She swoops to conker - Julie beats 86-year-old to become world champion

A Chelsea Pensioner and a former competition runner-up were crowned King and Queen of the World Conker Championships on Sunday.
Scott Hayler (left) takes on Terry Williams during the annual World Conker ChampionshipsScott Hayler (left) takes on Terry Williams during the annual World Conker Championships
Scott Hayler (left) takes on Terry Williams during the annual World Conker Championships

Julie Freeman, from Rutland, narrowly beat 85-year-old John Riley to take the title of overall world champion, after the former soldier battled through several rounds to become the 2017 men's winner.

Ms Freeman was last year's women's champion, but came back to take top prize at the 2017 event.

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Organiser St John Burkett, 57, who has been arranging and participating in the event for more than 20 years, said the day had been a "fantastic" success.

He said: "It was fantastic. It went really well - and with the weather like that, it was really good."

Mr Burkett said the crowd were so fond of Mr Riley, his challenger in the semi-finals, Dagusu Rodger, stood aside with one shot to spare.

He said: "By then the crowd were on John's side.

"His opponent's lace came undone and he could have had another go, but he knew the crowd was going against him at that stage and he decided he would concede.

"It was a very positive reaction from the crowd."

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Hundreds of conker kings and queens descended on the small village of Southwick, Northamptonshire, and despite the friendly array of stalls and drink stands to keep people occupied between matches, the competition is not without its hazards.

Mr Burkett, an educational adviser from Barnack, near Peterborough, said poor technique can often lead to aching limbs.

His pro tip for avoiding injury: strike at an angle.

He said: "Don't do a hard downward stroke, because the conker will almost certainly swing down and hit you in the arm!

"You're probably better aiming from the side."

Mr Riley's fellow Chelsea Pensioner friend Ray Pearson, 81, also managed a first-round win in the competition.

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He said: "Like all battles in all wars you always want to win.

"But like I always say to my grandchildren: no-one can win if you don't play."

Mr Pearson, who works as the editor of Tricorne Magazine at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, said the day offered the chance for some "great British fun" and welcomed the money the championships raised to help a selection of charities for the visually impaired.

He said: "It's all a bit of fun, it's great.

"People are supporting it, and if it raises money for the blind too, then so much the better."

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