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The Wrestling by Simon Garfield

"So he became a wrestler, like his mum."
I have a vague memory, nestling in there with various tableaux of my grandfather asleep in front of the cricket, the hardened red marbling of raspberry ripple ice-cream, and an insatiable childhood desire for the game Tank Command*, of grey-blue images on the television of fat men in leotards. This was 'The Wrestling', as both my maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather would tell me, and was another television programme that my parents frowned upon but had no power to stop me from watching. Which I didn't. Before the 24-hour news cycle and WWE Superstars, I was only ever interested in cartoons, and later football and Star Trek: The Next Generation. 'The Wrestling' was something weird and quaint and discomforting to watch, so I didn't. 

Turns out that many other people didn't watch it either, and in 1988 it was binned from ITV's World of Sport programme for good. 

However, it seems I've been at best callously indifferent and at worst wilfully disrespectful of what had been, for a time, the most popular entertainment** on TV, and, it also seems, a truly colourful cast of rogues, roustabouts and rapscallions who were left to wither and die in obscurity. 


Mr TV's inside story!
In all honesty, there would have been very little chance that I would have opened the pages of this book in anything other than mild curiosity about the author's surname (in case he was related to a childhood hero, Jim Davis' cat of the same name), but after a drunken conversation in the midst of a pub full of #RWC2015 fever, a colleague insisted I borrow and read this rather idiosyncratic oral history of this much maligned entertainment. So I became immersed in the stories collected by Garfield of the antics and grievances of family favourites like Mick McManus, Kendo Nagasaki, Joe D'Orazio and Jackie Pallo (although in the words of Robbie Brookside, "we won't give any messages to Jackie Pallo other than 'Die you old bastard.'"). Heels and heroes, grapplers and brawlers, they all consistently, if rather cholerically, insist that wrestling was a hard game, a true sport, and the fronts that should have crumbled twenty years before are still propped up with the vim and vigour of youth. It's amazing that this bunch of ageing, crippled 'athletes' could keep up the pretence that wrestling was anything but a sham, a sport on which you weren't even permitted to bet, especially after Pallo's kiss-n-tell behind the scenes exposé blew the covers off. Or not. It's equally likely that after years of treading the same line, telling the same story, that these old geezers are no longer able to differentiate between fact and fiction. But that adds to the charm of it all, and contributes in no small measure to the pathos of Garfield's book. 

Packed with whimsy and nostalgia, old codgers limping and griping, road trips with Giant Haystacks, people mythologising Kendo Nagasaki and Les Kellett (a hard bastard, mean as anything, and rubbish at replying to letters), this is a very British book. with more than one or two particularly cracking lines. I feel disloyal to let Mr TV, Jackie Pallo have the last word, but it is a good 'un:
Mick [McManus] had that know-how: a great performer. Horrible bastard, but a great performer.
Edit: November 2015. I've just realised that the copy I read, borrowed from the aforementioned friend and purchased secondhand, was missing everything after page 196, meaning there's another sixty odd pages I've not read. However, I shall assume that nothing is very different in those last pages and no-one suddenly shoots to British Wrestling stardom and saves the sport. I'm sure I'd have heard about that.

*Which was awesome when I finally got it, but terrible when I realised it was a two-player game and that my brother would relentlessly cheat in order to win, or else refuse to play... 

**According to the wrestlers themselves, but then they are all irredeemable braggarts and liars.

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