IT WAS a cracking weekend for John Doyle in more ways than one.
The 39-year-old Leamingtonian was crowned World Conker Champion beating off more than 170 competitors – including a woman dressed as a bumble bee – on his way to the title.
And it seems no-one was more surprised to win than John himself.
Describing his victory as “preposterous”, the computer programmer told The Observer: “It didn’t seem likely I’d get through the first round never mind the rest. I think the secret was to expect to lose and then be pleasantly surprised each time!
“One thing I have learnt is that conkers are hard. I seemed to hit myself more often than my competitor’s conker and have now got the bruises to prove it.”
The event, which is organised by the Ashton Conker Club, has taken place annually in Northamptonshire for nearly 50 years.
Players take turns at hitting their opponent’s conker and the game goes on until one of the conkers is completely destroyed.
It is described by organisers as “a great spectacle of modern day gladiators fighting for glory armed only with a nut and 12 inches of string.
On his way to the men’s title, John overcame seven competitors before a final victory over ladies’ champion Stephanie Withall gave him the title of overall champion.
One person entirely non-plussed by the cracking conker action was John’s two-year-old daughter Tilly, who managed to sleep through the competition.
But had it not been for his family, John may not have even had the chance to compete.
He said: “I never had an interest in conkers until last year when we went along with my wife’s sister and her husband who have been competing for a number of years.
“We were told how much fun it was and that the real ale was very good so my wife and I decided to keep them company.
“I went for the first time last year but was knocked out in the third round so I like to consider that my practice year!”
So what is John’s advice when it comes to having the perfect conker?
“Size matters – the smaller, the better. The bigger ones seem softer and give people a false sense of confidence but are an easy target.”
And although he was awarded an engraved tankard and a crown, he admits winning the rather unusual title has seen him become the butt of many jokes from friends, family and colleagues.
So will he be returning to defend his title next year?
“There’s always a chance I may feel the need but I’m not sure how I can top this so it’s probably best to retire at my peak!”
World Conker Champion John with ladies’ champion and eventual runner-up, Stephanie Withall, who is also a beekeeper. (s)