Scythes, Horses, Ipads, mobile phones and the Internet



The time when wrestlers used to come streaming down off the Lakeland fells, when the miners of Northumberland, Weardale and West Cumbria surfaced like packs of moles, and farm workers parked their horses and scythes to travel to compete at Morpeth Games, Grasmere and Egremont Crab Fair is far in the past.
Yet, the core of Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling is the same: a straightforward athletic sport, available to Everyman at little cost, and persisting in beautiful, vibrant venues, over fifty of them, in the Northern Counties and the Borders of Scotland.

The traditional values, and the traditional costume, remain, but our sport is not in some sort of cocoon or time-warp. It is also a thoroughly modern sport subject to all the pressures and advantages of the modern world. There was even a learned academic paper published by Mike Huggins, the present Emeritus Professor of Cultural History at the University of Cumbria on "The Regular Re-invention of Sporting Tradition and Identity: C &W Wrestling c. 1800-2000".

Part of this "regular re-invention" is the use of modern technology as a support for an ancient sport. For example, Rothbury Academy keeps its members informed about all that "gannin on" by facebook. The club has a closed group supervised by Karen Whitfield, the wife of Darren who organises and coaches at the club.
Now that most households have a computer, e-mail communication is used more and more. Wrestlers are in regular contact with other wrestlers by text from mobile phones. Craig Naylor may live hidden away in deepest Wasdale, or working through Winter in Spain, but he maintains contact with wrestlers, home and abroad, by texting.
The Wrestling Association web-site is run by Roy Lomas who lives in Madrid, yet enquiries from local people about old trophies, family connections and "where can I learn to wrestle" come through to the academies, to the CWWA Secretary and to me.
A database of wrestlers, coaches, organisers and officials is being considered to replace the haphazard lists that exist now. I must confess that a high proportion of the people in my little grotty blue telephone book are actually dead, so I could do with a spring clean or a new system.
One of the problems faced by the Association when monitoring and developing coaching qualifications is the cost of Child Protection courses. That problem was overcome in an instant when the Carlisle coach, Andrew Carlile, discovered that such qualifications are available on the internet to a standard acceptable by schools.

These are all modern tools to sustain an ancient sport. As Mike Huggins concluded: "Over the last two centuries, wrestling has experienced both change and continuity. In part, C & W wrestling has survived by adopting the public rituals, rhetoric, and symbolism of all modern sport"....and the technology, too.

Written by © Roger Robson ............. Photographs by © Roger Robson, Julian Richardson or Linda Scott (2013).

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