A Multi-Faceted Talent
Way back in 2007 Wrestling Heritage elected wrestler and promoter Norman Morrell the most influential person in British wrestling. Our assessment of the twenty nominees and tribute to Norman Morrell can be read in Wrestling's Most Influential.
Such are the many facets of Norman Morrell's contribution to the sport that it seems amiss to exclude him from our choice selection of Shining Stars, and at this time in which London hosts the Olympic Games the time is right to address this issue.
Norman Morrell was born in the Yorkshire town of Bradford on 17th July, 1912.
During his teenage years he established himself as one of the country's finest amateur wrestlers, excelling in both the Greco Roman and Freestyle disciplines.
We are told by those who witnessed him wrestle that he had a combative style rarely seen amongst British amateurs and more akin to the Continental wrestlers. A fearless fighter Norman Morrell was not a man who was easily intimidated, irrespective of his opponent's reputation. That description should not disguise the fact that he was an exceptionally skilful wrestler, demonstrated not just on the mat but also in his written tutorials.
For four consecutive years, from 1933 to 1936, Morrell won the British featherweight championship. The achievement was unprecedented at the time and it was inevitable that the Yorkshireman was chosen as the British representative in the 1936 Olympic Games. His technical ability and aggressive style made him a good prospect for winning a medal.
Norman, Arthur Thompson of York, Raymond Cazaux of Liverpool and 1934 Commonwealth Games silver medallist William Fox of Manchester were the British representatives in what were to become the last games prior to the outbreak of World War 2, hosted by Berlin in August, 1936.
Norman wrestled in the featherweight class, competing in both the Greco Roman and Freestyle codes. On 2nd August he faced Munich's Josef Bock in the opening round of the freestyle competition, winning the match convincingly and taking the points decision of all three judges. The following day his opponent was Frank Millard, a mill worker from North Adams, Massachusetts in the United States. Incredibly Millard was an entirely self-taught wrestler. Norman wrestled with his usual vigour and fortitude but it was not to be his day, and after eight minutes and thirty-six seconds he conceded the fall. Millard went on to win the silver medal. In the third round Norman wrestled the Italian Marco Gavelli. Gavelli proved too much for Norman and was awarded the match by all three judges, resulting in Norman's elimination from the competition. Incidentally, Gavelli was destined to return, aged 33, to the first post war Olympic Games, in London, some twelve years later.
The Greco Roman competition commenced two days later on 6th August. There followed further disappointment for Norman, with losses to the Frenchman Eugene Kracher (on points), and the next day losing to the European Champion Sebastian Hering by conceding a fall.
Following the Olympic Games the inevitable decision had to be made whether his future remained in the amateur ranks or a move to the professional side. The answer we all know, and the advance of Norman Morrell in the professional ranks began shortly before the outbreak of war. Norman was wrestling amongst the professionals by January, 1939
It was an impressive transformation, and even the legendary Harold Angus was overcome by Morrell as he established himself as a top professional. Other opponents well known to Wrestling Heritage readers included Carlton Smith, Cyril Knowles and Joe Reid. Reid was himself a former Olympics competitor, having represented Great Britain in Los Angeles in 1932. Joe had won the British bantamweight championship every year from 1931 to 1935, turning professional shortly afterwards.
Never one short of confidence norman issued a challenge to all-comers, offering £25 to anyone who could defeat him. Norman continued to wrestle during the war years, but retired in the mid 1940's, save for a few challenge matches some years later.
Professional experience afforded him a valuable insight into the workings of the wrestling business, and there was much about the business that Norman disliked. To his mind wrestling was a pure sport, and there was little pure about the professional side of the game. By the outbreak of war an influx of some unreliable promoters had discredited the wrestling business. With a mind as sharp as his reflexes Norman was quick to seize the opportunities he identified with the arrival of peace, and establish himself as the architect of post war British wrestling. But that's another story.
Norman Morrell died, in his home town of Bradford, in December 2000.
To learn more of why Norman Morrell is such a pioneer of British wrestling read the continuation of his multi-faceted talent in Wrestling's Most Influential.