C: Joe Critchley

Romeo Joe Critchley

More Show Than Shoot

The Lancashire town of Wigan is famed for a rugby team,  pies, Uncle Joe's Mintballs, and wrestlers the enthusiasts call shooters – real wrestlers who know how to hurt an opponent. We are talking the likes of Jack Dempsey, Billy Joyce, the Rileys and most of the well known Wigan wrestlers.

Romeo Joe Critchley was not in this category. We don't recall anyone praising Joe for his technical wrestling skills or an ability to hurt, really hurt. But we all know that wrestling was about far more than that. He saw his job simply to send the fans home happy, which he invariably did.

He was known as Romeo Joe and with good cause. Here was a man who could charm the opposite sex in the world of wrestling and anyone in the world outside, resulting in numerous marriages and a big fan following. Romeo Joe loved the world; and the world loved Romeo Joe. From the moment he left the dressing room with an animated entrance to the hall, almost skipping and throwing flowers or signed photographs to the cheering fans.

He charmed the fans for well over a quarter of a century, a wrestler with an entertaining, downright funny style. Many of the comedy moves used by various wrestlers in the seventies and eighties could be traced back to their originator, Romeo Joe. We don't think anyone would claim Joe was amongst any list of great legitimate wrestlers; he was no Wigan hard man, but he had entertainer written through him like a stick of rock has Blackpool. Eddie Rose said, "He was the funniest man I wrestled. If you worked Joe's show it was guaranteed to leave the audience in tears of laughter and I enjoyed every minute of every bout I shared with him."

Promoter Graham Brook told us of the occasion Joe refused to allow Crusher Mason to start a match wearing a studded leather belt because he felt this was implausible in a sporting contest. Other referees had allowed the belt to be worn and used as a weapon mid match, but Joe bluntly refused because this was outside the realms of a genuine wrestling contest.

In “Send In The Clowns” Eddie Rose recounts the story of Joe mesmerising the fans when he took on “The Invisible Man,” the best possible substitute the harassed promoter could find for a wrestler who had failed to turn up. Joe lost. Even in his  twilight years he was still a star performer. Though what the admirers would have thought had they known that for many years  after the bout he was off back to his chip shop in Gidlow lane, Wigan, we can only imagine.  

Decades later stories were still told by wrestlers fearful of entering chip shops with Joe because of his tendency to berate staff for not meeting his standards of frying. Dale Storm told us, "Many were less than pleased when he could tell them the cheap and nasty shortcuts they’d employed in their preparation process to maximise their profits!" In the late 1960s and 1970s Joe was one of a regular troupe of nothern wrestlers, that included Eddie Rose, Ian Wilson and Mark Wayne, who would work in Scotland for Dale's Spartan Promotions in the summer months. On occasions Romeo Joe even donned a wig and wrestled Spartan's own female grappler Diamond Lil.

Colourful trunks at a time when plain colours were the order of the day, flowers to throw to the female fans and kisses blown  to the masses.  Joe was a man who seemed to have time for everyone, the most demanding of fans or the younger wrestlers needing a bit of guidance in the business. Romeo Joe tagged with Les Kellett on television and wrestled Bernard Murray at the Royal Albert Hall. His biggest wins came in the charisma stakes because there were few that brought more colour and fun to the world of wrestling than Romeo Joe.

Joseph Critchley was born in Wigan on 7th December, 1922. After leaving school he went to work below ground as a haulage hand in one of the local collieries.  As a youth Joe was a very good swimmer. He claimed, with some justification, that he could stay beneath the water for four minutes. On a Saturday night in the pub arrangements would be made and  bets would be taken for how long Joe could submerge. Come Sunday morning he would dive in to the dirty water and emerge four minutes later. The mystery of how he did it remains.

He started wrestling professionally in the early 1950s, working mostly for Wryton Promotions, and was a frequent worker on the holiday camp circuit. The website itvwrestling.co.uk lists eight television appearances between 1960 and 1970, opponents that included respected wrestlers Keith Williams, Tommy Mann, Joe Keegan and Jim Hart. His his last televised match, in 1970, Romeo Joe partnered Les Kellett against the team of Steve Logan and Colin Joynson. Kellett and Joe won by two falls to one.

As far as we can tell Rome Joe never wrestled outside Britain. He wasn't even too keen on southern England, but he did travel extensively in the midlands, northern England and Scotland. He was to remain a Wigan lad until he died, aged 70,  on 14th September, 1992.

Page added 24/11/19