Gurning or the Art of Making Yourself Ugly


GurningBritain always held to it’s traditions. We can even say it is our most valuable quality. Just stick with the things you know and honour them once a year. Those are the foundations empires are build upon. Trust us, we know. There’s a saying that describes tradition as an explanation for something that makes no sense at all. And if something can qualify as making zero sense, that’s most definitely the yearly gurning competition – one of England’s most old and beloved traditions.

Say what?

Gurning over a beerYep. There is a yearly competition of gurning that is more than 800 years old. If you still can not comprehend this (it was really hard for me the first time (that’s what she said(he eh he))), every year some people gather and make the most dumbass face expression they are capable of. And the best one wins. Or the worst, depending on your point of view.

Why the F …

Supposedly, everything started way back in 1269 at the annual crab apple fair in Egremont, Cumbria. King Henry III himself was attending the event, so one could speculate it was a big thing back then. In times when eating sour apples was entertaining enough to actually invite the ruling Monarch, apparently everything could become a sport.

Man making a funny gurnSince it was a crab apple festival, a lot of the visitors felt compelled to actually try them. And since crab apples are ridiculously bitter, all the eaters pulled out their “oh-no-she’s-kissing-her-own-brother” faces. Some wise guy thought it would be a really hilarious idea to make a contest out of it and voilà, a tradition was born.

There is another speculation that tells the first contestants were trying to mimic gargoyles. If you look at some pictures, you begin to wonder if there isn’t any truth to it.


You might think this would die out quickly, but here we are, 800 years later, and the competition is more popular than ever. Ok, maybe not that popular if you’re hearing about it for the first time in this article, but popular enough to gather people for more than eight centuries.

The annual Egremont Crab Fair is going strong and every 3th Saturday of September it gathers thousands of local and international tourists. There are other thrilling sporting events such as Dialect Singing, Pipe Smoking or Eating Biskeys and Treacle, but the Grunning competition is the cherry on top of the crab-apple cake.

What the heck is the competition actually about?

Gurning comicThe participants must make the most grotesque face they can while wearing a horse collar around their neck. As the rules officially say they should ‘snarl like a dog, look savage, distort the countenance’. The one that gets the most ovations wins. Sounds simple? Well, it is not.

There are numerous techniques, rules, cheats and strategies. Any make up is forbidden, but that doesn’t mean you can’t manipulate the public in some other way. Peter Jackson, winner of 4 titles, got his teeth removed just because they won’t get in the way of him moving his bottom lip above his nose.

But even that didn’t help him when the future rockstar of gurning entered the stage in 2001’s edition.

Gurning Tommy Mattinson

Meet Tommy Mattinson. He already had 3 World titles when he entered the stage. But three is never enough. He dominated the gurning stage winning every competition from 2001 to 2014 except one. With the exceptional 16 first places he currently holds the record of most titles won. Good thing Phil Jones decided to play football.

Phil Jones Gurning

But with Tommy’s family, it was no surprise. His father is Gordon Mattinson, the second most titled man in gurning. He started way back in 1966 and won 10 titles himself, before being succeeded by his son. So, whenever a Mattinson enters the competition, you know where to place your bets.

If your yearning for more gurning …

This year World Gurning Championship had a shocking end. Tommy had to be content with the silver, as previous winner, Gordon Blacklock, took the gold.

Who shall be the next winner in this ancient sport? Who will pave his life with glory? We’ll just have to wait until next September and find out who will win the hearts and minds of the fans of one of the oldest sporting event in history (suck it football).