The ‘One Ring To Bind Them’ project celebrates the history of British wrestling in Walsall. It has interviews with veterans who were wrestling in the glory days of the 1970s and 80s when it featured every week on World of Sport, and who still get in the ring some forty years later, at an age where most people are thinking of nothing more than retiring and putting their feet up. Their passion for the sport remains undiminished. You’ll also find interviews with some of the young wrestlers from Walsall who they help train, and who hope to carry forward the tradition of British wrestling and put it in front of the next generation of audiences.
The exhibition was shown in Wolverhampton Central Library for three weeks in February 2020, and at a special one-day event in Darlaston Town Hall later that month. Plans for a third exhibition were scuppered by the Covid-19 pandemic, which makes this online record an even more valuable resource. I hope – whether you know anything about British wrestling or not – you enjoy it, and find what these wrestlers have to say every bit as fascinating as I did. Thank you.
I’m very thankful to Scrubber, Bob, and the others for giving up their time to talk about what wrestling has meant – and continues to mean – to them. Special thanks to Mad Dog Maxx for making me welcome and helping set up dates and times for interviews. All photographs in the exhibition are by the hugely talented Nicole Lovell, who was an absolute joy to work with and has created some absolutely stunning pictures. If you want to find out more about her work, you can do so at www.nicolelovell.co.uk or follow her on Instagram: @nicolelovellphoto
My thanks and gratitude to Creative Factory in Walsall for their support for this project, and to
National Lottery Heritage Fund for providing funding through their Sharing Heritage programme to make it possible.
In 2020 I’ll have been in the job through six different decades, starting in the 1970s, and there’s not many people done that. Not without a break. People go off and come back, you know, they’ll have a few years off – either down to injuries or they just pack up – but I’ve never had a break. I’ve worked all the way through. I’ve been 42 years in the wrestling. I work as the Rock n Roll Express and have done for thirty years or so.
When I started, I had a job at a plastic mouldings firm, working from six in the morning till six at night. If I had a show, I’d be begging them to let me leave at three so I could get there. But I could do a job in Carlisle, say, get home at four in the morning, have three-quarters of an hour kip and then get up and go to work. It was baking hot with the ovens, with a half-hour lunch break in the shift, that was all. Sometimes I’d be dead on my feet. If I wasn’t working I’d just sleep on the sofa.
When I started all those years ago, I never thought I’ll have a 40-year career in wrestling, thanks. You don’t, do you? You’re just pleased to be there. At first I got a couple of jobs, but it was just a little step up. Then I did a job at Digbeth in Birmingham and Max Crabtree were there. He was the kingpin. I did my match, did all right, didn’t think much about it. Normally I’d be lucky if my date sheet had one or two dates in a month, but after that show in Digbeth, myself and Johnny Kidd – who I worked with a lot – our date sheet was 28 or 29 days in the 31. We thought Bloody hell, we’ve made it now! This is the big time!
I decided to give wrestling a go full-time when I got made redundant, in 1988. That’s when I teamed up with Kendo Nagasaki. I had five years with him, and we worked virtually every night of the week, every month, every year for five years. Top of the bill, every night of the week. Without Nagasaki I’d never have got up there. After we split, I carried on, and it bumped me up a bit because I’d been up at the top of the bill. I had official British Welterweight Title, and for them to put the belt on you they must think something of you.
I’ve got this belt now where I’ve been fighting Danny Gold for over a year for it. We’ve had maybe twenty matches for it. Maybe he’ll get the belt eventually, who knows? But not yet. I won’t give it up easy. And if I have to cheat in a match to keep it, well, I’m the villain, aren’t I?
I can still get a reaction from a crowd. I think I can get as much if not more reaction than most others. It’s experience. It’s knowing what you’re doing and when to do it. You get in the ring and nine times out of ten, maybe 99 out of 100, you know the person you’re on with, you know how they work, you know what they’ll do. You get in the ring and do twenty minutes or half an hour, but it’s the 3-4 hours travelling to, and the 3-4 hours travelling home, that’s the hard bit.
I always say to these kids I do seminars with – showing them little bits, passing on what I know, because you try and pass a little bit on – I say to them that I love the job as much now as I did when I started. I enjoy passing on my knowledge. Is it a legacy? I’d like to think so. When I’ve popped my clogs, they might be doing a move and say Bob taught us that. I won’t be here, but it’s nice to know that’ll be the case. Out of the kids here, you might get one stand-out, one really good kid. Ten who you can put on shows. But one stand-out who’ll go right up the ladder, get to top of the bill.
I just love doing it. It’s a lot of jobs, it’s a lot of travelling, but you’re doing something you love.
I’m 22, I live in Willenhall, and I’ve been wrestling for nearly eight years. It started when I took my ex to a zumba class at the old All-Active gym here in Darlaston. We got there and they went It’s not zumba any more, it’s wrestling. I thought we’d go home, but she said I should give it a go. Yeah… all right then. I’ve always wanted to.
Next Tuesday, I went back and got took through my bumps. They’re your break falls. Wrestling isn’t like UFC where fighters get driven into the floor. Take those kind of hits and your body’s going to break down. That’s why UFC fighters can only fight once every six months, whereas we perform three times a weekend, every weekend of the year. So the first thing you learn, the very first thing you get taught, is how to break your falls, how to minimise the impact. It’s a safety thing. They need to know if they’re teaching you a clothes-line or a body slam, that you know how to take it safely, so they take you away from the rest of the class and you only join them when you’ve learned your bumps.
I went through the bumps perfectly fine, picked them up really quick, and then at the end of the session I landed on my head, and fractured a vertebra in my neck. It didn’t put me off, because it was my own stupidity that got me hurt, it wasn’t wrestling that did it. The break wasn’t a bad one, so when it healed 3-4 weeks later I went back. I’ve been hooked ever since.
When I started wrestling, I was very short-tempered. I wasn’t angry all the time, but it was very easy for people to get at me. I was the kid who had fights and sorted stuff out. I was always in trouble at school. I’d been stabbed. I grew up with my mom and two sisters, and never had a male role model. Then I came into wrestling and it’s full of them. People you look up to and think I want to be like them, I want to be where he is. Back then I was still a little shit. Then I tried behaving like that when I was wrestling, and got put in check very very quickly. That flicked a switch in my head and I thought OK, that’s not how it works in the real world, I’ve got to calm down.
I’ve learned everything from the veterans. Guys like Bob, Scrubber, Matt, they’ve got years and years of experience. Bob’s got more years in wrestling than I’ve been alive, and Matt’s not far off.
It’s not necessarily learning things like them telling you how to do stuff, but you watch when you’re in the ring, you feel what they do to you, where they put you. Or you might talk about a match you’ve got coming up and they tell you, well, I used to do this to win matches, or that to win matches. And it’s not just the wrestling. I’m talking crowd control, when to do certain things, how to do them, what to put in. I can do the most daring top-rope daredevil thing in the world, and it won’t get as much reaction as Matt’ll get from doing a roll-up, because he knows how to work a crowd.
Wrestling’s a way of life. It’s an art form, it’s family. As soon as I meet another wrestler I’ve a certain amount of love and respect for him. Because I know exactly what he’s had to learn, what he’s had to do, to get to where he is. I’ve been wrestling eight years, I’ve had probably over 500 matches, I’m getting up there to be fair, but I could meet a guy on his first show, and I know exactly what he’s had to do to get to that first show, and he’s already got my respect.
I used to watch wrestling at my grandad’s house when I was a kid. Now I’m doing it. And if I hadn’t got into it, honestly, I think I’d be in jail. In jail or in the ground. Instead I meet people all over the country, shake their hand – and we’ve a way of shaking hands – and know they’re a wrestler. I’m going to look after you. And you make friends. And it’s a family.
I’m eighteen, and I’m from Bloxwich. My mom and dad were big wrestling fans, so I was brought up watching it on the telly. I’ve always liked it. I went to a couple of WWF shows, when it was still called that, but that was all. Mainly I watched it on the telly. My friend’s mom would go to shows, though, she has done for years. She knew that I was a wrestling fan, so she took me to a carnival show at Pat Collins funfair in Walsall Arboretum. I went over there with her, her son, and another friend, we watched the show, and we asked the wrestlers then about training.
Before that, I wasn’t really aware that they had local wrestling. Well, I was to a degree, because I went to my first ever local show when I was about seven. But I thought it had just come round to Walsall, and would be heading on. I didn’t think it was based locally. So it was only at the Walsall Arboretum show that I found out they trained in Darlaston, and were local wrestlers. A month or two after that, I started.
That was late 2015. I trained in the kids class for two years, then moved up to the adults class. I loved it straightaway, as soon as I started. I loved wrestling anyway, but I loved the training more than I thought I would. I tend to do a sport for a while and then drop off a bit, but I’ve been continuous at wrestling for four years. I think it’s because I already had a passion for it. The other things I did, not so much.
It’s definitely changed my life. It’s knowing I’ll be going out at the weekend to entertain a bunch of people who live around this area. I’ll be going out in the ring in spandex, gurning and being a bit mad, doing crazy things. Like in the show last Xmas when I came back into the ring with a stepladder in the middle of a fight, that was just spur of the moment. I didn’t know what I was going to do, I just saw the stepladder, thought Yes! grabbed it, and knew I had to make this a moment. So I stared into as many people’s faces as I could on the way back, tried to be as intimidating as possible, and over-exaggerated everything I did.
The match got a lot of positive feedback afterwards, from all the other wrestlers, because they were watching from the balcony. And when we went backstage and got changed, we got a load of feedback. It wasn’t really about the ladder, though, it was more the pair bomb I did over the ropes onto the other two lads. It’s one of my proudest matches, I’d say.
Learning from people like Matt and Scrubber, well, they’ve got tons of experience, haven’t they? I know I can always speak to them. It’s easier, because I know them personally, and that makes it easier to pick stuff up, to learn. I was going to say ‘straightaway’ but it isn’t always straightaway, but it helps me pick it up easily.
I love pretty much every aspect of wrestling. I can’t really think of a single thing I dislike. My favourite is performing in front of people, having an opportunity to express myself. What I do in the ring is me, but magnified 100%. I ramp it up. I’ve always had that aspect of drama, of being a showman. It was the same when I did judo, or rugby.
I think I’ll always want to be wrestling. I want more international experience. I went to Portugal earlier in the year, in the summer, and that was my first time wrestling abroad. It was life-changing. It honestly was. Six or seven of us went over, travelling together, and hanging out together. The show was in a car park, an underground car park, set up specially. It was a different atmosphere, and the fans were was different from back home, because they’re from a different country. So it was a learning curve.
The pressure’s always on when you get in the ring, but we know we can deliver, that we can hit it out of the park. And that’s what we do.
Darlaston is one of my favourite venues, because I grew up here. I used to walk past the Town Hall every day with my mates and think nothing of it. The All-Active gym, where we used to train, was a two-minute walk from my house. When I was 14-15, I used to hang around on the park near there, so to be wrestling there two years later, in front of 300 people, was weird.
It was my brother-in-law who got me into it. He used to wrestle, and he knew I liked it too. I was always watching it on the TV. We were at a family party just before my sixteenth birthday and he said Why don’t you come and try it out? I wasn’t sure. I said I’m this skinny fifteen-year-old kid, I’m going to get battered! He was like no, no, come and try it out. If you don’t like it, you ain’t got to come again. And I thought What have I got to lose?
I came the following Tuesday, and I ain’t looked back since. Don’t get me wrong, I got beat up, but something about it just made me want to come again. And now I’m 23, and I’ve been wrestling for just short of seven years. I love it. Get out there in front of a crowd, and the adrenalin’s like nothing else. It’s a great feeling, it really is. At the same time, you’re nervous. The bigger the show, the more nervous you are, but even for little shows we do I’m still feeling it backstage, and I’m ready to go.
I’ve done around 700, maybe 750 shows. I used to do every show, every week. Fairground shows, whatever. I’d wrestle six times a day. But now I’ve had to slow down how much I do because I’ve had kids. I’ve got to be a bit more careful, cos I don’t want to get home and them go Daddy, why are you hurt? The last thing I want to do is go home and say wrestling’s hurt me.
I’m still learning now. I think everyone is. Even Mad Dog Matt, twenty years he’s been doing it, and he’s still learning new things. All the nitty-gritty stuff, the technical stuff in British wrestling that you can’t learn from watching wrestling on the telly, that’s the hardest thing about it, but I love it. We get a lot of people come and try it for a couple of weeks and decide it’s not for them, and that’s fair enough. If it’s not for you it not for you. I think it’s an acquired taste. We’re all a bit… silly… to want to do this, you know?
What man’s going to want to come and wear lycra in front of a crowd and get beat up, you know what I mean? Everyone of us has got a bit of a switch off somewhere. But for me, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. It never gets boring. There’s always something new.
This February I was in Morrisons, just shopping with my girlfriend, and I heard a kid behind me go Mom, that’s Danny Gold! I turned round, and it was a kid I recognised from a show. He goes Can I get your autograph? I say, if you’ve got something for me to sign. And he gave me his arm. There’s people looking at me, they’re just out doing their shopping and thinking Who’s that???
I was quite embarrassed, but at the same time it was a nice feeling to be recognised for what I do, and it made that kid’s day. I know it’s only on a little scale – I’ve not got thousands of people rushing up to me – but to me it’s amazing. We do wrestling for ourselves, because we get something out of it, but the main thing is entertaining the crowd. At the end of the day, we do it for the fans.
Wrestling takes over everything. Apart from my kids – and my girlfriend, I’d better say that – it’s the thing I love the most. It really is. My girlfriend comes to every show, she’s got to know everyone, and now she’s the door lady. Now she’s part of it as much as I am, because we’re a really close unit. The wrestlers are my brothers and their wives are my sisters. That’s what it’s like. We’re really close.
It’s like family to me.
Elise (on the left)
My husband, Mad Dog, got me into wrestling. I was working on the door, I’d say hallo and take you to your seats, and he had the idea the baddie would come and grab me, drag me into the ring, and hit me with something. Choke me a bit. He gave me the sweet talk. Bob’ll come for you and forearm you, he’ll clothes-line you, just take the bump. I was like I dunno… I don’t think it’s going to work. And he said I promise you it’ll work. And Bob said I promise you it’ll work. And how could I say no to Bob?
The audience really went with it. So then he set up a match. Just one. Me tagging with Mad Dog against the Old School. They’d attack him, they’d attack me, he’d help if they attacked me, I’d help if they attacked him.
Obviously, I had to learn all the bumps. We worked really hard. Got together and put this match on, and the fans absolutely loved it. I think I probably surprised a few of them. And myself. Because I was actually all right. I think they expected it to be a bit… crap, maybe, that they’d think good on her for having a go… but I actually did quite well.
I had so many messages off people on the night, saying you’re amazing! I can’t believe you did it! Even from older ladies as well. Because at the time I was nearly 40, so I had a lot of people saying I can’t believe you’ve done that, I couldn’t do that. And I’d like to think that’s why we’ve had a lot of younger girls coming in to wrestle, because they can see that there is a way for girls and women to do it.
You expect wrestlers to be like Big Daddy, or Blondie – who’s been doing it for so long, and who’s just an amazing human being generally, regardless of the wrestling – or huge, muscly men. But there’s such a vast variety of wrestlers that you can fit in, find your place, that little niche that you can make your place. Do that, and you can make it work really well.
I surprised myself. The reaction that I got is what made me carry on, because it was going to be Ok then, but just this once, and now I’ve ended up tagging with women from America, and I’d never in a million years have thought that I could do that. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do it, though. I’m 42. I’ve had six kids. It’s a bit of a toll on the old body.
Hayah (on the right)
For about six months before my mom was in the ring I’d been begging to learn wrestling, but my dad wouldn’t let me. It was my birthday that first time, when she got beat up, and it was about a week later, on the kids’ camp, when I started. I’m fourteen years old and I’ve been training for two and a half years now. I still love it.
My first proper fight in a show was at Pat Collins funfair, tagging with my mom and dad. We made a big deal of it, got our photos taken together, and so on. And my first singles one was a couple of weeks after, because they knew I was ready. I’m a natural villain.
It’s definitely changed me. In general, I’m a very angry person. And it’s helped me to be nicer to people, and be around people. I’m more tolerant of them. Everyone here is family, and if you’re upset they can tell, and if you’ve been working on something for months and you’ve got that move down, they’re dead happy for ya. They’re there, supporting ya.
If there’s a show coming up, mates at school will say Oh, I saw your mom on a poster today! I saw your stepdad on a poster! Are you going to be on a poster? And I’m like No. I don’t let them put me on a poster. Some lads at school think it’s all fake. They say What are you going to do, really? So I tell them, OK, come here. And I put them in a sleeper hold and they soon learn.
I love this, I want a future in it. I’ve been watching and learning for twelve years, every show Matt’s done. I’ve already been offered a training place in Japan. When I’m sixteen, they’ve said I can go out there for three months. That’s a big thing to have. I was so shocked when mom told me, I couldn’t believe she was serious. I cried. And I don’t get emotional.
I’m from Leamore in Walsall, and I’ve been training since I was eight years old. My family were big wrestling fans before I was even born. My grandad’s brother, he used to go around watching wrestling. He’d go into Walsall and watch it, he watched Big Daddy fight, things like that. My mom watched it. And then my dad got into it and would watch it on the telly all the time. So, growing up, I used to watch it too. I’ve got other brothers and sisters, but I was the one who clicked onto it the most. I’d watch it with my dad, and spend time with him. And that’s how I started falling in love with wrestling.
My mom found out about the Darlaston wrestling school on the internet. We’d been looking for years, but couldn’t find a place to learn wrestling. She asked me if I wanted to go, I said yeah, and since that day I’ve never looked back. As soon as I started doing it I knew this was what I wanted to do. When I was younger, if anyone asked me what I wanted to do, I’d say I want to be a wrestler, so as soon as I got the opportunity to do it, that was it. It took over.
Friends at the time thought it was stupid. You’re dancing around in tights, that’s what they’d say. Or they’d say it was fake. And I’d tell them, Come and try it. Let me do this to you once, and we’ll see. And you do it, you put them in a hold, and they’re like OK! I get it! I didn’t have very good mates back then, but now I do and they support me all the time.
I’ve learned so much from the older wrestlers. I’ve had the opportunity to wrestle people like Bob, Matt, and watch what they do. See how they know where to be in the ring. Or when to breathe, which may sound silly, but knowing when to breathe in a match is really important. You’ll get really tired doing a ten-minute match. So you watch them, and click on that this is where they’ve stopped, this is where they’re taking it easier. Knowing that, I can now do a ten-minute match and then, if I need to, go out and do another one. I’ve done that. Sometimes we’ve been short of people, so I’ll have wrestled once and then two matches after I’ve gone on again, and then I’ve gone again in a rumble. And knowing when to breathe, when to save your energy, keep your breath, that’s really important.
My first match was just over two years ago. It was scary, I’m not going to lie. Going from wrestling in front of people who you know in training, to wrestling in front of 150-200 people you’ve never seen in your life, who are just staring at you… well… especially in your first match, because you’re nervous, you don’t want to mess up, you don’t want to let the show down. I was stood behind the curtain ready to go out, and the music started and my name was announced… Leon Jackson! … and I froze.
I was trying to go, but my body wouldn’t move. I just couldn’t do it.
And there was another wrestler who literally pushed me out through the curtain. Otherwise I’d have just stood there. If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be doing this now. He pushed me out, and I was like, Oooh, I’m here now! That was my first fight. Darlaston All-Active, 5th August 2017. And I won.
Now when I get in the ring, it’s totally fine. I love entertaining people, and being able to do what I’ve always wanted to do. I forget there are people watching. Obviously I still react when they cheer or boo, but most of the time I don’t really notice they’re there, because I’m concentrating on keeping myself and my opponent safe more than anything.
Hopefully I’ll have a future in wrestling. That’s the end goal. It’s all really challenging, but I love a challenge. And I love wrestling.
Mad Dog Maxx
I started wrestling when I was fifteen. I’d watched a wrestling match on TV and to this day it’s the best wrestling match I’ve ever seen. I was sitting on the floor with my brother watching it and something happened in the match that was so good I rolled backwards and hit my head on the floor. That’s how emotionally invested I was in this match. I sat back up with my head stinging and said I’m going to be a wrestler. That was Sunday morning, 4am. Monday morning I went in to see the careers advisor in the library at school and I told her I was going to be a professional wrestler. She told me I was too small and it was a very silly idea.
I ignored her, left her little office, and went on the school computers to find a place to train. It was hard. There were probably four wrestling schools in the whole of the country. I found a wrestler called Steve Logan who taught wrestling every Sunday at his gym in Birmingham. Being fifteen and from Walsall I didn’t go into Birmingham. I had to get three buses. Now I’ve been to Japan and all over with my wrestling, but at fifteen I used to do my paper round, go home, and play on the computer and that was all I did. So going all the way to Birmingham was daunting.
By August I’d had my first match.
It was at Sutton Coldfield town hall. I’d not been training long, in wrestling terms, so I went to help put the ring up and learn the process of wrestling. Steve came up to me and said have you got your wrestling gear? We’ve had someone pull out, can you wrestle? I said Yeah, of course I’ve got my wrestling gear, yeah I’ll wrestle, I’ll wrestle.
I didn’t have my wrestling gear. I was lying through my teeth. I was just desperate to get on a show. I left the town hall, sprinted to the bus station, caught a bus, then a connection to Walsall, sprinted to my house, got my gear, sprinted back to the bus, raced back to the town hall, got in dripping with sweat, and Steve went where the hell have you been? I said Oh, I’ve just been to McDonalds. I was hungry.
Then it was my first match. I looked too young so they put me in a mask. My opponent grabbed my mask by the earholes, spun it round so I couldn’t see anything, and kicked my head in for two or three minutes. That was it. I lost.
That was August. My dad had no idea I was doing any of this. I’d just signed up to join the 6th form and he was really happy about that. But the holiday camp season was in full swing and someone must have pulled out, because I got offered two weeks of a run in Scotland. I took it. I phoned my dad from a payphone, in Scotland, and told him I was no longer going to be an A-level student and I was now a full-time professional wrestler. He was swearing down the phone so much I just put the receiver down and hoped for the best.
It was the best two weeks ever. I was on £25 a day, which was the most money I’d ever had in my life. I still had a paper round, which was £21 a week and here I was earning £25 a day! It was a no-brainer. Then I got back from Scotland and I didn’t get a booking for six months. So my dad wasn’t too approving of my new career. I was the first kid who could have gone to university, and he had high hopes for me. Then I went and chose something he saw as ridiculous. So it took me a few years to win him round, but I got there. He was, and still is, quite supportive.
The only major injury I’ve had was when I dislocated my shoulder. The first two doctors told me I’d never wrestle again. The next doctor told me I might. I kept going back till I found a doctor who told me I’d be OK. Scrubber and Bob are still wrestling in their 60s. I intend to do that, as long as my body will allow me to.
I fight as the Viking Warrior. I’m 45 and I’ve been wrestling for 26 years. I got into it when I was sat there watching it on TV as a kid. Every Saturday at 4 o’clock we’d tune in. My heroes were always the villains, so that’s what I moved toward when I started. Mark Rollerball Rocco and Giant Haystacks were my heroes. I was lucky enough to travel all around the country with Giant Haystacks, and I met Rocco a couple of years back at a reunion. I was gobsmacked. It was like nothing had changed and I was a little kid in front of the TV again as soon as I met him.
How did I get into it? I saw a big feature on British wrestling in the Daily Star when I was about 18 years old. I got in touch and asked Any chance I can come along and train? They said yes, of course. I had to travel down to London, and train with guys down there. I travelled down eight or nine times and then I called it a draw. It was a bit far out of my way.
Then I got in touch with a guy in Merseyside and he said yeah, come along with us. I was green as grass. There was nobody greener than me. I met him one Sunday morning at Birch services just outside Manchester and travelled all the way up to Ayr in Scotland for my debut match. At that point I still knew very little about the business. Didn’t have a clue. Nobody had enlightened me. So for the first six months I got the living crap kicked out of me. But I just kept coming back. The promoter was happy enough about that. He said I can’t pay you much, but I can pay you. We can feed you, you’ve got somewhere to stay when we’re away. And I went round for the first 3-4 years, doing that.
Did it live up to my expectations? Yeah. I knew there wasn’t much money in it, and there wasn’t.
In the ‘90s, wrestling was on its arse. There were just three companies you could work for. Before that, there’d been maybe 20-25, but it had dropped down to three. Then it went on the up again, and by the early 2000s I got busier and busier, and was making good money at it. There were years when I wrestled 750 matches.
Then I left wrestling for a while. I’ve always had the other side of things – metal. My favourite bands are Metallica, Slayer and the like, and I sing in bands. So in 2005 I took a break from wrestling. An old guitarist I used to work with got in touch and said Do you want to write some songs? So we wrote some songs and I went out singing with a metal band called Pyro. We hit the point where we were just about to get signed, and then the drummer – whose whole life had been geared around being signed – called it a draw and said I don’t want to do this. All we had to do was pay for an EP, and we had the money within the band kitty to pay for it. We just had to turn up, record it, and we were getting signed. We had a distribution deal in place with a company. And it all fell through.
At this point I had a broken heart from leaving the wrestling. Then I had a broken heart from the band falling through. The only constant I’ve had in my life for the past nearly 30 years is I’ve got a beautiful wife, and two kids, and they’ve always kept me on an even keel. You get that amazing high of wrestling – I went over to Ireland and each day for the entire ten days we were away we did a matinee show and an evening show and both were 4000 sellouts. It was chocka. And then you get home and the dog’s higher in the pecking order than you.
It keeps your feet on the ground. You come back home and you’re low on the totem pole. You put the bins out, do this, do that. Because they’ve got on without you. My wife brought up our two boys for the first few years on her own, working really hard, working two jobs as well. It’s tough. That’s not just in our business.
It’s true for everyone who goes away to work and earn money for their family.
I’m 64. I started wrestling in 1983. I loved watching it, and when I were made redundant, I decided to get into wrestling. I was given Pat Roach’s address because he was running a course in Birmingham. I rang him up, and he told me how much it would cost. Because I was out of work, some friends got together, had a whip round for me and raised the money. Pat came over, had photos took for the local paper of him receiving the cheque from me, and it just went from there.
I done eight weekends with Pat at his gym in Birmingham, come home every weekend black and blue where he’d picked me up and slammed me on a concrete floor. There were 131 on the course and only two of us continued it. The other fella, Andy, he didn’t stay in the business long. But I did. I loved it.
British wrestling was still on the telly then. It was big. In summer, I’d be out seven nights a week. I’d work all day, go out for a match that evening, get home at 2 or 3 in the morning – or in time to get changed and go to work – then I’d do it again that next night. I were like a zombie. I look back sometimes and wonder how I did it. We’d start at Blackpool on Sunday, you could be down at Brighton on the Monday, Skegness on the Tuesday, down south at Eastbourne or Bournemouth again, back up, somewhere else the next night, and then the following Sunday I’d end up at Yarmouth. I bought a brand-new Granada and I had to take it back after a week for its first service. I’d done over 6000 miles in the week, and it was like that all summer.
I’ve been to South Africa twice, the Middle East five times, Kuwait, India, France, Germany… I never dreamed when I started training with Pat Roach that wrestling would take me these places. It’s like Pat said when he came to get that cheque, he says I can teach ya, but you might get in the ring the first time, get punched in the nose, and say This ain’t for me. But it didn’t bother me. I’d always been a villain when I played football. I were always getting booked. So it didn’t bother me.
People say I’m mad. I’ve heard that a lot.
On my first trip to South Africa I caused a riot and had to be locked in the changing rooms. It was a tag match in Capetown. As I walked to the ring I took the handcuffs off the guard who stood by the dressing room door and put them in my pocket. I climbed in the ring, the South African champion climbed in, and I handcuffed him to the ropes. It caused an absolute riot. The crowd were throwing chairs, tables, big ashtrays, anything and everything. They got me in the dressing room, put armed guards on the door, and I had to wait till the whole place was empty before they could get me to the hotel.
For me, it was job done. The more I can wind them up, the better I know I’ve done my job. The promoter loved it, absolutely loved it.
Five years ago I had an accident at work, and crushed my spinal cord. They told me I’d never walk again. I got myself walking. First it was with two sticks. Now it’s one. Then I went back in the ring. It was brilliant. It’s given me a new lease of life. I know I’m not supposed to do it, but why not? It’s like my physio said You shouldn’t be doing it, but I know you enjoy it and god forbid but if anything ever did happen, I know I could go to your funeral with a clear mind. I’ve advised you not to do it, but it’s something you want to do, and I’m glad, because you’re a totally different man from when you started coming to me.
It’s important to me to pass on what I’ve learned and my experience to this new crop of wrestlers. That’s why I like to help with the training. I go to Darlaston and help with training the kids and the adults. I don’t push in, but if somebody’s doing something wrong, when Matt’s teaching them he can’t always see it, but another pair of eyes, I can pick up that someone’s doing something wrong and he’ll keep an eye on it. It’s good, and I enjoy it.
You’ve got to have passion in this game. You’ve got to have it, or you might as well pack up and go home. I loved it in 1983 when I started, and I still do. It gets into you and you can’t stop.
I was at a wrestling match with my dad, and I noticed Mick McManus come out. I’d always wanted to meet him, so my dad took me over, we got talking to him, and I asked How do I get into this? He said hang on, I’ll go and get the man to talk to, and he brought out Dave Bond, Butcher Bond, who was one of the best heavyweights you could ever meet, and such a nice person. And that was how it all started.
I started training. I must have improved. I didn’t think I had, but I must have, because six months in the guy who ran the gym had a phone call. It was off Jimmy Hagan who ran the holiday camps, and he was looking for a small bloke to work the camps. People think wrestlers have to be huge, but there’s nothing to me.
I head down to Camber Sands. Two blokes pick me up from the train station. They say the ring’s up, and your opponent will be here when we get to the camp. I sit in the dressing room, my bag beside me, and them two went on. No-one’s turned up for me to work with. I think What’s going on here? They come off and I ask Am I working with one of you? They say no. Then the door bursts open. It was Butch Mason. 25-stone of him. I looked at my bag and thought I’ll get out of here, he’ll kill me.
I ended up staying with Butch for a season and a half. Worked with him all the time, three shows a day. He was a darling. We’d play chess in the back of the van, we’d go out and have orangeades together, maybe a couple of beers now and then. He became a really close friend. A few times he stayed with me and my wife, because we’d do a three-week circuit. One week Blackpool and Wales, next week Cornwall and Devon, and then down to Kent. We’d do 14 or 15 jobs a week, starting on a Sunday, finishing on a Friday afternoon.
I’m small, but I can do the job. And if you click with the lads, they’ll look after you. You look after each other, because at the end of the day it takes two to tango, and if one doesn’t want to tango, the other one looks stupid.
I wrestled for 23 years. 90% of that was on the holiday camps in the summer. Well, I say the summer, but we got 10-11 months out of the season. We’d do Pontins, Warners, Hagans, private sites all over the country. The other couple of months I’d go on the halls, for Dale Martin’s, and Brian Dixon.
What I liked about the camps was, you met characters. Holidaymakers don’t know what wrestling is, they just like the goodie and the baddie. I did all right because I was on with Butch, so people used to feel sorry for me, and I’d get drinks bought all the time. At the end of the show, we’d never touch the ring. We’d put it up, but we’d have holidaymakers come up and say What corner post do you want me to hold, mate? And they’d put the ring back in the van for us. We’d just supervise. I’ve known that ring down and in the back of the van within three minutes! Which is good going.
Then Health & Safety kicked in and they weren’t allowed to touch it. The lads today, if they were in my era, they’d realise they’re missing out on a lot. When we was on the camps, we met proper characters. Shane Ritchie was a holidaymaker when I first met him. Then he became a bluecoat, then an entertainments manager. Some days we’d go out fishing with Gary Wilmot, then go for a curry after. Or have a drink with Eric Bristow, or Jocky Wilson, or Mike Reid. I met lovely people who remain really good friends to this day. That’s what it’s all about.
Wrestling was my life. It paid my mortgage. It gave me true friends, and true friends are for life.
Matt (the referee)
Being a referee is eye-opening. You get to learn a little bit more how the business works, a lot quicker, because you have to know the structure, rather than just a move. If you’re a wrestler in a match, you might need to know X, Y, and Z, but if you’re a ref you’ve got to know a lot of little things. You’ve got to know where to stand, and how to move round. It’s no good walking round just three sides of the ring, because then you’re blocking the view, you’re standing between the wrestlers and the crowd, so you’ve always got to be moving.
If one wrestler’s got a hold on the other and they want to portray what’s happening, but I’m in the way and the crowd can’t see, that’s no good. You might know how to ref a match, but you also need to know all the little things which make sure that being the third man in the ring doesn’t make you a problem. The crowd shouldn’t be bothered about the ref. If I’m doing my job properly, the crowd shouldn’t be bothered about me at all.
If you speak to Mad Dog or Blondie Bob Barratt, they’ll say the referee’s the third man, he has an important role in communication, in making sure everyone can see. Some blokes who’ve never refereed before, they won’t know that. There’s a very specific set of skills which you wouldn’t have to use if you were a wrestler.
I’m 37, and I’ve been training for eight years. I was living in Cannock when I started – one Sunday I was playing 5-a-side football in Penkridge, there was a show just two miles down the road, and I thought Why not watch it? That was it. I was hooked. On training days, I’d leave the house at eight in the morning, go to work, catch a couple of buses to get to training, and get back home at 10.30 at night. Now I live in Bloxwich, which makes everything so much easier.
The child inside me always wants to be the wrestler, to be living the child’s dream, and I do wrestle sometimes. I’m good at the basics, making sure the way you fall that you don’t get hurt, break falls, and the like. I can bump quite hard and – touch wood – I haven’t hurt myself. Although people have hurt me! But at the end of the day I just love all of it. Whatever job needs doing, I’m here to do. There’s nothing better than being backstage, and the camaraderie with your friends. You’re all – hopefully – in the same ship, steaming to the same destination. I’m one of the rare people who say it’s nice just to be involved. Whatever aspect it is.
I’ve refereed over 1500 bouts. My 1500th was at Riley’s in Wolverhampton. Mad Dog versus Ethan Page. He’s on telly now, in one of the biggest wrestling companies in the world. My first match as referee? At a cricket pavilion. With seven people in the crowd. No, I tell a lie. Four people in the crowd, because another company were running the show and it wasn’t advertised.
Every show is different, but the oddest show we’ve done was about six years ago, in Ashby-de-la-Zouch. It was a Pat Collins fair, but in the middle of the High Street. All well and good. We always put on a warm-up match, an up-and-coming guy against an experienced wrestler, something like that, something that’ll draw the crowd in. And halfway through the match there were a couple of women stilt-walkers in costume turned up, and then, as I turned round, there was a Dalek.
A Dalek at the ringside. Commentating on the match. In the Dalek voice.
I couldn’t stop laughing. For ten minutes it commentated – I’ve still got photos somewhere – and a referee, you can’t be seen to be smiling or laughing, but there’s a Dalek there so you’ve got to give a bit of leniency. When the match was over, it’s 1… 2… 3… and raise the hand of the winner. The Dalek says of the guy who lost This combatant has been exterminated! turns round, and trundles off into the distance, never to be seen again.
That was really weird.
Carolyn (a wrestling fan)
The first time I went to wrestling was when we went to see Big Daddy at Walsall Town Hall. Me mom took us, and I loved it. Well, I already loved it anyway. I used to watch it on the Saturday afternoon on the telly.
I was thirteen then, and sometimes we’d go to Wolverhampton Civic Hall. I’ve seen too many wrestlers to say I have a favourite, but I loved Rollerball Rocco, and his feuds with Kendo were just amazing. Once, when I was younger and I had a car, I went to wrestling ten times in a fortnight. All up and down the country. Wolverhampton, Leamington, all the way up to Oldham and Sheffield. I loved it.
Then wrestling stopped being on the telly, and almost disappeared. I guess it’s bigger again now.
I love the atmosphere. You can switch off and forget everything, you can shout as loud as you want. And that’s what I always tell my kids – it’s on of those places where you can let it all go, shout, and enjoy it.
Mat (a wrestling fan)
I’m 41 and I’ve been coming to wrestling since I was about 3 years old. Wrestling was still on the telly back then. I used to sit on my dad’s lap on a Saturday afternoon and watch World of Sport. Used to sit there, waiting, all excited.
Me dad got me into it. When you’re growing up, most dads take you to the football. Mine didn’t. He took me to the wrestling. So it’s in my blood, really. I saw all the big names, and I’m very good friends with Kashmir Singh. I saw Bob Barratt, Giant Haystacks, Rollerball Rocco, Marty Jones, Kendo Nagasaki. I’ve got a signed mask of his. I collect memorabilia as well.
What do I love about wrestling? It’s exciting, it’s entertaining. I’ve been brought up on it. People get excited about football, or tennis. I don’t. I get excited about wrestling. That’s what I follow. I’ve travelled round the country to different shows, and I’m like a big kid.
It’s like a family, isn’t it? Like a big family.
John (a wrestling fan)
I started following wrestling at the Civic Hall in Wolverhampton fifty years or more ago. I used to go with my brother in law. He started taking us on a Tuesday night, and we’d go every fortnight. We saw all the big names: Giant Haystacks, Big Daddy, Rollerball Rocco, Kashmir Singh, Scrubber Daly, Marty Jones.
I went down to London once. Up to Stoke, too. Now we come to Darlaston, and go over to Rushall. I’m 62 now, and it’s good to see the old school stuff coming back again. We never went for years after the Civic closed, but then we came to Darlaston five, six years ago and we got the bug again.
We never looked back.
Arthur (a wrestling fan)
I used to go to wrestling with two friends in the 1970s. We’d go to Wolverhampton Civic Hall and we saw all the stars: Mark Rocco, Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Kendo Nagasaki. I was hooked then. Then, all of a sudden, wrestling just stopped. But in these last years, it’s started up again, and we’ve come ever since. I probably enjoy it even more now than when I first went.
I’m older, I understand it more. I go sometimes two, three times a week. If there’s a show on, I try my best to come. Here, Bilston, Wolverhampton, wherever. I enjoy every minute.
It’s the same now as it was then. You know you’re safe. You let off steam, people here are your friends. The crowd are brilliant. The wrestlers are brilliant.
You can’t fault it.