Changes over the last 50 Years

On the shortest day of 2014 I began to look back at the past year, but overshot, and started thinking about the changes in Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling over the last fifty years. In organising my brain and mulling over potential material, I decided to look at images of then and now, and found, waiting for me as if it was meant to be, two photographs taken fifty years apart, in exactly the same spot.

1964 Grasmere Sports

The wrestlers line up for the costume competition, and the differences are immediately apparent: not just the black and white versus colour photographs, or the fashions, or the severity of Tom Harrington's haircut. The real difference is in the personnel: in 2014 the biggest number of wrestlers is obviously younger, and several are female.

2014 Grasmere Sports

Although our wrestling was in the doldrums in 1964, with only Kendal Academy functioning, there were still far more men in the line-up as a consequence of the popularity of the wrestling in the fifties. Over fifty wrestlers were entered in the Grasmere programme for each of the three heaviest weights. Now there are five academies in action and the emphasis is firmly on youth.
In 1964 no females competed in the sport; this year at Grasmere there were four female categories, and the mixed under 12s was won by Gemma Coulthard.
In 1964 every bout, except for the finals, was decided by single falls. "Sudden death" made some bouts more intense, always on a knife-edge, and it gave the lesser wrestlers the chance of a surprise fall, but it also led to ultra-defensive wrestling and virtual stalemate. This year the only places which considered using single fall wrestling were Rothbury Mart and the Westmorland Show where time was at a premium.
In 1964 the referee had little control of the wrestlers taking hold. Each man had to be on his guard and look after his own interests, and the result was that many wrestlers sought an unfair advantage. Fighting for a fair hold was sometimes harder and longer than the actual bout which ensued. An honourable exception was Peter Hunter, my boy-hood hero, who always took a slack hold and enquired, "Are ye all right, lad?" before bamboozling you with science.

Wrestling Events staged at Grasmere Sports in 2014 Grasmere Sports Programme 2014
<..............................1964 Programme and wrestling events at Grasmere Sports ..........................><.......2014 Programme...>

Jim Bland's suggested amendment to the rules about taking hold eliminated at a stroke the prolonged struggles which wasted time and alienated the crowd. Similarly, the unseemly congregation of the referee and judges in the centre of the ring to discuss a close fall has been stopped. Now, the officials have to give their decisions immediately, and each bout is decided by a majority. By this system no individual wields undue influence on the declared result

No Scots, Bretons, or Icelanders were in the lists. Unlike this year when an Icelander felled a Scot in the All Weights final at Grasmere. In February 2015 a coach-load of wrestlers and spectators will set out from Rothbury, pick up others down the M6, and travel to Quimper in Brittany for their backhold championships. Since 1985 the CWWA has been been affiliated to the International Federation of Celtic Wrestling so that teams of wrestlers from all parts of Northern England have united over the years to compete in European Championships.

Other positive changes are the Annual Presentation Dinner, the re-jigged Academy Shield, the Victor Ludorum trophies, our fine web-site, coaching and first-aid qualifications.
Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling remains the same as it was fifty years ago (or two hundred), but it is also significantly and beneficially different.

Written by Roger Robson..... © Photographs by Roger Robson, Jill Robson, Julian Richardson or Linda Scott (2014)

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