Wrestling with the problem of keeping the sport alive


Wednesday, 10th December Carlisle Wrestling Club Junior Points Night
Wednesday, 17th December Carlisle Wrestling Club Senior points Night.

Wrestling is one of the cheapest and most natural sports known to man. At its most basic there is no specialist equipment, and no expensive infrastructure. Not surprisingly, there is evidence that wrestling was widespread in medieval England with all sorts of regional variations. Carvings on the underside of Cathedral choir-stalls, and marginalia on early hand-written religious books confirm the popularity of wrestling.
All that remains of that ubiqitous sport is our Cumberland and Westmorland style in the Northern Counties, a few Cornish wrestlers keeping the flickering flames of their style alive, and a day's shin-kicking at the Cotswold Games at Chipping Camden
This week a voice from the past rang me from Cornwall, Ken Cocks from St Austell. Over forty years ago I met him when I competed for a couple of years in Cornwall, and now he had a problem and wondered how we were coping. Despite lobbying by local MPs, a law on licensing public wrestling events was passed recently. Graeco-Roman and Olypic Freestyle wrestling were given a derogation, but Cornish and Cumbrian wrestling were specifically included. For us the licensing is done through our host events, usually agricultural shows, except for the Rothbury Mart which is our only stand-alone event, so the law had minimal effect.
Our conversation widened, and I found out that Cornish wrestling is going through hard times. Ken thought that last year was "the worst for forty years". Only seven events remain of which only one gives prize-money, two clubs teeter on, and there is a deep schism between factions in the sport. They survive by affiliating to the British Wrestling Association who provide insurance cover and coaching accreditation. This connection also meant that they were able to source a grant of £10,000 from Sport England to provide coaching in schools, but that led to dissent and division.
We may have our difficulties, but this summer we had 56 affiliated events, and this winter we have five academies, spread through Northumberland and Cumbria. We have excellent links with the Scottish wrestlers and with the Bretons. And there is a sense that we have a great crop of young wrestlers gracing our rings and training on the indoor mats.
Perhaps the basic problem is that Cornish wrestling has not adapted as much as we have in the past twenty years. A comment from Ken reminded me about how long the bouts were and how defensive the style. For long periods of time the wrestlers may be tied up in the canvas jacket and holding their man off with a stockade of elbows.
Two changes have enhanced C&W wrestling in the last thirty years: firstly, a simple change of the laws eradicated the interminable fighting for hold even before the bout began; and secondly, the present coaches have inspired young wrestlers to win by attacking rather than being passive and defensive.

The cover picture of the CD shows Richard Fox in sparkling form at Grasmere
The result can be seen in the annual slide-show organised by Carlisle Wrestling Club at Currock House at 7.30 on Sunday, 7th December when 45 of the events feature in the display. A CD of the season in pictures and words is available as an unusual Christmas present. All are welcome.
Written by Roger Robson..... © Photographs by Roger Robson, Jill Robson, Julian Richardson or Linda Scott (2014)

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