2017: 23 shows / 174 matches.
2018: 34 shows / 254 matches
2019: 30 shows / 216 matches.
2020: 5 shows / 44 matches.
Three and a bit years. 92 shows. 688 matches.
Since the beginning of 2017, I have certainly put my money where my pen/mouth is when it comes to supporting wrestling.
Traveling to 92 shows to watch 688 matches. Untold expense on tickets alone, before we even get to travel costs, food and drink, meet n’ greets and merchandise purchases. And I’m aware that there’s plenty of people who will have racked up many more than me as fans at that time.
But worth every penny? In general, I’d like to think so. And if you’d asked me before the Covid-19 lockdown (when having seen five shows already in 2020, I had a number of others booked in) I doubt I’d even have to question myself on that point. Indeed there was a sense of disappointment as more and more shows I had booked were postponed or canceled, and the thought of going back to watch live wrestling was one of the things I was most looking forward to.
Even if it now seems as if it was a very stupid idea to buy SummerSlam Weekend tickets, and flights, at the end of February… (when, in my defense, a lockdown/travel ban scenario seemed in the realms of “it won’t get THAT bad” – we live and learn).
But the thought of meeting friends, having a few beers, and just outright enjoying two to three hours of your life watching wrestling was one of the things I had missed the most.
Then #SpeakingOut happened.
At first, it might have been easy to let it pass you by. That’s not to lessen the impact of the brave women who began to speak out in the very early days. It’s just that this is wrestling. As a fan for over thirty years, I’ve seen and heard about a lot of things that are, to say the least, unsavory. And yet here I was, still watching.
As much as you wouldn’t stop watching football (“soccer” for the American version) if a handful of players were found to be breaking the law, and you wouldn’t say “I’ll never watch any movie again” after the abominable behavior of a movie mogul, why should the behavior of a few wrestlers turn you against the entire industry?
But the names kept coming.
And I began to question whether or not going to a “BritWres” show was something I wanted to do ever again.
British wrestlers/Ex-wrestlers at the vanguard of the movement, it perhaps hit closer to home than it does when you hear a tale of a WWE wrestler you’ve watched from afar. That’s in no way lessening those events but as someone who has gone to numerous British wrestling shows over the past few years, it was happening to people you’ve seen up close, perpetrated by people you’ve seen up close.
People you’ve chatted with before and after shows, people you’ve lined up to get a photograph, autograph, or to buy their latest T-shirt. People who, in whatever small way, you might consider friends.
It’s impossible in the minute or so you chat with someone at a meet n’ greet or at the merch table to “know” their true character. The irony is that some of the abusers were the nicest people to speak to. Some weren’t, of course, but at no point would any alarm bells ring.
That’s the whole point in one respect; these predators were unlikely to parade their true behavior in such public circumstances. With retrospect I can look back at a couple of occasions when there seemed to be some “odd” behavior from certain wrestlers but let’s be honest here – that is purely a judgment based on hindsight.
What perhaps hit me even harder was the number of victims I had stood side by side with, had had friendly chats with. Never has the phrase “you don’t know what people are going through” been clearer. To a person, they were polite, friendly, and seemingly having the time of their life and living their dream.
Never was there thought of what, beyond the hours of “legitimate” training they had each been through, they had been put through in order to live that dream. However well they hid it, when their public faces were on, there is now the feeling that perhaps they didn’t want to be there and, would rather have been anywhere else. That life might have been much better if they’d grown up idolising a different form of entertainment and steered well clear of wrestling.
Looking back over the last three years of shows, I found it difficult to find one where there wasn’t either an abuser or the abused involved. Promotions have to look at their own behaviour and their part in fostering the atmosphere where so many of these incidents could carry on for so long, but even those who have not been dragged into specific allegations have all booked people who, it turns out, had some sort of “reputation”.
It’s frightening that for every name mentioned that elicited “surprise” there seems to be another dozen where there are plenty of suggestions that it was “known” what they were up to over a period of time. It may not be a problem confined to wrestling, as society as a whole has these issues in almost every walk of life. But it’s clear to say that within wresting it was a very specific and serious problem that many knew of, but precious few had any interest in doing anything about.
And that’s why there’s not an easy answer to the question I keep asking myself: Do I want to go back to a BritWres show when they are running again?
To say “no” would, I think, be an affront to those that have suffered horrific abuse (both physical and mental) and been brave enough to speak out against their abusers.
It would be an affront to those in the business who have never abused and have spoken up for those who have been promising that wrestling will be better and safer for all when it gets back up and running. At the same time, can we be sure that this is bright new dawn? Will there be some wrestlers currently breathing a sigh of relief that they’ve “got away” with their behavior?
Are we certain that if anything like this happens again (and let’s be realistic, you can never eradicate behavior like this completely) the processes are in place for those complaints to be heard and taken seriously without the need for a large scale Twitter movement?
Whilst there does seem to be genuine attempts from some to implement the necessary safeguards, there are still many offering up insincere apologies; still, those burying their heads in the sand; still those saying they “knew” what was happening but did nothing about it.
The hope is that British Wrestling can rise again, with any predatory behaviour firmly in its past and the perpetrators never to be seen again. Those who wish to work in it can do so without fear of ridicule, harassment and abuse. And that fans can watch the action safe in the knowledge that all is being done to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the talent.
I’m hopeful that times have changed, attitudes have changed, and that we’ve genuinely turned a corner. In some cases, sadly, I’m not 100% convinced. I hope in the months to come that I will be. This needs to be much, much more than a one week hashtag that is forgotten.