Conker Fighting Is Still A Thing In London... And It's Pretty Brutal Too

By Elizabeth McCafferty Last edited 16 months ago
Conker Fighting Is Still A Thing In London... And It's Pretty Brutal Too
A man holds a conker while a woman takes a swipe at it
The Peckham conker championship is chaotic, and so are the rules.

"Now you can't even play f**king conkers in England," Matt Goss once decried. The melodramatic Bros man obviously didn't realise there are not one, but two conker, championships in London alone.

A conker is prepared to fight to the death.

Christopher Quigley set up Peckham Conker Club in 2017. "The idea came about as I'd recently got a dog, and spent a lot of time walking on Peckham Rye," he tells me, "I noticed that the Rye is surrounded by an unusually large number of horse chestnut trees, and at this time of year the park is awash with conkers and I became mildly obsessed with collecting them.

"It reminded me of the fun I had playing when I was a kid."

Pimping out your conker, special moves and playing dirty is allowed.

The Peckham championship itself is chaotic, and so are the rules. In a bid to win the top prize — aka "the golden nut and life changing kudos" — essentially anything goes. Pimping out your conker, special moves and playing dirty is allowed. Oh, and don’t forget 'stampsies', a move whereby you're allowed to stomp someone's conker to smithereens if it falls on the floor.

A serious looking young man about to take a swipe at an opponent's conker
Matt Goss was very wrong about the demise of conkers in England.

Each opponent takes it in turns to hit the other's conkers (three swipes allowed) then marks the scores down on a tally sheet. This is then handed in at the end, and the knock out process of the highest scorers begins. Under 16s count as juniors; the rest compete as seniors.

a paper schedule of conker championship fights
'Willie Conker', 'Stompy Mcstampface' and 'Conk-ussion' are among the names of participants.

Spirits are palpably high and I can vouch for the fact it isn't purely due to beer. "Crush it! Crush it! Smash it completely!" I hear someone scream in the direction of a stampsy, as I enter the brutal realm of the conker championship.

A group of guys stamp on a conker
"Crush it! Crush it! Smash it completely!" I hear someone scream in the direction of a stampsy.

"I'm looking after my friend's conker whilst she's in the pub preparing." a spectator informs me, "...have you seen the 'back alley’'conkering?!" he continues, and the interview is instantly terminated, as we run to watch.

A foot stamps on a conker
A conker in conquered.

A crowded mass forms under the Peckham Rye train bridge, each contender battling it out to get the highest points for their card. Then steps forward a spectator's mum,  keen to show the millennials that their attempts are feeble. The 'Sydenham Swinger' is her given title; one she makes clear she did not choose herself.

Prep and pimping goes into moulding a champion conker.

Her son looks on in shock and delight as she battles her way through him, then a guy we thought looked promising for the title, then a dude who's pimped his conker out with Gorilla Glue.

Just like that, she's a hero of the crowd and champion of our hearts.

David, Ben and James - supportive spectators.

David, Ben and James are supportive spectators. 'Conkers' and 'glory' are what's brought them here. "Cheating is encouraged which is hard to compete with." they grimace. "My Grandad collected conkers when I was born so that I'd win on the school playground," says James, chuckling that he used to win against his mates when he was 12. It would be nice, the lads suggest, to keep that tradition alive by encouraging people to start collecting now for their future grandkids.

A conker fight in mid action
"it's traditional, retro and fun."

So aside from having pints and smashing each other's nuts to bits, is tradition and nostalgia why we are still playing conkers to this day?

24 year old Keir tells me: "It's one of those few things that we can do now that isn't online or on a screen. It's something a bit different, it's traditional, retro and fun.

An older man smashes someone's conker
"I've never seen a sport like this."

"Can't lie, I didn't have a view on conkers before I saw the championships, but I'm now definitely gearing up for next year already. I'm also quite obsessed with the names people give!"

'Willie Conker', 'Stompy Mcstampface', 'Conk-ussion'… I can see why too.

A conker fighter readies his weapon
One by one, conker fighters fall, until it's whittled down to the final.

"I've never seen a sport like this. The stampsies are kinda scary…"  friends Mo, Tom and Scarlett tell me, "But if you were the Peckham champion of 2022, that’s a pretty badass title" they agree. And with that, we split off to get ready for watching the finals.

Ready to go into battle.

More than 300, I'm told, entered the other championships in Hampstead the same weekend — not quite beating their Guinness World Record number of 395 people in their knockout tournament in 2011, but still pretty strong.Peckham has a way to go, with 150 contestants champing at the bit, although with its 'stick it to the Conker Man' attitude, this is where you'll find the risk takers and rule breakers of the great game.

Lil Lilz - runner up

The atmosphere at the final round is electric — comparable to a Boxpark during a crunch World Cup tie. As conker shards fly left, right and centre, the players are whittled down to Harry and Alex (aka Lil Lilz). Battle commences and it's hard to call who's going to win. At one point both conkers fly, in the air, Harry lands on the floor and Lil Lilz begins celebrating his almighty win... only to discover Harry's conker remains unbroken. The tenseness grows. The crowd is left hoarse from screaming. Exhausted from celebrating that false win. Baffled as to how each conker still remained intact. The tussle continues. Harry gives one last final whack to Alex's warhorse of a conker. Finally, the official champion is crowned.

Harry screams and punches the air. The crowd goes berserk. Pints fly in the air. Strangers hug, and the 22 carat gold plated nut is handed over.

Harry, the winner, with the coveted golden nut.

"I feel really really good" smiles Harry, absolutely knackered from his fight, "I have a conker tree in my garden. I prepared a load of conkers and thought I may as well try out and give it a go today. It was just a bit of luck, I got thrown around a bit but at the end of the day winners get hurt, that's how it is!" he laughs.

"It would have been an easier loss if I hadn't kissed the floor thinking I'd won," grimaces Lil Lilz, "Applying today was a spur of the moment thing but I'll definitely be back next year."

The finalists hug
All's fair in love and conkers.

It's very clear to see the community of conker-ers that has formed today. Friends made, many laughs and pints shared. It truly makes me proud to be a Londoner, not because conkers are a londoncentric activity, but because of the kindness shown and the bonds that formed throughout the day. Something that felt rare in our frantic, tech heavy world.

Now excuse me while I go and find a horse chestnut tree, some Gorilla Glue and an extra heavy pair of Doc Martens.

Last Updated 25 October 2022

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