The good old days in West Cumbria

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The good old days in West Cumbria reviewed by Roger Robson this week in his personal view of the sport.

In some areas Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling relies on one or two individuals to keep the sport alive.

The West Coast of Cumbria used to be a hot-bed of wrestling with the miners and shepherds fuelling the sport in the Nineteenth Century, and with a big following right up to the post-War boom in the fifties when academies at Bootle and Gosforth kept a good supply of skilful wrestlers. But now only Waberthwaite Academy, near Bootle, gives a chance for young people to hipe and hank.

Tom Porter, the man behind Waberthwaite's healthy continuation, was part of that original swell of interest. He was not one of the stars of the wrestling scene, but his impact over the years has been second to none in West Cumbria.

This week his club hosted the Young Farmers from Drigg who were no doubt finding out where the wrestling talent was for the North Cumbria Field Day in May. He takes his wrestling to Junior Schools and has links with a local Youth Club.

The academy is run in its own idiosyncratic way. For a start it is free for all participants, relying on Tom finding funding for expenses from Sellafield, the local Neighbourhood Forum and the Domino League Charity. On a visit this week, I was fascinated to see a competition run in the old traditional way that I had only ever heard about.

Once upon a time those wanting to wrestle would literally throw their cap into the ring. Those that fell nearest to each other were paired for the first round of wrestling. At the end of that round the winners threw their hats in again for the second round pairings. Caps are in short supply these days, but everybody has to wear footwear, so an armful of trainers were thrown onto the mat before each round.

This system which, a rare thing these days, cuts out all paperwork entirely is something new/old to add to the Wrestling Handbook which is in preparation for the CWWA at present.

Tom Porter has soldiered on alone for a number of years, but this year has seen a sharing of the load with parents of wrestlers taking a more active role, and particularly the return of Joe Lowery to the wrestling mats.

Joe used to be a highly successful wrestler in the boys and was just making his mark amongst the men, when he was knocked back by injury and farming responsibilities.

At last year's Academy Shield Competition he was the mainstay of the Waberthwaite team, both as coach and wrestler. That interest has continued and week by week he has been bringing on a good group of young wrestlers.

Tom Porter can say how the trips should be done, but is no longer able to get a hold to show the way, so he is delighted with Joe's contribution as a coach and active wrestler.

Anyone wishing to sample the special qualities of Waberthwaite Academy should go along at 7.30pm on Tuesdays to Waberthwaite Village Hall, or join them for their Open Night on Saturday 18th March when wrestlers are invited from all areas for a wide range of competitions.

(Roger Robson is Author of the book 'Cumberland & Westmorland Wrestling' published by Bookcase 1999 )

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

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