I’ve been enthralled by the bizarre world of professional wrestling since I was eight-years-old.
As a child I was captivated by the WWF and the larger than life characters of American superstars like the Ultimate Warrior and The Undertaker.
There was something about the unique blend of athleticism, soap opera storylines and overblown spectacle that reeled me in and just wouldn’t let go.
When I grew older I became more interested by the inner workings of the industry – the people behind the scenes who select the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, the real life drama, backstage controversy and ever-churning rumour mill.
But for all the hours I’ve spent watching and reading about the companies and wrestlers making waves across the Atlantic, my knowledge of the organisations promoting the wealth of talent on these shores is severely limited.
That’s one of the reasons why I can’t recommend Holy Grail: The True Story of British Wrestling’s Revival highly enough. Its author Greg Lambert has forgotten more about the UK grappling scene than I will ever know!
A reporter at the Evening Post’s sister paper the Morecambe Visitor, Greg’s book follows the 10-year journey of a passionate fan who turned what began as a hobby into a thrilling, and at times all-consuming, second career.
From humble beginnings as an internet blogger, to a contributor to Europe’s top independent wrestling magazine, Power Slam, Greg became an active participant in wrestling shows - first as an assured commentator calling the action and then as a devious manager, ‘The Truth’, who crowds simply loved to hate. After all, nobody likes journalists!
His role as part of the UK’s biggest company, the Frontier Wrestling Alliance (FWA), saw him become involved in key booking decisions and share in some of its greatest successes.
By 2006 he was running the FWA in the face of adversity as its managing director, and when it folded, he created the XWA in the wrestling hotbed of his hometown.
Greg’s narrative voice is established early in the book – that of an everyman fan who simply wanted to live out his dreams and help put British wrestling back on the map.
His likeability shines through and he avoids bogging readers down in too much insider jargon, explaining the history and significance of the many different characters and rival promotions we encounter, but without complicating matters or resorting to patronising the uneducated at any stage.
Because of this it’s easily accessible for both hardcore and casual wrestling fans, despite the staggering volume of information and attention to detail contained within.
That being said, Greg isn’t afraid to express strong opinions, whether it be his own critiques, or those of the numerous talents he has interviewed down the years.
Snippets of one-on-ones give honest appraisals that prove both revealing and occasionally scathing, covering topics such as the behaviour of superstar wrestlers like CM Punk and Jake the Snake Roberts, the conmen and chancers who threaten to undermine the work of honest promoters, the hard to please ‘smart’ fans who dominate online forums, the mixed success of The Wrestling Channel, and the Celebrity Wrestling reality TV fiasco.
However, this book is far more than just a name-dropping list of encounters with the likes of Bret Hart and Mick Foley and doesn’t read like a cheap attempt to ‘dish the dirt’.
In part an autobiography, Greg is incredibly candid when discussing his personal life and the experiences both positive and negative that shaped his story, from the effect of bullying in his youth, to the miscalculations he made at the helm of the FWA, the fallouts with colleagues, his pride in his hometown, and the satisfaction he felt being involved in some of the best wrestling shows of the past decade.
A key aspect of the tale is Greg’s relationship with the enigmatic Alex Shane, the performer and chief driving force behind the FWA, who dreamed of restoring British wrestling to prime time television.
The book tracks Alex’s undoubted talents and the vision that saw the FWA get within a whisker of achieving the so-called Holy Grail, but also his idiosyncrasies and the frustrating habits that regularly saw the two friends clash.
You get a real sense of the struggle for recognition and the extraordinary lengths some performers will go to in a bid to please a crowd and stay at the top of their game.
But above all the biggest selling point for me is the sheer enthusiasm with which the author regales us of the great matches he witnessed, the plot twists that worked to perfection, and the moments etched in his memory.
From the first time he was jeered to the rafters or delivered a blistering promo, to the wrestlers who repaid his faith and the FWA’s glorious final stand, this is a story full of joy, and one that cannot help but put a smile on your face if you share a love of watching men pretend to fight in tights!