A MARTIAL arts student was crowned world gravy wrestling champion and said: "I only won because I could stand up!"

Sumo warriors, martial arts specialists and a chef were among competitors at the first international championships, organised as part of Pennine Lancashire Festival of Food and Culture.

And after 40 minutes of gruelling grappling in the cold mix of meat juices, chopped up vegetables and cornflour, Ian Marsden and two friends emerged world champions.

The members of the Tower Shukokai Karate Club, based in Darwen, wowed the judges with their wrestling skills - but the final vote came from the crowd who cheered them on to victory.

The wrestling ring was set up in Sainsbury's car park in Darwen, where there were a series of three minutes bouts, with points awarded for pinning opponents to the floor.

However, the scores were equal at the end of the competition so the final decision was made using applause levels generated by the spectators.

The new - and first ever - world champions of gravy wrestling were Ian, Martin Skipper and the mysterious 'Super Roy the Darwen Destroyer.' Team leader Ian, of Redearth Road, Darwen, said: "It feels great to be a world champion. I don't think our karate skills did us any favours.

"We were only any good because we seemed to be able to stand up a bit longer than the others."

The event raised over £500 for the East Lancashire Hospice, Blackburn. Event organiser Jackie Livesey said: "It was fantastic - much better than we had hoped.

Despite being touted as an international competition - and even gaining coverage in the Bangkok Times - the furthest a competitor travelled was from Leicester.

Joel Hicks, 28, who dressed as a chef, said: "I go up and down the country taking part in wacky sports for charity. This was great fun, well worth the drive."

Other events at the festival have included a 1940s Hits from the Blitz dinner dance, an evening with celebrity cook Keith Floyd, guided walks looking for tasty treats in hedgerows; cooking demonstrations; mushroom hunts; a chef cricket match and a waiters' race. For the first time, events will continue through to October.

Mrs Livesey said: "The festival has been a huge success - but we will be looking to bigger and better things next year.

"All of our events are aimed at showing people the delights of food and the fun that can be had with food."