WRESTLING HERITAGE

British wrestling history 

A: Costas Astreos

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Costas  Astreos

On the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, twenty miles to the west of the capital, Nicosia, lies the small, sleepy village of Astromeritis. Into this agricultural land was born Costas Tofalos on 15th March, 1912. 

When he was just eighteen years old Costas travelled to Britain, planning for fortune and success. With sporting and business achievements we can vouch for the latter but whether or not he made a fortune we would not dare to presume. As the ship passed the island of Sicily the passengers stood and gazed at a distant eruption of Mount Etna, the source of a story to be told and re-told to Costa’s children for years to come. 

On his arrival in 1930 Costas headed for London. He found lodgings with an Italian family, which meant he learned Italian faster than he learned English. Just what work he found in the beginning we don’t know, but after a while he opened a gym on Tottenham Court Road.

Wrestling must have been an interest in Cyprus or shortly after arriving in Britain because we find him wrestling professionally by the end of 1932, our first sighting at Lime Grove Baths in November against Jim Maloney. The name on the poster was not his birth name, but Costas Astreos,  chosen in honour of the village he had left behind. Even at that early stage in his career Costas impressed the reporter present, who recorded that the newcomer had dominated the contest, that he was surprised Costas had been held to a draw and was a wrestler to watch.
The reporter was proved right and from that moment on we find Costas Astreos working regularly around the country against the most highly rated men of the time, including British champions Richard Willis, Jack Dale, Harold Angus and world champion Billy Riley We have found wins for Costas against all but Riley.  On one occasion wrestling the experienced British champion Richard Willis Costas forced a draw, wrestling with vigour and matching the champion to take the equalising fall after almost sixty minutes of wrestling. 

This led to a contest with Willis advertised as the European light heavyweight championship at Plymouth in January, 1934 at Plymouth. It was a very rough contest by all accounts, with Costas weakening Willis by butting him and repeatedly flinging him across the ring. After sixty minutes the match was drawn, leaving Costas content with his now usual billing as light heavyweight champion of Greece. Reports of matches against the welterweight champion Angus are of mostly draws or defeats, but we did find that Costas beat Angus on at least one occasion.

Reports leave us in no doubt that Costas was a very skilled wrestler who could match the best in the sport. He was reputed for speed and usually wrestling within the rules, but there were occasions when he could be very rough indeed. He travelled extensively around the country and was active most nights of the week.
Prior to the Second World War BBC television regularly broadcast a series of demonstrations of Catch as Catch Can wrestling, and on 10th August, 1939, it was Costas Astreos and Charles Law that took to the mat. With the outbreak of war television broadcasts ceased a few weeks later. During the Second World War the number of wrestling shows was considerably reduced, but they did continue in some towns, especially in Northern England. Although we have found matches for Costas during the Second World War they are understandably less frequent with our last sighting in March, 1944.

At some point Costas moved from London to Manchester. We haven’t been able to find out exactly when that was but he was certainly living in Whalley Range, Manchester, by the end of the Second World War, with he and wife parenting their first child in December, 1946. It was then that Costas began to build up his business interests and we have found no further references to his wrestling career. 

He started by running the Continental Restaurant on Oxford Street, Manchester. Here he is in the centre of a group of American servicemen outside the Continental in the 1940s.

In December, 1947, following six months renovation the restaurant re-opened as The Continental Club, an exclusive luncheon and dinner venue for members only. At the time of opening the club boasted a membership of one hundred and thirty. Costas announced that Manchester should not lag behind London, that the Club would allow dancing and food served until 11pm. 

In the years that followed Costas added four more restaurants to his business chain, one of them in Blackpool. The Continental remained very successful until the 1960s. It’s location opposite the Palace Theatre meant that it’s customers included many entertainers, including  Judy Garland, Tommy Cooper, Syd James, Jonn Pertwee, Roy Castle and Frank Sinatra. Ownership of the Conti, as it became affectionately known, passed to two of Costa’s nephews in 1965 and was demolished two years later. 

Costas was an ardent football fan. Manchester United was his first love, but he must have  been unique in having season tickets simultaneously for both United and City. In the late 1950s, shortly after the Munich Air disaster Costas attempted to fulfil every fan’s dream and attempted to buy Manchester United. 

Costas was also a keen photographer and would no doubt have been proud of his eldest  son who became a professional photographer. 

Costas Astreos died on 23rd August, 1980.

We would like to thank Costas', son, Chris, for his help with this tribute.

Page added 14/03/2021