It’s the beginning of August on a baking hot Sunday afternoon and you fancy a drive out. The Garden of England is your setting and the picturesque country lanes eventually lead you to a beautiful village pub, nestled by a crossroads, with a majestic railway viaduct for its backdrop: a beer garden adds to the view, accompanied by a small, meandering stream. You notice that the pub is heaving with people, both inside and out. Your first and most obvious thought is that the venue is one hell of a popular watering hole. And I’m sure that under normal circumstances, it is. So what’s different about today?
A closer inspection suddenly reveals a very familiar face: “isn’t that..?” Yes, it is, the man you most loved to hate: earned his living in a dangerous but entertaining fashion. You realize it is Mick McManus: if you’re a real expert you’ll notice Colin Joynson as well. A quick glance at the pub’s name indicates it may belong to the former Heavyweight Champion of the World, Wayne Bridges. And all your deductions would be right because you’ve stumbled upon the 17th annual British Wrestler’s Reunion.
Suddenly you’re propelled back in time to the 1970’s and the velvety smooth voice of Kent Walton with his all too familiar introduction “Hello grapple fans, and welcome to another afternoon of professional wrestling. Today we’re coming from...”
On a Saturday afternoon at four o’ clock, the world (well, the UK at least) stopped what it was doing and switched on the TV to watch the likes of Jackie Pallo, Les Kellett, Giant Haystacks, Pat Roach, and an endless list of other ring-mat monsters. Why? Because that’s what the public wanted. Little wonder then there was an outcry when one man who let power go to his head and killed not only the country’s favourite sport, but the bread and butter of the seasoned professionals, the one thing these guys relied on to earn them a weekly wage. And to think all that happened when the ratings were actually greater than the nation’s favourite soap, Coronation Street, which is still going. And the sad fact of the matter is, when the lights went out on wrestling, most of us forgot about them.
But yesterday’s forgotten heroes continued carving out a living in the face of adversity for as long as they could. And perhaps the most important thing they remembered, were each other.
The British Wrestler’s Reunion is an extremely organized event, and though it’s not down to one man in particular, ex wrestler, Frank Rimer is usually at the heart of things. It all started in 1991 and one thing is very evident: despite their confrontations in the ring, these guys think a hell of a lot of each other outside it. Their comradeship is close to a reunion of World War 2 veterans. The smile on their faces when they meet each other is enough to light up any room. And not only do they shake hands and wrap an arm around their colleagues with zest and vigor, they are equally as pleased to meet the people that put them there: the numbers of adoring fans.
The event was finally brought to book by ex MC Peter Baines, and once the music died, the itinerary they had set for themselves soon followed. Colin Joynson read out the obituaries and everyone took time to remember those most recently lost. An award ceremony followed and The Reunion organizers not only gave out lifetime achievement awards to the World of Sport Legends such as Jon Cortez, perhaps one of the greatest technical wrestlers the country has ever produced: but they very kindly honoured some of today’s latest stars currently wrestling under the banner of one of the country’s leading promoters, Mr Sanjay Bagga of LDN Capital: the award for best newcomer going to Danny Garnell. And it was a very prominent point made by Frank Rimer that hosts Wayne and Sarah Bridges wanted to make the young stars extremely welcome, to make them feel that it was their reunion as well, because one day in the future, the newcomers would be the veterans and the positions would be reversed. There were various stalls selling wrestling memorabilia as well as a raffle, with donations going to the Reunion. A generous helping of food was also prepared and served.
It was a wonderful afternoon, one that was enjoyed by all, wrestlers and fans alike. The only sad reminder about the whole parade is that when reality kicks in, it makes you realize that the very people who risked their necks to entertain you have grown old like the rest of us and, unfortunately, because of the nature of the game, some of them are not in the best of health. But if enthusiasm was anything to go by, these guys are still on top of the world. And all I can say is, long may that feeling live, and here’s to the 2009 reunion, and everyone they can manage after that.
Ray Clark, 2008.