This is an extract from the forthcoming book ‘Spandex, Screw Jobs and Cheap Pops’, taken from a chapter profiling some of the top promotions in the south-east of England. Obviously this isn’t the complete section – you’ll have to buy the book to read that! – but some edited highlights. Hope you enjoy.
When you walk into the Wallington Hall, it’s a state of organised chaos. Something about it is reminiscent about an end-of-term disco, as a clutch of boys huddle together in the corner, and the grown-ups march around setting out the furniture, with a group of men wiring up the lights and a group of women in the kitchen laying out the wares for the tuck shop.
Except this is February 2013, not the height of summer before six weeks of holidays, and this is the venue that Future Pro Wrestling have declared home.
Wrestlers out of their natural habitat between the ropes are surprisingly hard to recognise; Mark Haskins, for example, has a new darker hair colour since his release from TNA and were it not for that tell-tale fake tan you wouldn’t know that this is a man who’s starred on television and wrestled in front of thousands. If you look a little closer at those boys, you’ll notice that hidden under that dark green hoodie is Noam Dar; slumped back in his chair sporting merchandise from PROGRESS is Darrell Allen; lurking near the tuck shop in the hope of securing some chocolate is much-vaunted high-flyer Will Ospreay.
Phil Ward scurries in, and promptly embarks on the round of handshakes and appropriately manly hugs that are deemed the correct etiquette in wrestling. It’s a bit like a royal greeting fly-past: everyone gets a decent amount of time as they say hello, but nobody gets too much, and most significantly, nobody is ignored – from the in-ring talent to the backstage technicians. Douglas Rockefeller – here a heel manager rather than a ring announcer, as he is at Lucha Britannia – follows shortly afterwards, and the pattern is repeated.
Two hours before show time, the wrestlers start sneaking out in pairs and threes, running across the road to the supermarket to secure themselves some lunch, and mooching back in with tell-tale carrier bags filled with carbs and sugar.
Allen and Ospreay, meanwhile, wait for the ring to be put together, and then they start to test the ropes’ suitability for their high-octane moves – running from side to side, leaping up to the top turnbuckle, and hanging from the bottom rope by their ankles, with Ospreay losing his phone and wallet in the process.
Marty Scurll, fresh from his TV appearances with TNA, shuffles in, with a box of his brand-new t-shirts to sell from a table in the corner.
When the audience begin to file in, there’s a lot of merchandise on show – some WWE shirts, as you’d expect, some honouring the wrestlers in the ring today, but by far outnumbered by plain black shirts bearing the FPW logo. The FPW founders are keen on talking about the company and fanbase as “a family”, and the community feeling is obvious as the audience fill the hall.
Nearly 400 people are in attendance – an excellent draw that any of the UK promotions would be proud of – and the main event is a fascinating and fun over-the-top-rope Royal Rumble featuring stars including Scurll and eventual winner Greg Burridge. Yet FPW find themselves scorned from time to time from those who prefer their wrestling with bloodshed, near-the-knuckle storylines and no children in the audience.
“We came across a podcast who posted on Twitter that they wouldn’t try us because we weren’t their cup of tea,” admits co-founder Matt Burden. “That’s the equivalent of my six-year-old daughter claiming that she doesn’t like pasta without trying it. But surprising parents at the quality of British wrestling, growing a new fan base, showcasing the best the UK wrestling scene has to offer? Guilty as charged.
“New fans are shoulder to shoulder with our regulars, getting infected by the atmosphere and making it quite clear they will now come back and bring a friend. The future’s bright.”
FPW return to the Wallington Hall this weekend for Futuremania 2: Crowning Glory.