Some years ago Wrestling Heritage compiled a countdown of those wrestlers who appeared most often on television between 1955 and 1988. We were as surprised to find that Doncaster's Mick McMichael was up there in the top five. Yes, Mick McMichael appeared on television more times than Big Daddy, Les Kellett, Bert Royal and even the self-styled Mr TV, Jackie Pallo.
We shouldn't really have been surprised. Mick's was a long career, because for those starting to watch the wrestling in the late 1950s he was already there on the bills, and for the many that turned away from the sport in the 1980s he was still up there, one of the real grafters and skilled men defending the faith. Mick McMichael was one of those timeless evergreens who just didn't diminish with the passage of time. More than a quarter of a century, starting out as a very young Michael Gale in northern England and ending up as a kilted Scottish referee in Germany. That's something worth celebrating.
Between times he was a popular middleweight who worked with everyone who was anyone between 11 and 14 stones in weight. Those who know us here at Wrestling Heritage will know that we mean no disrespect whatsoever when we categorise Mick McMichael as an artisan, one of those skilled and often undervalued men who formed the backbone of the British wrestling industry. His was often the role of making the more well known stars live up to the fans' expectation. For every McManus, Pallo and Big Daddy there were a hundred others working alongside and giving the stars the space to shine. Mick McMichael was one of those men.
We have never heard anyone say that Mick was a great shooter in the style of Dempsey, Colbeck or Riley, but as we've said so many times before, that was not what professional wrestling was about. In terms of professional wrestling skill Mick was as good as they came. Usually the good guy Mick was the technician often remembered for skilled contests with fellow good guys Bobby Steele, Vic Faulkner, Alan Wood and the like. On the other hand put him in with a villain and when his feathers were ruffled and Mick could quickly adopt the characteristics of the proverbial bull in the china shop.
Devoid of any identifiable gimmick he established himself as one of the most liked wrestlers amongst fans, though the inane labelling as “Popular” Mick McMichael bestowed by a certain Master of Ceremonies, was nevertheless one of the most pointless and irritating of nicknames.
As a youngster Mick's first sporting interests revolved around rugby playing and swimming. It wasn't long though before he turned his attention towards wrestling. Schoolboy Mick was a regular spectator at the Corn Exchange Doncaster. It was there that he learned about, and introduced himself to, an old time wrestler and strongman, Chic Booth (left). Chic had led a colourful career and at the time was missing wrestling since retiring from the sport a couple of years earlier. In the 1930s Chic had performed a hand balancing act known as "The Doncaster Strongman" before turning to wrestling during the war with a professional wrestling career that lasted twelve years.
Chic invited Mick to his gymnasium in Balby, where the wrestlers included Rex Harrison and Albert Wall. Chic and Mick worked well together, so well that the youngster was ready for his professional debut when he was just fifteen years old. The year was 1958 and the popularity of professional wrestling was growing rapidly around the country. Experienced professionals like Jim Mellor and Tommy Mann gave the teenager a hard time; it was a steep learning curve.
Shortly after leaving school Mick seized the opportunity to work full time as a professional wrestler. Imagine the excitement for a sixteen year old travelling throughout the north and midlands of England and into Scotland in the company of his ring heroes, , having caught the attention of the top promoters Morrell-Beresford, Wryton and Relwyskow & Green. Experienced men like Ted Hannon, Eric Sands and Danny Flynn were amongst early opponents, as well as other youngsters such as Jim Breaks and Al Miquet. Climbing into the ring at two of the biggest halls in the country, the St James Hall, Newcastle and Belle Vue, Manchester, both in 1959 whilst 16 years old, must have been very intimidating indeed.
Intimidating maybe, but the boy was making his mark; even finding himself featured in the very first issue of “The Wrestler” magazine in June, 1961, in which Charles Mascall said, “He has the zip and zest of a boyish athlete at his command.”
In April, 1960, whilst still a teenager, Mick featured in his first televised tournament. To be honest, we've looked at the TV Times for 16th April, 1960, and as the matches for Saturday afternoon are not listed we can't be sure that his bout with Romeo Joe Critchley was actually televised. Young Mick did have the satisfaction of seeing his name listed in the TV Times for his next televised match. There it was, in glorious black and white, Saturday 11th June, 1961, Dick Conlon v Mick McMichael from Dorking, commentator Peter Cockburn. The thrill of the appearance didn't extend as far as winning, with Conlon taking the verdict.
It was the start of a prolific televised career, with likeable Mick so often the unfortunate loser to the rugged villains Mick McManus, Jackie Pallo, Keith Williams and the like. More than 125 televised appearances over a quarter of a century making Mick one of the most recognisable wrestlers around the country. Three of those matches were on Cup Final Saturday, the prestigious pre final show that attracted huge audiences. In 1970, prior to Leeds drawing 2-1 with Chelsea, Mick's opponent was Jackie Pallo. With Jackie at his prime a televised defeat was unthinkable and Jackie took the decision when Mick retired injured. In 1975 West Ham beat Fulham 2-0 but Mick and his tag partner, Eddie Capelli, were not so fortunate as they went down to those other London villains Mick McMcManus and Steve Logan. It was ten years before Mick made it third Cup Final day lucky, when he partnered Big Daddy to a predictable win over Pete LaPaque and Tommy Lorne.
Whilst some Heritage fans will look back with dismay at Mick's mid 1980s tag partnership with Big Daddy they have nothing but joy with their recollections of Mick's memorable tag partnership with Steve Clements. In the second half of the 1960s tag wrestling was in it's heyday. The Royals, Black Diamonds, White Eagles, Dennisons, Jet Set, Borg Twins led a crowded field of popular teams. Making an impression in a crowded market took some doing, but Mick's partnership with Steve Clements as the Yorkshire Terriers established the pair as up there amongst the very best. The two Yorkshire middleweights complemented each other in style, laying claim to a European tag team championship belt.
Both were technically good wrestlers, both were speedy (with Steve having the edge), but when it came to the time for a bit of heat Mick would be the one to come into his own. Inevitably matched against a right pair of villains it would tend to be Mick that would finally unleash a barrage of arms and legs, repaying the villains for their past deeds.
Mick was well known amongst the fans of mainland Europe. Overseas travel went back to the early days of his professional career. Just over two years after entering the ring for the first time, he spent the best part of two months in France. It was the start of frequent jaunts across the channel. Most years he would leave our shores for regular visits to France, Belgium, Spain and Germany. German fans are the ones with most recent fondest memories of Mick McMichael, as one of their best referees, wearing a kilt. Don't ask us why a man from Wheatley Hills in Doncaster should be wearing a kilt. This is wrestling.
For more than a quarter of a century Mick McMichael entertained fans in the wrestling ring, often taking the roll of the fall guy to the more well known names on the bill. In later years he went on to entertain as a supporting role actor in films and television.
Evergreen? Certainly. And Golden? Most definitely.
Mick McMichael died in March, 2018.