The Hardboiled Ego
Decades after the event the heroes and villains of wrestling are remembered for a variety of reasons. Colourful costumes, physical appearance or simple wrestling skill bring names to mind. One Shining Star, our subject today, is not remembered for any of those reasons, though he did have a pretty natty line in colourful jackets.
Steve Haggetty is remembered by thousands of wrestling fans for his look. Not his looks, you understand, for Steve was no pretty boy. His look, the look, the one that antagonised fans from the moment he entered the hall. Steve Haggetty cultivated to perfection an air of superiority and look of utter contempt for the fans, his opponent, and just about everyone. Introduced by the MC he would push his head backwards, look down condescendingly at the fans and very deliberately raise just the one finger to acknowledge their jeers. It worked every time. The fans went wild.
Not that it was always that way. In the early sixties when he was wrestling for the independent promoters Steve was just a bit of a bad boy. The great Mike Marino, a man whom Steve respected greatly and remembers with much fondness, always had more than a few words of encouragement for the newcomer.
“Mike Marino kept telling me that I had the ability to make a success of wrestling. But he also told me that people only remembered the image that a wrestler created. Trouble was, I didn't know what image I wanted to create. I'm not quite sure how it happened but as the fans booed my rule bending one night I realised there was something to build on with this vanity characteristic and I began to work on it.”
Steve worked on it very successfully. The raised head, the slight sneer, and the puffed out chest were more than enough to make sure fans were soon jeering him more for his vanity than his rule bending. In our Armchair Corner feature, “Much Ado About Nothing” we record how Steve succeeded in antagonising the fans without actually breaking any rules. Well, hardly any.
When we asked Steve if fans differed around the country he told us, “No. They hated me everywhere.” He quickly added that the Liverpool fans were particularly good at showing their dislike and remembered having to park his car far away from The Stadium to keep it safe.
When Carly Simon released the song “You're So Vain,” it was a perfect match for Steve's wrestling personae and was quickly adopted to accompany his nonchalant entry to the ring. We hasten to add that the vanity of Steve Haggetty was no more than a personae that Steve cultivated, and nothing at all like the man outside the ring. The real Steve Haggetty was a very modest man. That thousands remember him a quarter of a century after retiring and are interested in reading about him in Wrestling Heritage was something he finds pleasing but astonishing.
Apart from Mike Marino Steve was also influenced by wrestlers Spencer Churchill and Reg Trood. He met Spencer Churchill when he joined the St George's Physical Culture Club in Putney. Spencer had already made the transition from physical culturist to successful professional wrestler and encouraged Steve to follow in his footsteps. Steve, who was at the time driving a tanker for ESSO gave it some consideration before deciding it was a worth a try. Reg Trood, a young wrestler making his way on Paul Lincoln bills, began to teach Steve the essential skills of professional ring craft. When the time was right Steve was introduced to wrestler/promoter Paul Lincoln who decided the youngster was good enough to be given a chance.
Steve made the most of the opportunity given to him and demonstrated that he had enough ability for further development. The name of a North American heavyweight, Hardboiled Haggetty, seemed to suit Steve's style and looks, and so promoter Paul Lincoln created the Hardboiled Haggetty Irish-Canadian label. In recent years fans have discussed on internet forums the authenticity of Haggetty's Irish-Canadian heritage. Well, Steve is quite happy to tell Wrestling Heritage readers that those claims are not very authentic at all; he is a Londoner through and through, born and bred in Clapham. His father was an accountant, “He was the one with the brains,” joked Steve, but the truth was that the life of an accountant seemed far too dull for this young Londoner making his way in the world.
Within a short time of his professional début, a July 1962 outing against Linde Caulder at Barnstaple, Steve was a regular on the independent circuit, mostly in the midlands and south for Paul Lincoln Management.
Steve worked on the independent circuit until the 1966 merger which brought himself and other Lincoln favourites such as Dave Larsen, Al Hayes and Mike Marino, into Joint Promotion rings. Steve continued to combine wrestling with tanker driving in the early years, but eventually demands from overseas promoters made a full time commitment to wrestling essential. The commitment certainly paid off and Steve worked full time from 1966 onwards.
Working for Joint Promotions brought the opportunity of television exposure. Steve made his début in front of a national television audience in April, 1966, opposing popular Welshman Tony Charles. It was the beginning of a decade of tv appearances that saw Steve feature regularly against some of he biggest name in the business – Andy Robin, Steve Logan, Wayne Bridges, Dory Dixon,Les Kellett, Masambula, Ricky Starr, Shirley Crabtree, Steve Veidor, Tony St Clair and Jon Guil Don.
No one could accuse Steve of having an easy ride in his forty-odd television appearances. Success as a television wrestler is considered by Steve as one of his greatest achievements, especially his two matches against the American Ricky Starr. For him that first televised bout was a milestone in his career when he felt that he had “made it” as a wrestler.
Other highlights were stepping into the ring at the Royal Albert Hall in front of more than five thousand fans. He may have been the local boy but promoters Dale Martin made sure that he was no local hero by matching him against the popular Honey Boy Zimba in his début, and even more popular Masambula on his return.
In 1970 Steve uprooted from his London home to move north, and shortly afterwards took up managership of a public house in Stockport. These were happy times for Steve as the work fitted in conveniently with his wrestling career and he also enjoyed playing host to various wrestlers who would stay at the pub when wrestling locally; amongst them Ricky Starr, Pat Roach and Billy Two Rivers.
Steve travelled overseas for about six months of the year, regularly appearing on bills throughout Europe and Asia. He recalled a visit to Iraq, many years before the current troubles, as “The most dangerous nine days of my life.” On one occasion the windscreen of the car in which he was travelling with American wrestler Bob Roop was shattered by a bullet entering the car. Now that didn't even happen in Liverpool!
This tribute followed an interview with Steve shortly before his death in 2012. At the time of his death tributes were paid to Steve Haggetty by fans and collegaues ....
Tony St Clair: Another sad loss, Steve wasn't only a fellow wrestler, he became a great friend. With Colin as his partner against Roy and I we travelled all over England,Scotland and Wales. Of all our tag matches I remember those against The Dangermen better than any other. Rest in Peace dear friend.
Neil Sands: I would just like to join in the rest of the condolences and repeat what Tony has just said not only a fellow wrestler but a friend an a smashing guy. I travelled many great journeys with Steve. One sticks in my mind with Mark Rocco and Terry Rudge to Utrecht in Holland. We drove on a Thursday night over night wrestled on the Friday night ( I worked with Steve that night) and drove back over night again with Mark doing all the driving and wrestled back in the UK on the Saturday, those were the days. Its was visiting Steve in his pub with John Kowalski en route from Perth one night to Southampton the next that convinced me I should go into the pub trade something that changed my life forever and I have always thanked Steve for that. We are losing too many old friends at the moment and it is always sad, but the loss of Steve has got to me because of so many happy memories and because he was such a lovely man. Rest in peace mate.
David Mantell: "A great heel tag team but with enough technical skill to have intelligent bouts with people like the young Marty Jones. For youngsters like me who only knew Joynson as an avuncular blue-eye, it's quite a revelation to see him as an arrogant bequiffed villain, thuggishly swatting Dane Curtis off the ring apron. His forearm smash makes more sense in this context than it did during his later blue-eye days. Haggerty is a brilliant sinister villain - like Leon Arras without the comedy."
Willenhall 64: Just heard the very sad news about Steve Haggetty. Great memories from the 60's and 70's of Steve's solo and tag bouts at such venues as Birmingham Embassy Sportsdrome, Digbeth, Solihull and Wolverhampton venues. Also was lucky to visit Steve when he and his wife Dot hosted a pub in Stockport. Me and my friends were made very welcome and it was great for us to sit and talk to Steve. We met him at a number of Southern Reunions and again he always made time to chat with us, sign autographs and have photos taken. Steve you were one of the best inside and outside of the ring. Sincere condolences to his wife, Dot.