C: Mick Collins
Leicester Gold -
Over the years we have seen many claims by promoters that their latest find is the new wrestling superstar and “The youngest wrestler in Britain.” Those newcomers have usually been sixteen years old, or occasionally fifteen. Well, we have news for you. The youngest paid wrestler in Britain was not sixteen, fifteen or even fourteen. He was just thirteen years old when he stepped into the ring in January,1961!
We are talking of the popular Leicester wrestler of the 1960s and 70's, Golden Boy Mick Collins. That's right, Mick was just thirteen when he stepped into the ring in front of paying customers, hundreds of them, at the huge Granby Halls in Leicester. It was probably inevitable that the Saturday night fans took took the lanky youngsters to their heart, but it was his skill and charisma that was to keep in the hearts of fans for the next twenty or so years.
The Granby was a cavernous venue, likened by many to an aircraft hanger, and standing in the centre of the hall was one of the biggest rings in the country.
We can only imagine how overwhelming it must have been for a thirteen year old to climb into that ring in front of all those seasoned Saturday night punters, but looking back over forty years later Mick doesn't see it that way. Maybe it was the innocence of youth that made the nerves disappear, or maybe it was because he felt so familiar in the hall that was his second home.
“We were there every night of the week,” said Mick. “When I wasn't at the wrestling I was playing around with my mates outside, usually play wrestling on the grass outside the hall.”
In fact few people knew just about every inch of the Granby Hall more than the thirteen year old.
Mick had been a fan at the Granby for quite a few years, being taken along by his dad, and sitting on dad's knee in those early days. Like so many youngsters he was hooked straight away, and decided that he wanted to get more involved.
“I'd sit there and think, 'I'm going to be a wrestler, but when Killer Ken Davies got in I'd think, but I wouldn't want to wrestle him.”
For most youngsters at ringside, and no doubt a few are reading this piece, their dreams remained just that. Mick Collins was more determined than most. Opportunities were limited for one so young however keen they were, but eventually promoter Jack Taylor gave young Mick a job, putting out the chairs every Saturday afternoon for the evening's show. For Mick this was a dream come true, because now he really was involved in the wrestling business. Not only that, but once the chairs were in place Mick and the three other youngsters he worked with would climb into the ring and get down to a bit of wrestling of their own. That is until Jack Taylor would enter, unnoticed by the youngsters, and a booming voice would echo around the hall instructing them to get out of the ring.
No one could doubt the yougsters' enthusiasm, and two of the boys, Mick and Taffy Jenkins, did show some potential. So Jack began to cultivate the youngsters and when Mick was just thirteen, Taffy was a year older, declared that they were ready to show what they could do in front of the paying public. How much did they get paid? We couldn't resist asking such an impertinent question. Well, Jack was a canny promoter and didn't promise to pay them a penny. Mick and Taffy were happy because they were about to fulfill their dream.
Co-promoter Doug Taylor took over the story.
“The fans were mesmerised by these two youngsters throwing themselves around this huge ring. They hadn't seen anything like it before. When the match was over the fans stood up and gave them a standing ovation, and then began throwing money into the ring. It was incredible, the money just kept on coming, I don't remember how much, but it was a lot.”
Mick remembers to this day, and it was a lot. It was 1961, and the boys collected over twenty pounds between them, more than double a week's wage for a manual worker back in those days.
With bulging pockets, beaming faces, and a few aches that could easily be ignored in the excitement of it all Mick was determined that Saturday night would change his life. Jack Taylor, with his new found attraction, was more than happy to give the youngsters more experience as they learned the trade, and for the next year or so Mick Collins was matched with Taffy Jenkins around the country. In those days Taylor's International Promotions put on shows every night of the week throughout Britain.
Whilst still at school Mick was living his dream. Talking to him we got the impression that school studies were not high on his list of priorities. Jack or Doug Taylor would pick him up at the school gates and take him to the venue where he would help Doug erect the ring in which he would later wrestle.
After a year or so, and still a schoolboy Jack began to match Mick with more experienced professionals, Legs Valentine, Pete Evans, Ron Marino and Jager Singh amongst others. The youngster was sharing a dressing room with the men he had simply watched in awe a couple of years earlier, seasoned professionals that included Shirley Crabtree, Ken Joyce, and Harry Bennett.
When he was eventually tag teamed with the wrestler he admired the most, Spike O'Reilly, it was another night to remember.
“He was one of life's characters,Spike, larger than life, arriving at the hall in his Mercedez and always keeping that dressing gown of his in immaculate shape.”
Other highlights were the first time he faced the man he had most feared as a ten year old at ringside, Killer Ken Davies, and the night he wrestled Johnny Saint.
“Johnny probably doesn't remember that night, laughed Mick, “but I certainly do.”
A career spanning two decades, working full time in the wrestling business, meant that there were many other well known names in the opposite corner. World welterweight champion Jimmy Lewis for instance,
“Another character, always game for a laugh and getting himself in a few scrapes. One night in Leicester he asked me if I wanted to go to a club after the show. I agreed. The bar was in Manchester and I didn't get home until nine the next morning!”
It was quite obvious that Mick Collins enjoyed every minute of his wrestling career. Regrets? None. A career spanning twenty years that all fans thought ended prematurely, when he was still in his early thirties. Not that it ended for any negative reasons. There were no injuries, no disillusionment, it was just a case of life moving on. Once married the appeal of travelling to all parts of the country began to fade, and with family commitments the lack of security in the wrestling business needed replacing with a regular pay packet.
We can only look back and wonder what might have been. Without any regrets, though, because Mick has none; just the wonderful memories of his time as wrestlings Golden Boy, Mick Collins.