Son of the Soil
In the 1960s a wrestler didn't need a colourful costume, make up, or a larger-than-life personality to gain the respect of fans and colleagues. For one of the great mid heavyweights of the Lord Mountevans era it just took the moniker of Farmer (a reference to his out of the ring working life) and a bucketful of wrestling talent. The introduction of Farmer Johnny Allan always aroused an enthusiastic welcome from fans.
Ask any wrestling enthusiast of the sixties to name the country's top five mid heavyweights and the names Marino, Howes, Allan, Walsh and Portz would come forward, but not necessarily in that order. On a good day Johnny could beat them all, but we'll settle with just pronouncing him one of the very best, most definitely.
There was no loud entrance or razzmatazz when Farmer John entered the ring. Quietly and assuredly he would prepare himself for a contest that was most likely one of the best of the evening. John was a technician. He would go about the task slowly and surely, gradually working down an opponent. Unless the tactics of that opponent called for more aggressive action, and then John would surely oblige.
Fireworks flew the time we witnessed Johnny wrestle Billy Howes. Billy wasn't averse to turning rough when the going got tough. Johnny Allan soon let Billy know that things were going to be very tough indeed. Eventually John had enough of Billy's rule bending and that was when he let rip. We'd always considered Billy Howes to be the hot tempered and unpredictable one, but that night Johnny took fieriness to new levels, with the referee eventually calling a halt to the proceedings.
Not quite so angry, but certainly standing no nonsense was Johnny in action against the masked Outlaw. Gordon Nelson was the man beneath the mask, a world class heavyweight with a stone or more weight advantage. It is a tribute to Johnny that fans were on the edge, well out of them actually, as they were convinced that Johnny was in with a realistic chance of defeating the unbeaten masked man. As an aside we will tell you that Johnny did defeat Gordon when he was unmasked, and not many can boast of that.(Photo above shows The Zebra Kid with a toe hold on Johnny).
In complete contrast put Johnny in with someone like Tony Charles and the result was a purists dream. When we saw the two of them in opposite corners we were convince it was going to an eight round draw before Johnny took the winner in the seventh or eighth round. Other classics were the times we saw him matched with fellow Yorkshireman Geoff Portz or British heavyweight champion Billy Joyce. In fact we can't think of a disappointing match involving Johnny.
All very different matches, but common to each was the immense enjoyment given to the ringside fans. By the time we were watching Johnny Allan in action he already had close on two decades of experience, as amateur and professional, to his credit.
Leaving school as the Second World War came to a conclusion times were hard for a youngster competing in the jobs market with servicemen returning home. For Johnny, however, the decision of how to earn a living didn't take long to think about at all. Born into a rural community in a small village not far from Halifax, agriculture had something of a boomed during the war with the country, of necessity, becoming practically self sufficient. As a youngster Johnny was already familiar with farm work and so the transition from school to the land was a natural progression. The passion for working the land was to remain with him for the rest of his life.
It was around the same time, the second half of the 1940s, that John became interested in wrestling, and began to learn the sport in his spare time. Three years later, promoter Ted Beresford watched the young farmer wrestle, and liked what he saw; enough to offer John the chance to turn professional.
Fitting comfortably in the middleweight division at the time John turned professional in 1950, and within a couple of years was travelling up and down the country, from Edinburgh to Ramsgate, matched against experienced men such as Carlton Smith, Don Branch, Harry Fields and Ernie Riley. Early in his career he held World middleweight champion Gilbert Le Duc to a draw, a sign of things to come.
When ITV began televising wrestling Johnny Allan was one of the first to be signed up, matched against Johnny Kwango in January 1956, a Norman Morrell Promotion in what was the nation's second exposure to professional wrestling. Johnny beat the charismatic Kwango and just half a dozen years after turning professional had established himself as one of the country's top wrestlers.
In that same year he beat Geoff Portz in the final of an eight man knock out tournament in Newcastle, defeated Gerhardt de Jaeger in Cardiff and again Dundee, conquered hard man Arthur Ricardo in Edinburgh, won against British champions Eric Taylor and Ernie Riley in Belfast and Middlesbrough, overcame Billy Howes in Hanley, and a achieved a couple of wins over Francis St Clair Gregory. Some not so bad days at the office. By 1963 he was making the cover of The Wrestler magazine, though his position could have been more complimentary. The two photos above show Johnny in action against Honey Boy Zimba.
Within a short time fans were asking why it was that Johnny Allan was not a champion. It was a question that was to remain being asked for decades. Rivalry with light heavyweight champion Ernie Riley intensified in the late 1950s, Johnny defeating the champion in non title matches but never bettering him in their half a dozen or so championship contests. In the first half of the 1960s rivalry with British champion Norman Walsh resulted in some cracking contests. Admittedly competition was fierce in the mid heavyweight division where Johnny Allan eventually settled but Norman Walsh, Arthur Ricardo, Geoff Portz and Mike Marino held the British belt for the bulk of time.
To be honest championship honours were not necessary; the skill and popularity of Johnny Allan was apparent without such accessories. He appeared on television more than twenty-five times during his career, opposing most of the top British wrestlers and a good few overseas visitors. His final television appearance came in February, 1968, a draw with Mike Marino. There would have been more, but a few months later; still at the peak of his career, he made the move to the independent promoters.
John continued wrestling as often as ever, now promoting with his friend Heavy middleweight champion Eric Taylor under the banner A&T Promotions.
As a promoter Johnny Allan had the respect of wrestlers and was known as a fair promoter who paid his way. Many a wrestler, Eddie Rose and Peter Preston amongst them, still talk fondly of their trips to the West Country working for Allan and Taylor.
Away from wrestling and promoting in the 1970s and 1980s Johnny could often be seen on television in acting roles, including Last of the Summer Wine, Heartbeat, Muck and Brass and Coronation Street. He also appeared alongside Michael Caine and Pierce Brosnan in The Fourth Protocol.
When John Allan attended the Wrestlers Reunion a few years back no one was made more welcome. Former colleagues crowded around to catch up with a man they obviously held in great respect and deep affection.
Farmer Johnny Allan passed away on 11th January, 2013.