WRESTLING HERITAGE

British wrestling history 

B: Bryden Boys: Bruce Welch, Dale Storm, Big Ian Miller

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The Bryden Boys

Bruce Welch, Dale Storm and Big Ian Miller

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Mum and dad look down with pride at their boys. So they should. They brought up their sons to do the right thing; to care for others and be generous to those in need. Typical characteristics of a close knit working class community where no one had a great deal and people looked out for one another. Money was tight but the Bryden children never went short.

That community was Mossiblown, a coal mining village in South Ayrshire. The boys' grandparents and father had worked in the pits, as did their eldest son. One grandparent was the first man to operate a fully mechanised coal cutting machine in the busy Ayrshire coalfield in the 1930’s.

Andrew and Margaret Bryden parented four boys, William, Andrew, Gerald and Ian. All four became involved in wrestling, as indeed did mum,dad and Andrew's wife, Lilian. William, Andrew and Ian became well known wrestlers in their native Scotland, though the names Bruce Welch, Dale Storm and Big Ian Miller were the names displayed on the posters.  Gerald was a well respected official at wrestling shows around Scotland. As for mum and dad, well their role was essential. The senior members of the Bryden family opened their home to many of the visiting wrestlers, and are remembered fondly until this day. Eddie Rose and a car full of Lancashire wrestlers availed of the Bryden's hospitality each year, "The Bryden family always made us Manchester lads most welcome and fed and bedded us in their own home (does that sound quite right?). They never asked, nor would take, a penny in return. It was a privilge to know such genuine, straight talking  people."

Bruce and Andy  succeeded in talking the committee of the local Health and Strength Club into allowing them to use the mat in their well equipped Martial Arts Judo Dojo. Not long afterwards they took over a derelict pre-fabricated building in the local primary school grounds following the intervention of the head teacher who used his persuasive powers on the education committee.  This was to become The  Old Mossblown Gym.

Conversion of the pre-fab into a functioning gym was completed in just one  weekend, entirely due to  enthusiastic members who turned up to help with the conversion  process. The building had no shower facilities and no central heating so it could get very cold in the winter months. Visitors to the gym included Eddie Rose, Mark Wayne, Ezra Francis, Adrian Street,  Linda, Joe Critchley, Jackie Pallo.

To showcase their young talent Andy and Bill bought a ring from the Dam Park Hall. Spartan Promotions were on their way. For ten years they promoted wrestling around Scotland, not just in the smaller halls and holiday camps but at big venues that included the Dam Park Hall in Ayr and the Pavilion in Rothesay. Stars they worked with included Klondyke Bill, Adrian Street, Peter Preston, Romeo Joe Critchley, Les Kellett, Andy Robin and the Manchester lads that made a trip up north every summer, Eddie Rose, Ian Wilson and Sugar Ray Dodo.
Bruce Welch
(Bill Bryden, Masked Gladiator)
Dale Storm
(Drew Bryden)

Big Ian Miller
The eldest of the Bryden brothers William took the wrestling name Bruce Welch, he was a fan of the guitarist and The Shadows.

Eddie Rose wrestled Bruce many times and was an admirer, telling us that Bruce sometimes wrestled in a mask and his brothers would joke that he frightened the fans more when wrestling without it. That's brothers.  “The Brydens wrestled on all the very best shows from Dumfries Drill Hall to the very far north,” Eddie told us.

Bruce's martial arts interest lay initially in judo. He found that greater success lay in wrestling. Following the formation of the Mossblown gym, where he learned alongside brother Dale, he began training the less experienced members, many of whom went on to wrestle professionally on a part-time basis.

When Bruce turned professional his first opponent was a very experienced welterweight, Fred Woolley of Salford. Fred was co-owner of Cape Promotions, along with Danny Flynn, who was co-incidentally the first opponent of brother Andy. At the time he weighed around twelve stones and was very strong, a result of both his training and working in the local coal mine.

His full time work commitments prevented him travelling south of the border very often, but we should we should have no misconceptions that these Scottish wrestlers didn’t travel – for Bruce Ayr it was return journeys of 300 miles from Ayr to Aberdeen, 266 miles to Dundee, 260 miles to Forfar, 220 miles to St Andrews, and so on. This was the sort of mileage equalled by many English wrestlers.

Over the years Bruce filled out to light heavyweight yet always remained very fit and lean. He could often be seen in tag action with brother Andy, Dale Storm. Naturally a regular worker on Spartan Promotions bills Bruce worked for many other independent promoters and occasionally Joint Promotions members Max Crabtree and Jack Atherton. A welcome name on any poster Bruce’s interpretation of the rules did not always meet with the approval of the fans.

A couple of opponents that are still clear memories for Bruce are Ezra “Sugar ray Do-Do” Francis and Andy Robin, but for very different reasons. Ezra because he was a very funny opponent whose antics caused difficulties for opponents and Andy, not for the laughs but the pain. The match with Andy Robin was a  a Charity Fund Raiser for a child who required treatment abroad.

Like all those we celebrate on Wrestling Heritage Bruce still has the memories, and is a popular attendee at the Scottish Reunion each year where he meets up with many Ayrshire wrestlers who are grateful to Bruce for the training they received.

We mentioned Bruce Welch in a mask. For Spartan Promotions the Masked Gladiator was always Bruce Welch.

Gerald Bryden

Brother Gerald did not wrestle. He was an official for Spartan Promotions, and a very good, professional one according to Eddie Rose. Andy Bryden added, "The referee who officiated on most shows, my younger  brother, Gerald,  always did a good job...Sadly his University studies and the living of a young life, got in the way and  he retired, almost before he ever really got started! "  

Andrew Bryden took the name Dale Storm, an impromptu choice when the question was posed by wrestler and promoter Danny Flynn as he was about to give the over-confident teenager a trial match. Dale escaped from that encounter with ego and body bruised. Despite encouraging words from Danny he  arrived at the conclusion his dream of being a professional wrestler had evaporated. No one was more surprised than he when he received an offer of work for Cape Promotions. Of that first tentative entry into the professional ring, aged 17, Dale remembers, "You know, I actually got a warm reception. Although come to think of it the crowd used to clap the Christians in the Coliseum in Rome warmly as well.  And then the bloody Lions ate the poor buggers!"

Over a half a century later Dale is quick to tell everyone of how much he learned from his mentor, Danny, and partner Fred. Following Danny's death Cape Promotions ceased promoting in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute and the Bryden brothers took over running the shows. Eddie Rose said that working at Rothesay for Spartan was his favourite venue and he enjoys telling the story of wrestlers returning from the island to Bute after the harbour had closed and having to scale the harbour walls like members of the SAS.

Dale's interest in amateur wrestling had developed whilst he was visiting Australia. It was the need to travel to Glasgow to train that led to the formation of the Old Mossblown Gym, The club was open  Sunday (Afternoon),  and Monday. Wednesday and Friday evenings. In total Dale estimated 35-40 learned to wrestle at the club, amongst them half a dozen females.

Dale and Bruce's Spartan Promotions provided work for many of the Spartan trainees, and amongst them was the youngest brother, Ian, when he turned sixteen.  Dale appeared on many of the shows, always the blue eyed hero. He worked for other promoters in Scotland and occasionally northern England, mostly on the independent ciruit but also for Jack Atherton and Max Crabtree.

As Dale gained experience he also increased in size and began to move up the weights from lightweight to heavyweight. Through a career that spanned twenty years, from 1964-81,  he  worked with many of the biggest names in the business; Johnny Saint, Jackie Pallo,  Adrian Street, Romeo Joe Critchley, Andy Robin  and Ezra Francis (Sugar Ray DoDo)  amongst others.
    "Ezra was a real gent, a real good pal, and a big Man City supporter. I went to Main Road with him, it was a hoot!"

The end of a long career came abruptly and tragically one night at Hamilton Town Hall in a contest with Peter Preston. A loose ring board caused a serious spinal injury which required major surgery, thus ending a twenty year career.

And the Village Blacksmith

We said at the outset that Spartan Promotions was a family affair. A mention, hence for Lilian Bryden's father. When the original ring reached the end of it's life (well, the lads complained it was getting heavier by the night) Lilan's father, a blacksmith, used all his welding skills, and engineering knowhow, to build a new ring, a brilliantly simple piece of cantilever, metalwork. It served them well for many years.

Ian was the youngest of the Bryden clan and took the wrestling name of Ian Miller. He began to learn   the wrestling business from the age of  just twelve at his brothers' Old Mossblown Gym.

Four years later he turned professional when he was only  sixteen years old.  Eddie Rose told us of the time Romeo Joe Critchley dressed up as a chauffeur and arrived at the school gates to pick up Ian and loudly announce that the promoter had sent the car to take him to his match that evening.

He was always "Big" Ian Miller simply because he was always tall for his age, even as a teenager. At the time of his profesional debut he was a welterweight and gradually filled out  to light heavyweight.

One of his very early bouts was against Keith Martinelli for Joint Promotions, in the Drill Hall Dumfries. Needless to say Keith (known amongst the fraternity as blood boots) was up to his usual tricks and blood flowed. Ian put up a gallant fight against one of the hardest men in the business.

Ian worked mainly for the independents where he held the Scottish Middleweight Title for a few years. He learned a great deal from his contests with experienced men that included Eddie Rose, Mark Wayne Joe Critchley and Ezra Francis.

Probably his finest hour was a narrow defeat at the hands of the vastly most experienced Jackie "Mr TV Pallo" in Hamilton Town Hall in the 1979. Another of his career highlights was when he and regular Tag Team partner, brother Dale, took the Scottish Title from The Fabulous Harlequins, in Elgin Town Hall. Something of a rarity in tag wrestling it was a display of classic, clean, skilful wrestling.

In the 1980s as wrestling's image became tarnished Ian  was one of the first to see that the writing was already on the wall for the future of wrestling. He decided to get out of the business and swapped the limelight for firelight,  pursuing a successful career in the Strathclyde Fire Service!

Diamond Lil
We mentioned at the start that Spartan Promotions was very much a family affair. That included Andy's wife, Lilian. It all came about because Spartan Promotions wanted to cash in on the 1960s interest in female wrestling. Trouble was that Spartan Promotions didn't have any female wrestlers at the time. Andy told us, "She was brilliant. And let me tell you, given the fact she learned her trade in my gym working with the men, she could 'Shoot' with the best of them."

Page added 13/09/2020