THE STORY OF MORECAMBE WRESTLING
Morecambe is a major part of British wrestling folklore & history.
The tiny seaside town on the Lancashire coast has been an entertainment capital of the North West since the early 20th century. Holidaymakers would flock to Morecambe to enjoy the delights of the beach, the promenade and its many entertainment venues. And many will know Morecambe as the birthplace of Eric Morecambe, one half of Britain’s best-loved comedy double act Morecambe and Wise.
From the 1930s, professional wrestling was a big draw in Morecambe. The very first recorded wrestling match in the resort took place in August 18 1932, with British Champion Atholl Oakley battling The Black Adonis to a half-hour draw. Soon all-in wrestling, as it was known back then, was a regular attraction on Tuesday nights at the Central Pier and Thursdays in the Winter Gardens Ballroom on the seafront. Big names of the day like the villainous Jack Pye and the legendary Wigan submission expert Billy Riley appeared on these bills as wrestling’s popularity in Morecambe continued to grow through the war years.
During Morecambe’s peak years as a holiday destination of the 1950s and 1960s, British wrestling was also enjoying a boom period thanks to weekly Saturday afternoon television coverage. Back then the ITV cameras would visit the Winter Gardens a couple of times a year. Legends of the ring such as Jackie Pallo, Les Kellett, ‘Crybaby’ Jim Breaks, Vic Faulkner and Jim Hussey (father of Marc ‘Rollerball’ Rocco) could be seen bending bones at the Gardens in front of packed houses. The TV cameras visited Morecambe for the first time on June 10 1961 for a show featuring Kellett, Roy St Clair and ‘Wild’ Ian Campbell. A televised show from the Winter Gardens aired on July 27 1966, just days before England’s football team won the World Cup.
The Native American star Billy Two Rivers was also a top attraction at the venue during this time. While appearing in Morecambe, the Mohawk chief from Canada romanced a local girl and fathered a child. The young lad grew up to become top designer and TV personality Wayne Hemingway, who recalls as one of his earliest memories being paraded around the Winter Gardens ring on the shoulders of his famous father.
Into the 1970s, and it was the turn of stars like ‘The Man of 1,000 Holds’ Johnny Saint and Mike Marino to grace the Morecambe rings as the TV cameras looked on. A World of Sport broadcast taped in Morecambe on August 17 1977 was an exceptional bill, with Cyanide Sid Cooper, Mick McManus, Johnny Saint, the masked man Count Bartelli, a wild double disqualification between Marty Jones and Rollerball Rocco, and a match pitting future British Bulldog The Dynamite Kid against Jackie Robinson, the European Lightweight Champion and cousin of Billy Robinson. Jackie loved Morecambe so much, he would in later life settle in the town to run a go-kart track near the Morecambe Dome. Another British wrestling legend, Steve Logan – former tag partner of Mick McManus – also moved to Morecambe and spent his final days living in the resort prior to his death in 2003.
The Winter Gardens closed in 1977 but bouts continued at the Central Pier and after its opening in 1980, The Morecambe Dome. TV wrestling also carried on in the resort until 1981, with names such as Tony ‘Banger’ Walsh, Steve Grey, Alan Kilby and Mal ‘King Kong’ Kirk performing in front of the cameras on a September 1980 ITV card. Auf Wiedersehn Pet and Raiders of the Lost Ark star ‘Bomber’ Pat Roach was part of the last ever Morecambe bill shown on ITV, taped on July 15 1981, when he knocked out Romany Riley on a show also featuring Rocco, Breaks and ‘Ironfist’ Clive Myers.
The 1980s also saw the biggest household names in British wrestling, the super heavyweights Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks, pull huge crowds to the Central Pier. Indeed, Daddy and Haystacks would headline bouts at The Dome in the years immediately after ITV cancelled pro wrestling in 1988. In the early 1990s, the ageing Daddy was still the star attraction on Thursday evening summer shows at The Dome in 1991 and 1992. Names such as Marty Jones, the veteran ‘Burly’ Barry Douglas, ‘Kindhearted’ Keith Myatt and Dave ‘Fit Finlay’ (with Princess Paula) were regulars alongside up-and-comers like Johnny Angel, Tony Stuart and Steve Regal, who would later earn fame and fortune as William Regal in World Wrestling Entertainment.
It was also around this time that a fledgling wrestling magazine called Superstars of Wrestling was set up at an office in Morecambe, run by Lancaster journalist Findlay Martin. This magazine would relaunch in 1994 under the name of Power Slam, and become Europe’s best-selling and most revered wrestling publication for the next 20 years.
Also in 1994, British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith visited The Dome during a UK summer tour before returning to the WWF. Brian Dixon’s All-Star Wrestling also promoted shows in Morecambe featuring ex-WWF stars The Bushwhackers and in 2000, just days before he was found dead in a Liverpool motel, the giant Yokozuna. Welsh promoter Orig Williams and The Wrestling Alliance, run by Scott Conway, also tried their hand at running events in The Dome during an unstable period for wrestling in the resort.
Then on April 21 2003, The Frontier Wrestling Alliance (FWA) began a successful four-year stint at The Dome, bringing a new, modern style of wrestling to Morecambe fans. Promoted by a duo of Morecambe born and bred promoters, Power Slam writer Greg Lambert and his friend Mark Kay, the FWA was dragging British wrestling into the 21st century. The Morecambe fans became familiar with a whole host of new grapple stars such as ‘The Showstealer’ Alex Shane, the FWA Champion Doug Williams, ‘The Wonderkid’ Jonny Storm, the beautiful Nikita, Paul Burchill, Robbie Brookside and ‘The Shining Light’ Stevie Knight. Top international names such as Juventud Guerrera, Christopher Daniels, D’Lo Brown, Steve Corino and Colt Cabana also wrestled in Morecambe during this period. Many of the FWA bouts from the Morecambe Dome aired on Sky TV’s The Wrestling Channel.
Two of the biggest FWA events in Morecambe were held in 2005. The first ever ‘War on the Shore, headlined by Alex Shane v Raven, sold out The Dome on March 26 and was featured in its entirety on The Wrestling Channel. Then on June 18, the first ever world tag team championship match of a Japanese promotion to be held on UK soil, was held in Morecambe. Naomichi Marufuji and Minoru Suzuki dethroned 2 Cold Scorpio and Doug Williams to win the Pro Wrestling NOAH GHC Tag Team Titles – a bout that saw Morecambe grace the pages of Japanese wrestling magazines.
In 2007, the FWA changed its name to the XWA under Lambert and Kay’s control, and the XWA continued to promote regular Morecambe shows for the next five years, with names such as Rock Star Spud, El Ligero, Sam Slam, Stixx, Johnny Phere, Damon Leigh, CJ Banks, The Manchester Massive and RJ Singh pulling big crowds to The Dome. Buoyed by this success, Lambert and Kay opened a wrestling training school at Regent Park Studios in Morecambe in January 2009. The school was open for five years and spawned top talents including The Blackpool Blonds – Axl Rage and James Drake, ‘One Man Riot’ Craig Kollins, ‘Mr Big’ Shaun Vasey and Laird Grayson, who all graduated to become regulars on the Morecambe events.
Sadly the Morecambe Dome closed in 2010 and was demolished a year later. After an emotional final show at the much-loved venue, XWA moved first to The Carleton nightclub and then Lancaster and Morecambe College, but never quite recaptured the spark of those big wrestling nights at The Dome. Eventually a burned-out Lambert closed the promotion in July 2012. But after a year to recharge the batteries, Greg returned, only this time as the right-hand man of a new promoter.
Johnny Phere, reigning XWA Champion, had never lost the title in the ring. So when he relaunched wrestling in Morecambe in August 2013 under the banner of P.A.I.D Promotions, assisted and managed by Lambert, he continued as the champion. For the next year, Phere’s company made its base at the Globe Arena, home of Morecambe Football Club. Johnny lost the title to Joey Hayes in February 2014, who in turn dropped the belt to Craig Kollins that June. It is important to note that the P.A.I.D Promotions Championship belt Kollins holds today has direct lineage back to the FWA Championship first competed for in Morecambe in 2003 and then held by Doug Williams. So Kollins is the man who beat the man who beat the man, going right back to the origins of the FWA in 1999.
Phere quit as promoter in June 2014, but P.A.I.D Promotions carried on. A new team spearheaded by referee Charles Nelson Riley have kept the wrestling ticking along in Morecambe from month to month, with the shows going from strength to strength.
After a final event at the Globe Arena in July 2014 headlined by an appearance by Scottish wrestling cult icon Grado, P.A.I.D Promotions brought Morecambe wrestling back to its original home of the Winter Gardens. August 2014 saw the first wrestling card at the hallowed venue in more than four decades. More than 80 years after the first wrestling event in Morecambe, things came full circle. While the Winter Gardens once saw battle by legends such as Johnny Saint and the Dynamite Kid, it then gave youngsters like Craig Kollins, Ryan Grayson, Ricky J McKenzie and Ryan Hunter the chance to become legends themselves.
The wrestling shows became non-profit, with the aim of restoring the Winter Gardens to it’s former glory.
Once the shows had achieved what many perceived to be impossible, and helped the Winter Gardens become a thriving venue once again, Alpha Omega moved to the previously closed Carleton (inside the iconic Alhambra building) with the same aim to help rejuvinate Morecambe’s west end.
In 2015, Morecambe Wrestling launched its own Hall of Fame. The Morecambe Hall of Fame honours the people inside and outside the ring that have been responsible for wrestling in Morecambe being what it is today and pay tribute to the amazing heritage of a true wrestling town. It started with the original FWA Champion and modern-day UK grappling great, Doug Williams, continued with Word Of Sport legend Marty Jones in 2016 and British Wrestling’s #1 photographer Tony Knox in 2017.
So that is the story of Morecambe Wrestling, and it’s not over yet. Whether the name on the poster has been the FWA, the XWA or P.A.I.D Promotions, or the venue has been The Dome, The Carleton, the Central Pier, the Globe Arena or the Winter Gardens, it hasn’t really mattered. Morecambe Wrestling is the brand, typified by passionate crowds, big characters, compelling stories and a great night out for all the family. Gripped by the mystique and heritage of Morecambe Wrestling, fans have travelled to watch wrestling in Morecambe from all over the country, and sometimes from all over the globe, spellbound by larger-than-life personalities of the ring.
Wrestling is part of Morecambe. Wrestling is real in Morecambe. And long may it continue.