The Lancashire Globetrotter
Half a century and more ago there was a saying that if you were to pick a miner from out of a Wigan coal pit you would pull up either a wrestler or a rugby player.
Well, if that wrestler was Charlie Green you would have hit the jackpot because he was both a wrestler and a rugby league player. He was a man devoted to wrestling for his entire life and one of the country's top professionals for a quarter of a century.
Charlie was born in Ince-In-Makerfield, which was in those days a mining village just a mile from Wigan town centre. Charlie's father was a miner who used his skill as a wrestler to escape the pits and travelled the world in the early years of the twentieth century. He wrestled at the Alhambra Theatre and a few years later travelled to America where he continued his wrestling career. Charlie Sr was sufficiently well known to have his achievements celebrated on cigarette cards of the time (below right).
The younger Charlie, the subject of our story, was determined to avoid a lifetime in the pit. He loved sport, and being a Wiganite, the sports that he loved the most were rugby and wrestling. Like all the other youngsters he would play rugby and wrestle in the fields around his home. As he grew into adulthood the summer evenings and Sunday afternoons were spent having a pull around with the local miners learning the Lancashire style of catch wrestling. The ground was hard, as were the men, and there was no better place to learn how to wrestle than the fields of Wigan
Nonetheless, it was rugby in which Charlie excelled in those early days and despite immense competition in a community where it seemed every young lad aspired to play rugby Charlie was signed up by Wigan, one of the top teams in the rugby league.
Most youngsters would have been content with their lot as a professional rugby player, but not Charlie. As he grappled with the local miners in depression hit Britain the talk was of a new sort of wrestling. A new style of professional wrestling had been introduced to a British audience a year or two earlier by the Austrian Henri Irslinger and Britain's Athol Oakeley. The new style had created a renaissance of wrestling, which had fallen from grace some twenty years earlier. One of the top wrestlers in the country was a miner from Doncaster, Jack Pye, who had only recently returned to his native south Lancashire. Pye would never have to work down the mine again. Another big name was Douglas Clarke, who had used his hugely successful rugby career as a springboard into wrestling.
Plans began to emerge in Charlie's mind. He loved rugby, but a career as a professional wrestler would allow him to see the world. His father had known legendary wrestlers such as Tom Canon, Madrali and Hackenschmidt. His father had crossed the Atlantic to America. Charlie put his mind to it. He too was to be a wrestler, and he too was to see the world.
In 1932 Charlie and his family moved to London, breaking forever his links with Wigan and rugby. The exact chronology of events in Charlie's life are now lost for ever but by the end of 1933 Charlie Green had emerged as an all-in wrestler. We do know that soon after moving to London, amongst other jobs, Charlie was a physical trainer for for the police at Kennington Lane police station. In 1933 one of the police officers, a PC Clem Lawrence, a name known to regular Wrestling Heritage readers, persuaded him to turn professional.
Most of his early bouts were in the south but Charlie did venture back to the north, after all here was a man with globe-trotting in his genes. One of his first matches was against the famous Black Eagle, the British Guianan Bob Adams, who was one of the top mat men of the 1930s before going on to work in films.
More contests soon followed, against all-in stars that included Gentleman Jim, Paul Duveen, Jack Pye, Half Nelson Keyes, Dave Armstrong, Frank Manto, Bert Assirati, Ray St Bernard and others. As the 1930s progressed Charlie began to develop his own style, and made particularly effective use of the headlock. Known as the Headlock King Charlie developed his own speciality move, the Rope spin Headlock.
A tour of South Africa in 1937/8 resulted in Charlie winning the South African Open Heavyweight Championship. He returned to England as a consequence of poiltical events unfolding in Europe. By the end of the decade he was recognised as one of the country's top wrestlers but the outbreak of war in 1939 disrupted Charlie's plans as much as anyone's. He joined the RAF as a dog handler, and rose to the rank of Sergeant PTI (physical training instructor). Whilst on leave Charlie pursued his wrestling career and wrestled for the RAF Benevolent Fund.
Whilst in the RAF Charlie became good friends with another wrestler, Tony Mancelli remembered by most nowadays as a top referee, who was in the same unit. He was fortunate enough to be able to continue wrestling whilst on leave for the duration of the war. The poster on the left advertises one of Sergeant Charlie Green's wartime bouts against Dave Armstrong. Note the wartime practice of omiting the name of the town from the wrestling poster,one of the measures implemeted to ensure British security, similar to the removal of road signs and railway station names.
Once peace had resumed Charlie knew that he had to get on with his ambition to see the world. Cutting short the tour of South Africa had left Charlie unfulfilled and after the war he returned to South Africa to tour and resumed his friendship with Bull Heffer.
Charlie returned to the UK after around a year, shown above right, in a contest with Tony Baer.
The travelling bug was still present.
He trained as a masseur and took a number of jobs on the ocean liners, enabling him to earn an income as he travelled the world to wrestle across the globe. When he returned home he was dubbed The Lancashire Globetrotter, but despite links with him home town having been broken many years earlier reference was usually made to his Wigan heritage.
For some reason the name Charlie Green did not seem to find favour amongst the promoters of continental Europe and he was re-named Charlie Valois by a Belgian promoter. The name was soon in common usage by promoters throughout Europe.
Wherever his travels took him Charlie always returned home, and following the war he adopted the new Mountevans style of wrestling. He was a particular favourite at Blackpool Tower and Belle Vue, Manchester, where he appeared frequently. The photo on the right shows Charlie (standing) in a contest with Jack Pye, who is on the mat.
We cannot imagine any top rated heavyweight that Charlie did not wrestle in the post war years, and on occasions he beat most of them. The programme on the right shows him in a supporting contest at Belle Vue on the night Bert Assirati and George Gregory contested the British tititle.
One night that Charlie remembered for many years was 4th December, 1947; the night he beat British champion Bert Assirati at Folkestone. Another satisfying result for Charlie was the night he knocked out the visiting American Pat Curry.
In 1949 he made an extensive tour of Canada and USA, where he wrestled among others Primo Carnera and Joe Louis, and took part in an exhibition match inside San Quentin prison. Charlie is shown with Strangler Lewis and former World Heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis. On the right he is shown with his friend, and another ex World heavyweight boxing champion, Primo Carnera.
And so it went on for more than a quarter of a century. Travelling the world and wrestling the best of them; the two things of which young Charlie had dreamed, and not a coal mine in sight.
Supporting roles in a few films, including “A Kid for two Farthings” further enriched the colourful life of the youngster from Wigan. As for the wrestling that all came to an end on 29th September, 1960. Charlie took part in a knock out tournament at Wimbledon Palais and then packed his kit bag for the last time.
Charlie Green died in 1982.
Thanks go to Alan Green, Charlie's nephew, and Bill Green, Charlie's son, for help with writing this piece for Wrestling Heritage.