WRESTLING HERITAGE

British wrestling history 

Al Marshall



Al Marshall


When the death of Al Marshall was announced the world lost not only another  former wrestler but a man whose warmth and generosity touched those that knew him. We were amongst those who had benefited from his kindness not just through his contributions to the website but the gifts that turned up through the post from time to time. Johnny Kincaid told us, "Al was one of the good old boys, a friend to everybody.  One of the best." 

Another wrestler who knew him very well indeed was Harry Monk, "God bless you Al. When I was first starting Al introduced me to all the right people and gave me my first training. He was also a great adviser and publicist getting my pictures in the US mags. some of the lads called us Laurel and Hardy as you did not see one without the other."

A nice man out of the ring, and a gentleman inside. For many readers Al Marshall may not be the first name to come to mind when remembering the good old days, but for fans in the north of England it is a name remembered with much fondness. Al was a regular on the northern scene for a dozen or so years and always lived up to the "clean and clever" tag given to him by promoters on their posters.

Al generously acknowledged the part played by others in bringing his wrestling dream to reality, but we can go way back to London based promoter Paul Lincoln and afternoon tea at Leeds Town Hall to find the start of the dream. It was during a visit with his mother to the cafe in Leeds Town Hall one afternoon that young Al saw the ring being put up for a wrestling show.

The youngster was intrigued by what he saw, and mother's explanation that wrestling was boxing without gloves failed to satisfy his curiosity. Requests to go along to the wrestling show fell on deaf ears because the following day was a school day.

A few weeks later the young Marshall saw a wrestling poster. Not just any poster, but one of those colourful, creative  posters that featured exciting photos of larger than life characters. The fearsome sight of masked man Doctor Death stared down at him. Young Al stared back at the mysterious man who apparently feared no one and could not be beaten.

He was hooked.

The youngster went on the offensive again and his parents agreed to take him along to the next wrestling show in nearby  Bradford, where shows were on a Friday night.
When we spoke to Al decades later he  remembered the night vividly. Two of the top mat men of the day, Eric Taylor and Tommy Mann, clashing in a War of the Roses battle. The announcement by MC Bob Verlander of the next show made him want more....the battle of two masked men, The Zebra Kid against The Black Mask. That  Bradford show was the beginning of regular visits to the wrestling at both Bradford and Leeds, at first with dad and then alone when he was older.  

Like many Wrestling Heritage readers Al took an interest in every aspect of wrestling; reading the magazines, going to the shows, collecting the programmes. Dad enjoyed those nights out just as much as his son.

    "He was as strong as an ox my dad. He was a blacksmith  and boxed as an amateur.  He was once disqualified for hitting an opponent well below the belt. He would have loved to have been a wrestler himself and was a great influence on me."

Al's father was a huge influence, not just on his son's character but on his wrestling career. Whilst others dismissed Al's dreams to become a wrestler his father offered only encouragement:

    "Dad knew what it was like to battle against the odds. He was't just strong,he was also very courageous. He was in the 6th Airborne division during the war, and on 5th June 1944 was amongst those 181 men who captured the Pegasus Bridge on D-Day."

It may well have come as something of a surprise to dad when Al announced that he was going to be a wrestler; after all he weighed no more than six stones when he left school at fifteen!

He even had the name sorted!

When he'd asked Kent Walton for his autograph some years earlier the schoolboy had told the commentator he was going to be a wrestler. After asking his name and replying Albert Marshall Kent told the youngster, "Shorten your name to Al, Al Marshall, wrestler sounds good. "

Working for dad in his smithy Al soon began to build up his weight and his strength. No one would ever have guessed that Al was a professional wrestler if they met him in the street but he did begin to get his body into the sort of shape that his wrestling ambitions would be taken seriously.

Al joined the Leeds Athletic Institute where he learned amateur wrestling under the guidance of the former Olympic wrestler Jack Taylor (not to be confused with the promoter of the same name). After three years as an amateur George deRelwyskow began to train him in the professional style but would not give him his professional debut because Al's work commitments prevented him travelling to Scottish venues and others further afield.
Undeterred, Al turned to the independent promoters, particularly Cyril Knowles. Knowles was impressed with the youngsters ability

"I think it was the Leeds Athletic institute leotard that really impressed him,"  said Al, and began to train him in readiness for his professional debut.  "Cyril took me under his wing and made my childhood dream come true."

Another of Cyril's proteges, Gary Cooper, remembered as Catweazle, was instrumental in training Al for the professional ring. After a few months Al made his professional debut, for Cyril Knowles, against another youngster, Ray Stevens.  Others who not only influenced Al, but also came to be his closest friends were Kiwi Dean Lee and Leon Arras, who also  introduced Al to television and film work.

That pro debut was in 1969, and for the following ten years Al worked throughout the north of England and was a familiar figure to fans of the independent circuit. He worked for most of the major independent promoters, Cyril Knowles, Don Robinson, Orig Williams, Jack Cassidy, Johnny Allan & Eric Taylor. He even did quite a bit of promoting himself, in partnership with Ron Farrar as Ace Sports Promotions.  

Al wrestled many of the well known names in the wrestling business during the 1970s. There were none bigger than Mal Kirk, who was almost double Al's weight. Other opponents included British champions Eric Sands, Alan Kilby and Cyril Knowles, Gorilla Reg Ray, Catweazle, Dave Larsen, The Exorcist, Johnny Peters Alan Bardouille and Dave Shade. Occasionally Al would pull on a mask and wrestle as The Wrestling Star, but he didn't like wearing the mask and preferred wrestling under his own name.
One very special moment for Al was the time in 1971 he wrestled Dave Kaye in Blackpool and the referee was none other than Jack Pye. Pye, who lived in Blackpool at the time refereed only one contest on the bill and Al was astonished to find that his was the chosen bout,  "What a pleasure and a privilege that was."

In 1972 "The Wrestler" magazine picked him out as a future star and Al was included in their "Likely Lads" series.
 
Fate dealt a cruel blow in 1980 when an industrial injury at the warehouse in which he worked brought his career to an end in 1980.

That did not mean a break from the wrestling business for this man who loved the sport.

No, for this wrestler and promoter  turned his hand to refereeing, MCing and training youngsters like Mike Dean, Bullistic and Harry Monk. Al could also be  seen in minor television and film roles. He was also the fight arranger at the Jorvick Viking Centre, York, which led to further film work. In the photo above Al is seen in the guise of Professor Ali with his protege, Bullistic.
It was fortunate that when a home was sought for the Royal Armouries Museum the home that was chosen was the city of Leeds. Well, fortunate for Al Marshall who had not only had an interest in armoury for most of his adult life he also made coats of armour for local museums and private buyers. He made  weapons for the Jorvick Centre, not to mention  making a complete suit of armour for his wrestling friend Adrian Street.

Al Marshall died on 16th April,2020