Eric Sands was undoubtedly a class act.
As soon as he entered the ring fans sensed that here was a man who took his chosen profession very seriously. At a time when the legitimacy of professional wrestling was questioned by the national press Eric was able to bring credibility to the sport. He was a meticulous and clever ring technician, a dour Yorkshireman and yet a skilful wrestler who could rouse the fans when cajoled into producing unexpected episodes of aggression.
When it came to wrestling Eric Sands had everything – skill, aggression and flurries of speed that could suddenly ignite a contest. A televised bout against European champion Alan Colbeck was reported in The Wrestler:
“From start to finish this bout was fast and furious and much appreciated by the vocal crowd of over 1,000 fans …. Fireworks really flew! From the bell Eric attacked and was on top all the way, and he flung Colbeck on the ropes several times.”
Born in 1931 Eric early teenage years were spent in wartime. Shortly after hostilities ceased he served in the navy and became interested in amateur wrestling. He studied the amateur game seriously at Bradford’s Windmill Amateur Wrestling Club. It was the early 1950s, the Second World War remained a vivid memory, and millions of service men and women were trying to adapt to civilian life.
Eric was nearing the end of his teenage years and there was stiff competition for jobs. Wrestling was beginning to gain momentum following an inevitable slow down during the war, and Bradford was a centre of post war development under the leadership of wrestling promoter Norman Morrell. Professional wrestling presented a welcome opportunity to make a career out of doing something he enjoyed.
The good amateur grounding and a flair for the professional side led to quick success after Eric joined the paid ranks in 1952. From the start he was able to hold his own with top class lighter men like Carlton Smith, Bernard Murray and Frankie Hughes. By early 1953 Jack Dempsey, Carlton Smith, Jim Lewis and Ken Joyce had all gone down to the young Bradfordian.
On 30th May, 1953, it was the turn of British lightweight champion Johnny Stead, in a championship contest at the Middlesbrough Stadium. When the match ended it was the arm of Eric Sands that was raised in victory and declared new British lightweight champion. Firmly established as champion Eric had a good year, defeating all challengers, and winning the majority of his non title bouts, though coming off second best when rewarded with a match against World Lightweight Champion, George Kidd, at the Royal Albert Hall on 16th December, 1953.
Eric found it difficult to keep his weight under the 11 stones required for the lightweight division. Almost a year after taking the British lightweight title he dropped the belt to fellow Bradfordian and former champion, Johnny Stead.
That may have been Eric's only championship honour, but everyone knows professional wrestling success is not to do with any belts strapped around the waist. In the twenty years to follow Eric was to remain at the top of his profession, wrestling comfortably in the welterweight division. Admittedly Eric did not have the colour of Pallo, McManus, Kellett or Royal, but he was a well respected technician who could hold his own with everyone of a similar weight.
Eric wrestled throughout the country, as well known in the south of England as in his native north, working for all the top promoters, particularly Norman Morrell and Dale Martin. In 1956 his skills were brought to the attention of a wider audience. Televised wrestling had entered our nation's living rooms just a couple of months earlier when Eric appeared on a televised programme in January, 1956, losing to Red Callaghan. A few weeks later he was back on television screens once again, this time facing Harry Hall. These were to be the first of almost twenty television appearances over the following ten years, with opponents including Jackie Pallo, Mick McManus, Eddie Capelli, Alan Colbeck and Jack Dempsey.
A 1956 win over World Welterweight Champion, Jim Lewis, at the Royal Albert Hall in January, 1956, demonstrates the height of success, with the demise signified by losing to newcomer Leon Fortuna at the same venue in May, 1965.
In the late 1950s disgruntlement amongst the ranks led to Joint Promotion wrestlers Paul Lincoln, Max Crabtree, George Kidd and Joe D'Orazio setting up rival promotions in opposition to the Joint cartel. They were followed by a number of Joint workers, amongst them Eric Sands. With Kidd, Capelli, Miquet, Caulder all working the independent circuit there were still plenty of top class opponents amongst the opposition. Eric makes Eddie Capelli feel the pain in the photo (left).
Eric returned to Joint a number of the independents merged with Joint Promotions. For the following few years the pattern remained much the same for Eric; a top welterweight contender travelling around the country meeting just about everyone in the welter and middleweight divisions.
In March, 1965, we witnessed Eric and tag partner Alan Colbeck defeat the team of Romeo Joe Critchley and Frank O'Donnell at the St Georges Hall, Blackburn. This was to be the last time we saw him on a Joint Promotion bill. The following year he returned to the opposition promoters to face up and coming stars such as Johnny Saint and others who had also crossed over, including British welterweight champion Jack Dempsey.
Eric Sands was still a class act.