The regular re-invention of sporting tradition and identity: Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling c.1800–2000

Huggins, Mike ORCID logo ORCID: (2001) The regular re-invention of sporting tradition and identity: Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling c.1800–2000. The Sports Historian, 21 (1). pp. 35-55.

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One of the formerly major spectator sports which has been relatively and surprisingly neglected in British sports historiography is wrestling, a sport with many varieties. These include its 'all-in' dramatic entertainment form, with its good guy 'faces' such as Danny 'Boy' Collins or Billy Two Rivers, and 'heel' baddies like Mick McManus or Hulk Hogan, found in spectator contexts from British city halls to the more mediated and Americanised events regularly broadcast on both satellite and terrestrial television. They also include the freestyle and Graeco-Roman styles of those more amateur British clubs aiming at Olympic representation, and the exotic subtleties of regional variations. These range from 'traditional' Cornish wrestling to ethnic varieties such as Sikh and Indian wrestling in the Midlands or Turkish wrestling in London. Globally there is huge interest in wrestling, especially in the USA where it is a major commercial entertainment form, attracting larger TV audiences than professional American football. Most research has focused on professional wrestling. Its participatory and media-constructed rituals have been examined using the critical dramatur- gical approaches adopted by ritual theorists such as Turner, Goffman, and Ball.2 It can also be examined through performance theory.3 Equally we could use the interpretative frameworks provided by Baudrillard, or Rojek, to see such wrestling as emblematic of post-modernity. Wrestling in such a perspective has moved from a quest for authenticity and self-realisation, to forms of (in this case sporting) identity, practice, and association organised round forms of simulation, hyper-reality, celebrations of fictive and dramaturgical values, and preoccupied with spectacle and sensation. Audiences watch, recognising the pleasure and excitement, but also the unreality. After all, such wrestling is an extreme form of simulated sporting activity.4 As Umberto Eco pointed out, 'imagination demands the real thing, and to attain it must fabricate the absolute fake'.5

Item Type: Article
Journal / Publication Title: The Sports Historian
Publisher: The British Society of Sports History
ISSN: 1351-5462
Departments: Academic Departments > Institute of Arts (IOA) > Humanities
Depositing User: Anna Lupton
Date Deposited: 15 Mar 2018 12:03
Last Modified: 11 Jan 2024 18:01


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