Aberdeen, a great port city on the North East coast of Scotland has been famous through the years for fishing, ship building, textile mills, paper making, and most recently as the centre of the offshore oil industry. Yet it was the grey granite quarried at Rubislaw quarry for three hundred years, and used to build many of the city’s fine buildings, that gave the city the nickname of “The Granite City.”
The Granite City also produced it’s own Granite Man, professional wrestler Len Ironside. Hard and durable like the rock there was certainly nothing grey about wrestler Len. He was a bundle of energy, only 5’3” tall, who combined skill, speed and tenacity to overcome more heavier opponents.
Len has the word Aberdeen running through him like a stick of Aberdonian rock, that’s the edible kind not the granite. An ambassador of the city as a sportsman, a city councillor for an incredible thirty-five years, and an involvement in community projects unlikely to be matched by anyone.
Persistence and determination led to Len Ironside finding a place in Britain’s wrestling heritage. Determination to emulate the stars of the ring he watched at the Music Hall, Aberdeen, as a youngster led to a regular one hundred and fifty mile plus journey from his home to the Bell Sports Centre in Perth to be thrown around and learn the basics of professional wrestling. Len had always enjoyed combat, first boxing and then judo; he went on to travel to Highland Games events throwing down challenges to wrestlers.
Max Crabtree gave Len his first opportunity to appear before a paying public, against Dave Ramsden he recalled. It was the start of a twenty year career between 1973 and the day he hung up his boots in 1993.
For a young Scot setting out as a wrestler they were hard times; and they didn’t get any easier as time got on. It is easy to under-estimate the distances travelled by Scottish wrestlers to make a living. Whilst wrestlers based around London or one of the northern England cities have dozens of venues in easy reach it’s a different story for the Scottish wrestlers. From his home in Aberdeen a night’s work in Perth involved a 180 mile round trip, Edinburgh 250 miles return, Glasgow 300 miles. Working for Relwyskow-Green Leeds was a 700 mile round trip, with Relwyskow halls in Sheffield and Hull even further.
Determination paid off and Len soon became a regular worker for Joint Promotions, mostly courtesy of Relwyskow Green. It was George De Relwyskow that gave Len national exposure through a televised show in Sheffield in May, 1976. Mind you, Relwyskow did the young Len no favours. It was a Scotland v England tournament and Len was matched against Jim Breaks, succumbing twice to the champions “Breaks Special” submission hold, in which an opponent’s arm is twisted and he is lifted high into the air.
Joint Promotion shows were on the decline by the second half of the 1970s. Within a year Len took the decision to leave Joint Promotions because he found there were now greater opportunities working for the independent promoters. He joined many other former Joint men who had already made the move, Jackie Pallo, Al Miquet, Jon Cortez and Steve Haggetty amongst them. Moving away from Joint at the same time was fellow Scot Bill Ross, and the two men joined together to create a formidable tag team that worked together until Bill’s retirement three years later.
All the time Len’s interest in politics was competing for the limited time available, with party work campaigning taking up an increasing amount of his time. In 1982 he was elected as a Grampian regional councillor for the Labour Party. Now council meetings, councillor surgeries, and council work were also competing with Len’s time. Not to mention Len’s other work.
In addition to wrestling and council work how’s this for a CV?
- Co-ordinator for the introduction of the national Minimum Wage in Scotland.
- National Insurance inspector at the DHSS- checking employers records and wages to ensure the correct national Insurance was being deducted.
- Independent Adjudication Officer at DHSS making decisions on various claims to benefits “The worst job was making decision on entitlement to the families of the Piper Alpha disaster.”
- Junior Welfare Officer at Aberdeen Corporation
- Supervisor Manager at the Department of Works and Pensions as a manager supervising payments of pensions
- Stores Accountant at British Telecom.
Did this man ever sleep?
We did say he was a bundle of energy, and that wasn’t just in the ring.
Wrestling, politics, work, and then there were the hobbies to fit in. Tennis, cycling, coaching athletes to those with disabilities, playing the piano and drums; “Both badly” says Len. He is also a member of the Granite City Chorus: a four part harmony competitive chorus-50 strong; who sing in the style of Barbershop.
Yet still he found time for wrestling and his love of of the sport remained constant. With Jimmy Breaks, Johnny Saint and Jackie Robinson now having started to work for the independent promoters there was no shortage of quality opponents.
In the early 1980s a rivalry with Jackie Robinson resulted in some exhilarating bouts. Another opponent was World lightweight champion Johnny Saint, with Len meeting Saint with the Mancunian’s belt on the line. He was unsuccessful that time. One title that did come Len’s way was the Commonwealth middleweight championship, which he won in 1979, beating Tony Borg in a tournament to fill the vacant title.. In his autobiography “When You’re Ready Boys – Take Hold” Len recalls being hoisted aloft and carried around the Kelvin Hall on the fans’ shoulders after beating Jackie Robinson in 1986 to win the European Lightweight Championship. Len relinquished the title two years later when political commitments prevented him from defending the belt.
With the popularity of wrestling in decline, a dislike of the trend away from technical matches and the acknowledgement that age was catching up Len cut back his wrestling commitments towards the end of the 1980s. Into a new decade he wrestled only five times, his final bout being in 1993.
Without doubt Len Ironside was a formidable opponent in the ring, and here at Heritage we are always ready to cheer the men who didn’t always receive the acknowledgement they deserved. Len’s outside interests limited his national and international acclaim, as he was unable to meet the demands of frequent travel away from Scotland.
The Labour Party he had joined in 1978 commanded an increasing amount of time. Seven years later after his election Len was chosen Leader of the Council. In 1999 he was elected leader of the Labour group on Aberdeen City Council, a position he held until 2003, then going on to devote more time to his role of Information Support Manager for Scotland with the Parkinson Disease Society.
Add to this public service as a Governor of the Robert Gordon University, Chairman of Aberdeen International Youth Festival, Patron of the Grampian Special Olympics, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Culture and Commerce, and the award of a CBE in 2003 for Services to Local Government, serving Justice of the Peace for twelve years and we’ll all agree that the lad did well.
Five months before Len was added to the Wrestling Heritage Personality Parade a new £4.3 million day centre for people with severe learning disabilities was opened in Aberdeen.
It was called the Len Ironside Centre.