Olympic Games ..............in Morpeth Northumberland.

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The first time I ever wrestled in an adult competition, was in the Olympic Games. Not Athens or Tokyo or Moscow , unfortunately, but Morpeth Olympic Games in Northumberland. I had often wondered about the name, but never found an answer until my recent get-well-away-from-wrestling holiday in Shropshire when I visited Much Wenlock. You may have noticed that one of the one-eyed tellytubbies which are to be the mascots for the 2012 London Olympics is called Wenlock, and with good reason.

In 1850 the first Wenlock Olympic Games were held, combining athletics and fun events for every grade of man. The main man behind the event was Dr William Penny Brookes, and he furthered the Olympian ideal by supporting an Athenian revival in 1859, and helping to set up the National Olympian Association in 1865. In 1870 the first Morpeth Olympic Games were held and they continued each August Bank Holiday until 1958, when I arrived and they closed.

In 1890 Baron Coubertin, organiser of the International Congress on Physical Education, attended Wenlock Olympic Games, the same year that Brookes petitioned Parliament to make Physical Education a compulsory part of the curriculum in National Schools. In 1896, only months after Brookes death, the first Olympics was held in Athens . One of the main thrusts of the Olympian movement was that sport should be available for all grades of men and that provoked a response from what became the Amateur Athletic Association which believed that sport should be restricted to amateurs and gentlemen - in other words athletes from public schools and Oxbridge. Morpeth, surrounded by a coalfield and farmland, was a natural centre for a big event for wrestling and running for working-class men hoping to make a bob or two from their fitness and skill, hence Morpeth Olympic Games.

Morpeth wrestling has taken place at the town Gala for the past few years, but this year, sadly, it is off the menu. Two other prestigious events have disappeared from the wrestling calendar this year: Keswick Show knocked back by years of mud and flood, and the big indoor event at Rothbury Mart in the beginning of September is taking a sabbatical this year.

Richard Fox with the 14st championship belt at Ambleside2009 However, the official calendar of CWWA events should be available to members at the Northumberland Show on Monday, when the 13st Championship takes place. Last year was an annus mirabilis for Richard Fox who won three titles (at 13, 14 and 15 stones) in fine style. I should imagine that he will have to tweak his winter weight to defend his 13st title, but he has already shown good form at the YFC Field Day.

The Icelanders are not coming to England this year, but are instead making a determined effort to retune their backhold wrestling by holding a training week-end at the beginning of September and then looking to compete over here next year.



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

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