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Alive and Shin Kicking
It has been practiced since the early 17th Century, was thought to have once attracted 30,000 spectators and involves a 'stickler'. We investigate the ancient sport of shin kicking which is alive and well in the Cotswold hills.
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 practiced 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.
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."
The Cotswold Olimpicks feature other rural challenges such as tug-of-war, sledgehammer throwing and Spurning the Barre, a Cotswold version of tossing the caber.
A few thousand people gather for the event each year nowadays which is 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.
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."
The Games this year take place on Friday 29 May 2009 on Dover's Hill, starting at 7.30pm.
last updated: 27/04/2009 at 09:52