One of the most fondly remembered characters of wrestling Jack Atherton was a hard man who was well skilled in wrestling and very familiar with its less sophisticated aspects; which was no doubt led to disqualification in his first professional bout!
Jack Atherton learned the trade as a pre war All-in wrestler, and we find him on the bills in 1932. In the 1930s, decades before the Uk’s motorway network was built life was hard for those whose work involved extensive travelling. This did not deter Jack who travelled far and wide, from Plymouth to Edinburgh, and just about every town in between. He could be seen in action across the country against the likes of Jack Dale, Doulas The Turk and his old pal Billy Riley, who later became a business partner in Riley and Atherton Promotions.
In March 1938 Ring Magazine reported, … a supporting bout saw the "Brown Masked Marvel," a hooded light heavy, take two straight from Jack Atherton of Lancashire . . .”
Most of his results were more fortunate than that because Jack was one of the wrestling greats, though not a man who remained within the rules. Well, that's not entirely true. There are reports of Jack as a skilled and classy wrestler complying with the rules; so much that he was billed as the "Jekeyll and Hyde of Wresttling," because no one knew what style of Jack would turn up on the night.
Jack managed to remain fairly active during the war and went on to adopt the new fangled Mountevans style. In the second half of the 1940s he was a huge favourite around the country and could be seen wrestling at Belle Vue most weeks, and was a favourite at those other great venues New St James Hall, Newcastle and the Victoria Hall, Hanley. We last uncovered Jack wrestling in 1956, and the following year as a referee, having notched up more than two decades inside the ring.
His status in the ring was impressive and Jack became known as “The Wrecker of Champions.” Wrestling colleagues sometimes referred to him as “Three Cornered Jack,” a reference to how difficult he could be to work with. Two cauliflower ears remained testimony of the enjoyment he had given countless fans.
For Jack retirement was not the end of the story. He went on to form a business partnership with Billy Riley and Frank Woodhouse that encompassed enterprises outside of wrestling as well as wrestling promoting. Never directors of Joint Promotions they had an arrangement with the controlling group that allowed them to use Joint Promotion wrestlers, and combining these with new faces made Jack Atherton amongst the most interesting of promoters.
Wrestlers stories are testament to Jack’s characteristics as a promoter, where he combined generosity, kindness and fairness with an astute business brain and an eye for saving a few bob!
Dale Storm remembers working for Jack Atherton:
"As a pro I worked for a lot of promoters over my career, but seldom did I feel as comfortable in the dressing room than when I was in the company of Jack Atherton. He stood out among the "Gaffers" and although he was of a fairly small stature, even when sporting his wonderful hat, he was a giant of a man, both to me personally and I'm sure to many, many others whom he helped to establish. He looked after you, he gave you respect and the best of advice and he paid better than most. He had real class when he performed himself and had a glittering career in the ring, and he was always quick to recognise the potential in others."
"Jack was enthusiastic, respectful and as straight as they come. I doubt if anyone in the wrestling business was held in such esteem and affection by his peers
He taught me more about wrestling holds and moves than anybody else and he used to give up his Sundays to supervise (with Ken Cadman) the wrestling training at the old Wryton Stadium in Bolton. He made us learn Catch wrestling a la Wigan and he used to bring lads over from Riley's gym to make sure we learned - Billy Chambers (Jack Fallon), Alan Woods, "Tall Tommy" Heyes. They "screwed" us into the mat week after week until Jack was satisfied that the likes of Paul Mitchell, Johnny South, Bobby Ryan, Mark Wayne, Mad Dog Wilson, Pete Lindberg, myself etc knew enough to be able to look after themselves in any ring and were then judged suitable for the professional ring. Oh, what fun!! But thank you for the thorough grounding Jack.
I lived very near to Jack in Levenshulme, Manchester and I was a frequent caller at his house and spent many hours listening to his stories and to his insights. His wife and daughter always made any visiting wrestler welcome.
There was an air of innocence about Jack and he was often the source of unintended amusement but he was held in respect and affection by the lads who worked for him. His funeral at Manchester's Southern Cemetery was attended by hundreds and was a "Who's Who" of wrestling."
In the 1970s when we interviewed Count Bartelli he told us that when he was starting out in the business shortly after the war Jack arranged with other promoters for them to pay him double what Jack himself paid him! “
Jack Atherton passed away on 21st December, 1991.