WRESTLING HERITAGE

A hobby site created by enthusiasts of 
British wrestling celebrating wrestling and 
wrestlers from 1930 onwards through 
fifty glorious years of British wrestling history

 

 

A Man of

Arms

It was fortunate that when a home was sought for the Royal Armouries Museum the home that was chosen was the city of Leeds. Well, fortunate for an ex wrestler who has not only had an interest in armoury for most of his adult life he has also made coats of armour for local museums and private buyers.

That man is Al Marshall, born and bred in Leeds.

For many readers Al Marshall may not be the first name to come to mind when remembering the good old days, but for fans in the north of England it is a name remembered with much fondness. Al was a regular on the northern scene for a dozen or so years and always lived up to the "clean and clever" tag given to him by promoters on their posters.

Al generously acknowledges the part played by others in bringing his wrestling dream to reality, but we can go way back to London based promoter Paul Lincoln and afternoon tea at Leeds Town Hall to find the start of the dream. It was during a visit with his mother to the cafe in Leeds Town Hall one afternoon that young Al saw the ring being put up for a wrestling show.

The youngster was intrigued by what he saw, and mother's explanation that wrestling was boxing without gloves failed to satisfy his curiosity. Requests to go along to the wrestling show fell on deaf ears because the following day was a school day.

A few weeks later the young Marshall saw a wrestling poster. Not just any poster, but one of those colourful, creative Paul Lincoln posters that featured exciting photos of larger than life characters. The fearsome sight of masked man Doctor Death stared down at him. Young Al stared back at the mysterious man who apparently feared no one and could not be beaten.

He was hooked.

The youngster went on the offensive again and his parents agreed to take him along to the next wrestling show in nearby  Bradford, where shows were on a Friday night.

Al remembers the night vividly, two of the top mat men of the day, Eric Taylor and Tommy Mann, clashing in a War of the Roses battle. The announcement by MC Bob Verlander of the next show made him want more....the battle of two masked men, The Zebra Kid against The Black Mask. That  Bradford show was the beginning of regular visits to the wrestling at both Bradford and Leeds, at first with dad and then alone when he was older.  

Like many Wrestling Heritage readers Al took an interest in every aspect of wrestling; reading the magazines, going to the shows, collecting the programmes. Al sent us a poster from one of the shows he and dad went along to in 1959 (see right). 

Dad enjoyed those nights out just as much as his son. 

"He was as strong as an ox my dad. He was a blacksmith  and boxed as an amateur.  He was once disqualified for hitting an opponent well below the belt. He would have loved to have been a wrestler himself and was a great influence on me."

Al's father was a huge influence, not just on his son's character but on his wrestling career. Whilst others dismissed Al's dreams to become a wrestler his father offered only encouragement:

"Dad knew what it was like to battle against the odds. He was't just strong,he was also very courageous. He was in the 6th Airborne division during the war, and on 5th June 1944 was amongst those 181 men who captured the Pegasus Bridge on D-Day."

It may well have come as something of a surprise to dad when Al announced that he was going to be a wrestler; after all he weighed no more than six stones when he left school at fifteen! 

He even had the name sorted! When he'd asked Kent Walton for his autograph some years earlier the schoolboy had told the commentator he was going to be a wrestler. After asking his name Kent told the youngster, "Shorten your name to Al, Al Marshall, wrestler sounds good. " The photo on the left was taken shortly after Al turned professional.

Working for dad in his smithy Al soon began to build up his weight and his strength. No one would ever have guessed that Al was a professional wrestler if they met him in the street but he did begin to get his body into the sort of shape that his wrestling ambitions would be taken seriously.

Al joined the Leeds Athletic Institute where he learned amateur wrestling under the guidance of the former Olympic wrestler Jack Taylor (not to be confused with the promoter of the same name). After three years as an amateur George de Relwyskow began to train him in the professional style but would not give him his professional debut because his work commitments prevented him travelling to Scottish venues and others further afield.

Undeterred, Al turned to the independent promoters, particularly Cyril Knowles. Knowles was impressed with the youngsters ability

"I think it was the Leeds Athletic institute leotard that really impressed him,"  said Al, and began to train him in readiness for his professional debut.  "Cyril took me under his wing and made my childhood dream come true."

Another of Cyril's proteges, Gary Cooper, remembered as Catweazle, was instrumental in training Al for the professional ring. After a few months Al made his professional debut, for Cyril Knowles, against another youngster, Ray Stevens. 

Others who not only influenced Al, but also came to be his closest friends were Kiwi Dean Lee and Leon Arras, who also get Al introduced to television and film work. Other good friends in the business ae Ray Robinson and Ray Steel.

That was in 1969, and for the following ten years Al worked throughout the north of England and was a familiar figure to fans of the independent circuit. He worked for most of the major independent promoters, Cyril Knowles, Don Robinson, Orig Williams, Jack Cassidy, Johnny Allan & Eric Taylor. He even did quite a bit of promoting himself, in partnership with Ron Farrar as Ace Sports Promotions.  

Al wrestled many of the well known names in the wrestling business during the 1970s. There were none bigger than Mal Kirk, who was almost double Al's weight. Other opponents included British champions Eric Sands, Alan Kilby and Cyril Knowles, Gorilla Reg Ray, Catweazle, Dave Larsen, The Exorcist, Johnny Peters Alan Bardouille and Dave Shade (photo right). Occasionally Al would pull on a mask and wrestle as The Wrestling Star, but he didn't like wearing the mask and preferred wrestling under his own name.

In tag contests he teamed up with the North American White Cloud, and was occasionally one of the Vulcans tag team. One unusual tag contest was when he was paired with the lady wrestler Vicky Monroe against the team of Sue Briton and Mike De-Main. 

One very special memory is of the time in 1971 he wrestled Dave Kaye in Blackpool and the referee was none other than Jack Pye. Pye, who lived in Blackpool at the time refereed only one contest on the bill and Al was astonished to find that his was the chosen bout,  "What a pleasure and a privilege that was."

In 1972 "The Wrestler" magazine picked him out as a future star and Al was included in their "Likely Lads" series.
 
In 1978 Al was signed up by Joint Promotions. Fate dealt a cruel blow when shortly afterwards an industrial injury at the warehouse in which he worked brought his career to an end in 1980.

That did not mean a break from the wrestling business for this man who loved the sport.

No, for this wrestler and promoter  turned his hand to refereeing, MCing and training youngsters like Mike Dean, Bullistic and Harry Monk. He is seen on the left in the guise of Professor Ali with protege Ballistic.

Al has kept himself busy since leaving the ring and can often be seen in minor television and film roles. He was also the fight arranger at the Jorvick Viking Centre, York, which led to further film work.

Al's interest in armoury also led to him making weapons for the Jorvick Centre, not to mention a making a complete suit of armour for his wrestling friend Adrian Street. Hence the name Armour Plated Al. Another hobby of Al's is making models of tram cars, part of his interest in tramways.

Al continues to keep himself busy at his Leeds home,  where he remains in good health despite the new hips and knees! 

 

Memories

When it snowed heavily before Christmas and we were unable to get out I decided to do a bit of sorting out.
I came across my old BAWA membership card which you might find of interest.

 

 
I wrestled twice a week at the Leeds Athletic Institute for nine months before earning my card!

I was trained by Jack Taylor, not the old pro from Leicester but the Yorkshire one who was a member of the Olympic team in 1956. He was a smart man and wore a blazer with an Olympic badge.

Jack could certainly put us through our paces, but he was a great teacher. When Cyril Knowles gave me a trial before turning pro it was the  Leeds Athletic institute leotard that really impressed him. Cyril took me under his wing and made my childhood dream come true. 

So between the three of them, Paul Lincoln, Jack Taylor and Cyril Knowles I've got a lot to be thankful for. Thank you pals.

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I was in a mixed tag match partnering Sue Brittain against Mike DeMaine and  Vicky Munroe. I didn't like mixed tags but was asked to substitute for Alan Armstrong. I don't know if Sue got wind of this but part way through the match she got the bottle of water and stuck it down my trunks. I was flabbergasted, and very wet!

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I was working for Orig Williams against The Exorcist. I was getting knocked about and when I went over the top rope I thought that's it, I've had enough and I'm staying here. Trouble was that two old codgers grabbed hold of me and threw me back in the ring  - just in time for my chin to meet The Exorcist's foot. I was out cold and the next thing I knew was seeing Adrian Street in the dressing room as I came round.

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One man I rated very highly was Eric Sands, if he was on with a kitchen stool he'd make it look good. When he kicked you with his mule kick you certainly knew about it. Another man I liked, and looked after me as a young pro, was Cowboy Jack Cassidy, the Manchester wrestler and promoter.

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I was working for Gordon Kilmartin in Huddersfield. It was a club show and the club was a real dive. During the interval there was a beer drinking competition with members of the club trying to drink a yard of ale.

The competition was held in the ring, and inevitably the beer went everywhere. The ring wasn't very flat, and when I went in for my match with Tony Saint after the interval it was covered in ale with puddles in places. Tony and me could hardly stand up, we were skating all over the place. The crowd had been drinking and found it hilarious. When the match finished Tony and I were filthy, wet through and wreaking of beer . As I said the club was a dive and there was nowhere to wash. I had to drive from Hudderfield to Leeds without washing. When I got home that night it took quite a bit of explaining to the wife, and I'm not sure I ever really convinced her.

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Klondyke Bill was a really nice lad. The first time I met him was in a cafe on the way to a Cyril Knowles show. Klondyke asked me what I wanted to eat and I said I'd have a burger. A short time later the waitress came over with seven burgers, one for me and six for Klondyke.

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Talking of Cyril Knowles. Cyril would only buy his petrol at a garage that gave Green Shield stamps (remember them?) He'd drive for miles looking for the right garage. One night he drove too far and ran out of petrol, leaving the wrestlers to push the car to the next garage. And no, it didn't give Green Shield stamps.

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Jimmy Savile did pretty well with the professionals, he showed a lot of guts. One night he came down to the Jack Lane Amateur Club in Leeds and started advising the lads. So Jack Taylor, the Leeds one not the Accrington/Leicester one asked him to go in with one of the amateur lads. Jimmy soon lost his confidence, and said he couldn't get on the mat because he hadn't got his boots with him.

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