During the week he is a college lecturer, but at weekends he becomes Alan of York, jousting hero. Nick Morrison meets a world champion who spends his spare time in chainmail.

DONNING his steel helmet, its red and green plumes waving in the breeze, Alan of York takes his lance from his faithful squire, and lines up his trusty steed, Dixon. With the signal that his opponent is ready, the knight motions his horse into a charge and lowers his lance.

Shield raised, red and yellow tunic billowing over a suit of chainmail, he quickly picks up speed. Seconds later there is a clash of lances and he continues his gallop, battered but unbowed.

This is just a practice run for Alan, world champion jouster, founder member of the International Jousting Association and college lecturer better known as Alan Beattie. This time he was not aiming at his opponent's shield, and his chainmail is really knitted cotton, but next year it will all be for real.

In January, Alan flies to New Zealand to defend his world title, in what he expects will be his last major tournament, and he knows he will face some stiff competition. And with each rider reaching speeds of up to 30mph, the potential for serious injury is ever-present.

"There are certain people after my blood - they want to take me out because I took them out last time. I know I will get hit hard but, hopefully, I won't get hurt. It is like playing rugby or boxing: if you don't get hurt it is a bonus," he says.

"When it is for real it is a different ball game altogether. You know they're all out to get you. There is nothing like it when you see this big lance coming towards you - it is like an Exocet.

"You aim for the top left hand quadrant of the shield but if it hits in the centre of the shield it is like hitting a stone wall and you can put a bone out. The impact can be 50-60mph but if you have any doubts you will bottle out and your horse will get the signals. You have to have 100 per cent commitment."

In 18 years of jousting, Alan, who lives at Cowesby, near Thirsk in North Yorkshire, has so far avoided serious injury. But he has come close. In one joust, against a police sergeant, his opponent's lance hit his pelvis.

"I thought he had split me in two. I was winded and couldn't move for ten minutes. That's been the most painful injury and it took me months to get over it. I have had a few shoulder injuries where I have hit targets hard and it has bounced back on me and a horse went down on me once and it broke a bone in my foot.

"But, generally speaking, I've been lucky, and you are bound to get injuries, particularly when you are training."

Alan, a lecturer in physical education and psychology for Middlesbrough Community Education service, and a former lecturer at Teesside Tertiary College, started jousting when he was researching an article for a magazine on a group based in the south of England. He had been riding more or less all his life, had played polo for the RAF and rode in horse races in the Far East, so was keen to have a go, even though he didn't take it seriously at first.

"I thought it was a bit of a joke. They put me on an Andalucian stallion, who had been in the bull-ring, and he was a superb jousting horse. They asked me to be a reserve so I did that for two years.

"If you are prepared to dress up, and I don't mind dressing up, for the riding it is preferable to any other equine events, and I have had a go at most of them. It is the challenge of applying all your equitation skills when your opponent is coming towards you. Once you have got the riding skills, you can forget about the horse and ride as one, and you concentrate on the joust," he says.

After years of spending every weekend travelling to London to take part in jousts, three years ago Alan set up the Knights of the Black Phoenix, which draws its 25 members largely from North Yorkshire. He also helped form the International Jousting Association (IJA), of which he is chairman and which set out the rules governing tournaments. The IJA brings together jousters in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, and also has supporters in Sweden and Finland.

The Knights of the Black Phoenix will be sending a team to the world championships, held at Harcourt Park on North Island, used in filming for The Lord of the Rings, taking part in broadsword, archery and skills at arms competitions, which involves hitting targets and picking up rings with the lance, as well as jousting.

Knight Marshal of the Black Phoenix group is Tom Parker, a joiner from Northallerton who only got involved when he was asked to make a tilt, the wooden pole which separates the jousting riders. As Knight Marshal, it is his job to run the jousts.

"It is just a hobby as much as anything else, but it is a bit like the hunter-gatherer-fighter thing. You live out a bit of a fantasy," he says. "I don't mind all the dressing up - after all, if you were to walk on to the field of battle in a suit you would feel out of place, whereas you feel quite at home in this gear."

And although the dressing up is a side-show for Alan, he takes the jousting very seriously, riding every day and going to the gym to keep in good condition. And he is in no doubt over what has made him a champion jouster.

'It gets you hooked - it is like any other sport, and although it is a minor sport now it is developing all over the world. You need a positive attitude, personal fitness and to be part of a team, and be prepared to learn all the time.

"I get mad when anybody hurts me. Before I used to just take it, but now I blame myself for not taking evasive action. I don't want to get hurt."

While international jousting may not be quite a cut-throat world, there are plenty of people hoping to knock Alan off his perch, and it remains to be seen if he will return unscathed. But, even if he tumbles in a clatter of chainmail, it's not a bad way to lose your crown.

* More information on the Knights of the Black Phoenix is available from Alan on (01845) 537431 or their website www.communigate.co.uk/ne/kbp