt practised wholeheartedly in the shin kicking ring - eventually led to the games being outlawed in the 1850s.

Resurrected in the 1950s, the games, and the shin kicking main attraction, have attracted growing support.

Last year, 20 people turned up to compete for the crown. It was won by local publican Joe McDonagh, 41.

"It's a bit crazy," he said, as he prepared to defend his title with a cheese sandwich and can of cider.

"You need a few beers inside you to do it - you need a bit of anaesthetic."


He was facing a tough time. There were rumours of a strong challenge from a band of mystery kickers from outside the area.

Shin kicking, Mr Wilson confided, has become "voguish", like other oddball rural sports, such as cheese rolling.

He put this down to people's willingness to test the limits of physical endurance in unusual ways.

So, would he class the kicking of shins an extreme sports?

"Not the way we run it," Mr Wilson said. "It is interesting but certainly not extreme. If we were to allow them to wear iron-capped shoes, it would be - but we won't."

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