IS the Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling strip out-dated ?

IS the Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling strip out-dated, and a source of mockery which turns young people away from the sport; OR is it neat and effective for the needs of the sport, and a distinctive part of our local culture? The answer, of course, is yes to both questions, and that creates a problem.

A source of mockery?.... When a journalist on a local paper refers to the velvet centre-piece as knickers and a local television presenter ends a serious piece of film on wrestling with Mmm, seem like nice boys!. Then it is little surprise that comments at the ring-side and in the school corridors can be daunting to youngsters who are taking their first steps in the sport. Long-johns have associations with grandads and Carry On films. If you call them tights they have links with women and ballet-dancers. And the embroidery on the vests and centre-pieces seem at odds with a tough sport. Even the word costume has a less than macho feel to it. And then there is superman. So, yes, we have an image problem.

Neat and effective?...The result of a backhold wrestling fall can depend on an inch of difference as the two wrestlers hit the ground. Wrestling judges need short-cropped grass and tight-fitting clothes to be sure of the result of some falls. The traditional strip is perfect for this. It is also light in weight, easily washed (my wife tells me!), and cheap.

Distinctive?...When I flew to South Africa, the in-flight magazine had picture of Tom Harrington and Gavin Fox at Grasmere. Tourist literature constantly uses images of wrestlers to help define the special nature of the culture of the area. One of Tom's strips was an exhibit in the Tate Gallery recently. The strip could scarcely be more distinctive - an instantly recognised symbol of our sport.

Local culture?...The strip has been part of the sport since the 1850s when it was the fashionable athletic strip of the time before shorts appeared. Before that wrestlers stripped down to shirts, knee breeches and stockings.

Written by © Roger Robson. Photographs by © Roger Robson, Julian Richardson or Linda Scott (May 4th 2011)

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