Cumberland and westmorland wrestling is alive and well - and flourishing

Good News for Christmas and the New Year: Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling is alive, well, and flourishing. At least that was the impression I got when I contacted the five academies which stretch across the Border Counties of England.

This end of term report on the academies lacks the rigour of an Ofsted inspection, based as it is on phone calls to my friends who are the senior coaches at Kendal, Milnthorpe, Rothbury and Waberthwaite……I did not bother to phone Alan Jones at Carlisle as I see him every week at the Wrestling Club at Currock House…… but each coach was in an upbeat mood and talked enthusiastically about the youngsters at their clubs.

Youth is the present theme for there is almost a missing generation of wrestlers in their twenties and early thirties. Instead there is a tide of young wrestlers flowing onto the academy mats. The biggest flood seems to be at Kendal Academy based in the Leisure Centre each Friday, where John Wilson has a breathless two hours – “I don't stop to take air in and have to carry a water bottle” – coaching twenty-five “little boys”. Meanwhile they have a group of lads ready to make their mark in the seniors. He particularly mentioned Graham Brocklebank of Warton “wrestling like a man now” and the all round athleticism of Graham Benson of Langdale.

Kendal Academy has competitions each week, but John Wilson found that the old format meant that too much time was taken up with formal wrestling and not enough with training. By reducing the competitions to “sudden death” he reduced the time by at least half and now has more time to develop the skills of the young wrestlers. The club supports the move to a new style strip for wrestling and has found grants and other money to subsidise modern strips for its wrestlers.

The Kendal area is unique in being served by two academies with David Parsons coaching local lads at Minthorpe Academy. His is a much smaller operation than that at Kendal for he aims to run a class for about a dozen wrestlers. He has a small group of experienced wrestlers well able to hold their own in the older boys classes, so much so that he is thinking of offering them a trip to wrestle in Brittany in March. At the younger end he is actively seeking more wrestlers to boost numbers.

Waberthwaite Village Hall is a beacon for wrestlers on the far West of Cumbria each Tuesday night. For many years Tom Porter, as coach, has ploughed a lone furrow, but at last he has an ally. Joe Lowery, won the trophy for the best performance in the wrestling at the Academy Shield competition, and would also have won a trophy for Noisiest Supporter of the Night if there had been one. That zest has been channelled into coaching a group of about ten lads in their mid-teens, while Tom coaches the younger boys. One lad, Stephen Killhope, thought so much of the wrestling academy that he did a sponsored bike ride and handed over £70 for academy funds. In the New Year they are expecting up to forty Drigg Young Farmers to swamp the hall as they did last year.

Out on a limb in Northumberland is the newest academy, only eight weeks old, at Rothbury. Of course there have been previous manifestations just up the Coquet Valley at Harbottle and Thropton, but there had been a long time gap since Thropton closed. Only four wrestlers attended for the first session, but since then numbers improved week by week until there were fifteen wrestlers at the last night before the school pantomime closed the club until they resume on Wednesday, 11th January. Jason Davidson, the main coach, has a good situation for there is a Youth Club in the school at the same time as the wrestling training and the activity is offered free of charge.

I usually arrive late at Carlisle Wrestling Club for I no longer coach. As I open the door to the Currock House Gym I am always knocked back by the heat, light, noise and dynamic action. Alan Jones, the main coach, with support from Andrew Carlile and Tom Harrington have a high energy training regime which combines lots of action with detailed back-up on detail. And lined up at the side of the mat are the chauffeurs enjoying the spectacle. The drivers are needed because few wrestlers walk to the club; the majority travel many miles to take part regularly. Paul Murray comes each week from beside Whitehaven. His rival and sparring partner, Jack Brown, lives beside Haydon Bridge and Joe Thompson comes from Alston. At Carlisle there is a strong contingent of young wrestlers, but they also have a marvellous group of young wrestlers who have brought a freshness and skill to men's wrestling throughout the Northern Counties.

Written by © Roger Robson. Photographs by © Roger Robson, Julian Richardson or Linda Scott (February 10th 2011)

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