Recalling a historic British wrestling programme 

Today on Independent Television (ITV) is the return (for one night only) of a popular British institution World of Sport. This programme lasted twenty years (from January 2 1965 to September 28 1985) and it popularised professional wrestling in the UK long before the WWE came anywhere near Britain. The wrestling on World of Sport was the starting point for UK wrestlers who would become WWE stars – the British Bulldog, Dave “Fit” Finlay as well as current NXT Commissioner William Regal. As World of Sport returns to ITV today with current UK wrestlers I thought I would look at the history of World of Sport.

Wrestling on ITV actually pre dated World of Sport by ten years. When commercial TV in the UK started in September 1955 British wrestling was an early part of its schedule (the first bout was broadcast in November 1955). There was a joke doing the rounds in the UK at the time that the BBC was going through the alphabet buying up each sport but had run out of money before they got to wrestling which is why ITV got it! Whether or not it was true the wrestling became a key part of the ITV schedule – usually on Wednesday nights – before it became part of World of Sport. 

It should be said that the old school UK wrestling on World of Sport has little or nothing in common with the current WWE product and differs in many ways. In fact World of Sport wrestling had more in common with boxing and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) than it does with the current WWE product. To start with the matches were under a round system. Rounds lasted either three or five minutes and there were breaks between the rounds. The shortest bouts comprised of six three minute rounds while title matches could last as long as fifteen five minute rounds. The vast majority of matches were two out of three falls (a rarity in current WWE). The rules were different too. Punches, not breaking the hold when the wrestlers got to the ropes and attacking a man while he was down were all illegal and there was a warning system that resembles football. Wrestlers who broke the rules were given public warnings by the referee. Three public warnings meant instant disqualification – just like the three strikes and you’re out rule in baseball.

Another resemblance with boxing and the UFC – and difference with WWE – were the weight classes. There were seven different weight classes in old school UK wrestling – lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, heavy middleweight, light heavyweight, mid heavyweight and heavyweight (interesting that the heavyweight limit in old school UK wrestling was 209 pounds, not dissimilar to the current WWE 205 pounds upper limit for their Cruiserweight division.) Each weight had their own British title but there were also catch-weight contests between wrestlers in different weight classes. 

Another difference between the two types of wrestling was the role of women. While women have not (to put it mildly) always been treated well in WWE at least they have usually wrestled. There was NEVER women’s wrestling on World of Sport. Repeat never. In fact until the 1980s they weren’t on the shows at all. When they did appear they were as managers – the most famous woman was Fit Finlay’s then wife Princess Paula who would be at ringside but unlike Maryse and Lana today never interfered in his matches – even though Finlay was a heel. What Sasha Banks and Charlotte would make of this is anybody’s guess (Women’s wrestling did exist by the 1980s but only in non televised events). One thing World of Sport has in common with current WWE was no blood – in the case of the UK wrestling hardly surprising when it was on at four in the afternoon. 

The key difference between World of Sport wrestling and WWE is that the British wrestling was regarded more as a ligitimate sport than the WWE which is seen by owner Vince McMahon as “sports entertainment”. That is hardly a surprise because wrestling was part of a sports programme. World of Sport was on between 12 and 5 on Saturdays and also featured real sports like football, horse racing, cycling and golf among others. Wrestling was broadcast between 4 and 4.50 pm – during the second half of football matches. I suspect subconsciously the influence of World of Sport is responsible for me and most UK people thinking that WWE should at least pretend to be a legitimate sport (even today WWE in the UK is on the Sky Sports channels – not entertainment). And again the influence of World of Sport probably explains the UK hostility to intergender wrestling which I don’t think will ever be accepted by UK TV companies (Lucha Underground still does not have a UK TV contract). 

Still there is no denying the popularity of UK professional wrestling. At its peak the wrestling attracted ten million viewers – far more than RAW does in the US now despite America’s far higher population. It made superstars of Mick McManus, Jackie Pallo, Jim Breaks, Mark “Rollerball” Rocco, Pat Roach – who ended up acting in films and TV series long before the Rock did – and above all Big Daddy – the UK’s equivalent of Hulk Hogan just as popular and as bad a wrestler and his arch rival Giant Haystacks who that idiot Vince Russo said couldn’t be a star but was the biggest heel in the UK. 

Ironically having compared the UK scene to WWE its decline had more in common with WCW. Big Daddy’s continued dominance in the 1980s made UK wrestling stale and the industry like WCW failed to push new stars. It also had a nemisis in the TV industry – just like WCW. While WCW lost its TV contract (and its existence) when Jamie Kellner axed it from TNT and TBS the decline in UK wrestling began when then head of ITV Sport Greg Dyke axed World of Sport. Although wrestling survived as a stand alone show Dyke kept moving it in the schedule and as a result ratings fell – since people did not know when to find it! – giving Dyke the excuse to axe UK wrestling in November 1988. It has not been on ITV since – until today. 

Initially planned as a one off it will be fascinating to see how well it is received by critics and viewers. But the mere fact that UK wrestling is back on ITV after 28 years is a remarkable achievement in itself…

How to have a winter break without ruining Christmas 

We are in the middle of the most choatic period in the Premier League season the festive fixtures. All Premier League teams will have played three games between Boxing Day and January 4 2017. This is a soft schedule compared to 39 years ago – in the 1977-78 season all English clubs played four games between Boxing Day and January 2 (on Boxing Day, December 27th, New Year’s Eve and January 2). Yet people are still demanding a winter break in English football – either foreign managers who think that if the rest of Europe have a winter break so should Britain – typical of the arrogant European attitude which has led to Brexit – or the FA who seem to think it will help the England national team (conveniently forgetting that the vast majority of England fans care more about their clubs than the national team and don’t want to suffer the garbage Checkatrade Trophy or lose their Christmas entertainment on the off chance it can help a bad team to beat Iceland in a major tournament). 

As I wrote before those who want a Christmas shut down forget that both other sport in Britain (Rugby, Darts and Horse Racing to name but three) and sport in other English speaking countries (the NBA, NFL and NHL in the US, cricket in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) play on in the festive season). And as the EU referendum surely confirmed we in the UK have more in common with our English speaking friends than Europe even if the UK “Remoaners” don’t accept this. 

But even if we did have a winter break why should it mean the end of the Christmas fixtures? Just because most of Europe has a winter break at Christmas doesn’t mean to say we have to. In my opinion there is another option for a winter break that would also preserve the Christmas fixtures. 

That is not the period after the New Year (ie January). Traditionally the first Saturday in January is the day of the third round of the FA Cup and moving it out of January would devalue the competition. The FA should know this as they already moved the FA Cup third round from January to December – in the 1999-2000 season. It was a total disaster and the third round was immediately restored to its traditional date in the calendar. The FA would be incredibly stupid even by their standards if they mucked about with the scheduling of their crown jewel again. 

I’m surprised that nobody has thought of having a winter break in the Saturdays immediately preceding Christmas. For one thing in the old days before season tickets became popular that was generally the time of the season that had the lowest gates as fans went Christmas shopping with their families. If the Saturdays immediately before Christmas were football free fans could do their Christmas shopping without missing their team play. 

Here is how it would work using this year’s dates. The last round of Premier League games before the break would have been on the week of November 29-30. The next four Saturdays (December 3,10,17 and 24) would be the break. The season would resume on Boxing Day and the Christmas programme would start. The only games on would be the European games on December 7-9 but other countries (ie Eastern European ones) already play European games during winter breaks so if they can do it…

For this to work out the football authorities would have to sacrifice the League Cup which as I’ve wrote before is a useless tournament that should never have been invented and reached the end of its limited usefulness in the mid 1990s when Manchester United started fielding reserve teams in the competition. If you got rid of the League Cup itfrees up five midweeks which could be filled with the Premier League games that are currently played in December. For example this season the Premier League games that were played on December 3, 10, 13/14 and 17 could have been moved to the midweeks of September 20-21, October 25-26, November 29-30 and January 24-25. You have your winter break. 

Personally I don’t want a winter break but that is because everybody that wants it wants to sacrifice the Christmas programme which would be stupid as it draws the highest attendances and is clearly popular with the public.

It is interesting to note that there are people in Spain who would like La Liga to play on Boxing Day. Whether or not that happens I don’t know. But if Spain want to play in the festive season why should we stop? Especially as – as I have shown – there is a way to have a winter break and to preserve the tradition of both the Christmas programme and the FA Cup….

Why recent history is a good omen for Christmas number one Chelsea

To quote John Lennon “So this is Christmas”. And as Christmas Day approaches Antonio Conte’s Chelsea sit proudly on top of the Premier League tree. But the question is will they still be there when it matters next May? In theory the omens are mixed but in practice they are very favourable for Chelsea.

This is the 25th season of Premier League football since the breakaway League was founded back in 1992. Of the previous 24 seasons twelve of the leaders at Christmas went on to win the title the next May. So on that basis there is only a 50 per cent chance that this season’s title is heading for Stamford Bridge. 

But it’s not as unfavorable for Chelsea as those statistics suggest. Firstly in recent seasons the pendulum has swung in favour of the Christmas League leaders. In the first twelve Premier League seasons (1992-2003) only three Christmas Day leaders – Manchester United (twice) and Blackburn Rovers went on to win the title. But in the next twelve Premier League seasons (2004-15)  nine of the twelve Christmas Day leaders went on to win the title – Manchester United (three times), Manchester City, last season’s shock troops Leicester City and significantly Chelsea themselves (four times). In fact every time Chelsea have topped the table at Christmas they have gone on to win the title. 

The other thing in Chelsea’s favour – apart from their current eleven game winning streak in the Premier League – is the size of their lead at the top – six points over Liverpool. In the previous twenty four seasons of Premier League football only four teams have had a bigger lead on Christmas Day than Chelsea have now – Manchester United (twelve points in 1993 and eight points in 2000) Chelsea themselves (nine points in 2005) and Newcastle (ten points in 1995). Of those four only Newcastle – in one of the most infamous bottle jobs in football history – failed to win the title. And that was a club that had (and still have) failed to win the title since 1927. The Newcastle players and especially manager Kevin Keegan could not cope with the pressure. But the core of this Chelsea team won the title as recently as 2015 and it is highly unlikely that this team will bottle the title. Nor will manager Conte who has title winning experience in Serie A with Juventus. 

One oddity will have Arsenal fans clutching at straws. The Gunners are the only club to have won the Premier League title, led the table at Christmas but not done both in the same season. They led the League at Christmas in 2002 and 2007 but did not win the title. When they did win the title (1998, 2002 and 2004) they did not top the table at Christmas (not even the 2003-4 “Invincibles” achieved the feat of topping the table at Christmas). Unfortunately for Arsenal they trail Chelsea by nine points and have still to go to Stamford Bridge so their chances are slim to say the least. 

Whether or not Chelsea win the title they have almost certainly achieved one of owner Roman Abramovich’s pre season targets. Last season Chelsea finished a dismal tenth and out of the Champions League for the first time since season 2002-3 – the last season before the Abramovich takeover. But of the previous twenty four Christmas League leaders only one – Aston Villa in 1998 who collapsed to sixth twenty two points behind Champions Manchester United – did not finish in one of the top four spots that give a club Champions League qualification. And the chances of Chelsea finishing outside of the top four are practically nil. 

It is not often both current form and recent historical precedent point to the same event happening. But both suggest it will take either a spectacular Chelsea collapse or at least a ten game winning streak by one of their rivals to deny Chelsea the title. It could happen – Newcastle collapsed spectacularly in 1996 and Arsenal went on winning streaks in 1998 and 2002. But it is much more likely that the title is heading to Stamford Bridge again. 

Finally I would like to say Merry Christmas to everyone who reads me. Have a wonderful day! 

My 2017 WWE pay per view calendar 

Today is Sunday. And if it is Sunday it is highly likely that there will be a WWE pay per view on. And there is today – the Smackdown event Tables Ladders and Chairs (TLC). There will be another pay per view in two weeks – the RAW event Roadblock : End of the Line – held a week before Christmas (what terrible timing). But since the Brand Split returned in July that has been the pattern – two pay per views a month except for the months there is a combined pay per view (August’s SummerSlam and November’s Survivor Series). There will be a total of fifteen pay per views in the WWE in 2016.

And next year will probably be even worse. There were rumours that WWE were going to have NINETEEN pay per views in 2017 with seven months of the year having both a RAW and Smackdown event and five having one combined event (the traditional “Big Four” plus Money in the Bank). Which would be far too many.

A fact that even the WWE seem to be realising. With subscriptions to the WWE Network plateauing there are rumours that WWE will be cutting down the number of pay per views next year (but we don’t know by how many).In my opinion the history of the wrestling industry has shown that a company can get away with one pay per view a month. Anymore is over exposing the company and fans start to pick and choose (which I suspect is happening already). So if I were in charge of WWE there would be twelve pay per views four RAW, four Smackdown and the traditional “Big Four”. This is how my 2017 pay per view calendar would look.

January – Royal Rumble (combined). No more needs to be said. The Rumble is my favourite event. As for the match RAW and Smackdown would both have fifteen men in the match and the winner would get a shot at his brand’s Champion – no jumping to the other brand as Chris Benoit did in 2004. 

February – No Way Out (Smackdown). I would bring back some old names (as the WWE have done with Backlash and No Mercy). In the early 2000s No Way Out was the pay per view between the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania and I would bring it back. As the last single brand pay per view this year is a RAW show the first single brand pay per view of 2017 should be a Smackdown show.

March – Fastlane (RAW). For the last two years Fastlane has been the pay per view between the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania. With both brands needing a pay per view between the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania I’ve kept Fastlane in the schedule just moved it back a month and made it a RAW event. 

April – WrestleMania (combined). No more needs to be said. 

May – Backlash (Smackdown). In September Backlash made a welcome return as a Smackdown pay per view. I would keep it in the calendar and as a Smackdown pay per view but move it back to where it was and where it belongs – as the pay per view after WrestleMania. 

June – King (and Queen) of the Ring (RAW). I’ve always liked the King of the Ring and I would bring it back to the calendar and in its old June slot. But since WWE is now taking women’s wrestling seriously I would add a Queen of the Ring tournament. The event would be a RAW one except that the King and Queen of the Ring events would be open to both brands. Eight men and four women from RAW and Smackdown would compete on their own show until there is a RAW King and Queen of the Ring and a Smackdown King and Queen of the Ring.Each brands King and Queen would fight at the pay per view for brand superiority – about like the World Series or the Superbowl. The rest of the event would be RAW only. 

July – Battleground (Smackdown). Battleground would keep its July place on the calendar and become a Smackdown event. 

August – SummerSlam (combined). Again no more needs to be said. 

September – No Mercy (RAW). No Mercy returned to the calendar in October as a Smackdown pay per view. I would move it back to September and make it a RAW pay per view. This is because I want to bring back….

October – Halloween Havoc (Smackdown). Wishful thinking on my part perhaps. A Halloween themed pay per view was one of those things that made World Championship Wrestling (WCW) different from the WWE. WWE have used a WCW pay per view name before (Great American Bash) so I would bring it back as a Smackdown pay per view. 

November – Survivor Series (combined). Again no more needs to be said. 

December – Armageddon (RAW). From 1999 to 2008 -apart from 2001 – Armageddon was WWE’s December pay per view. It was a RAW, a Smackdown and a combined event in its history but this time I will bring it back as a RAW event. 

And that’s it! A simple one pay per view a month calendar. You’ll notice that there is no Elimination Chamber, Money in the Bank, Hell in a Cell, Extreme Rules or TLC event. That is because the impact of these gimmick matches has been lessened by giving them their own pay per views (three Hell in a Cell matches in one night for example). I would not scrap any of these gimmicks but they would be held on an ad hoc basis when feuds and storylines demanded it rather than “It’s the Hell in a Cell pay per view so we must have Hell in a Cell matches” situation which exists now. 

In my opinion this is far more sensible than WWE’s current clusterfuck of a pay per view schedule… which means there is no chance that WWE will adopt it. But we can but hope….