Max had his own formula when it came to booking or match-making. In the very early days I was on what was called “The Big Daddy Roadshow”. Usually my match would be first. Max used to say “put the shit in fist, kid” …and I can’t argue with that because I was really green and inexperienced. Usually the match would be two baby faces or blue eyes. A baby face is what they call the “good guy” in American wrestling. In Britain we (the old school) used the term blue eyes. It would always be a clean, technical wrestling match. It never got that “heel heat” but it was done that way for a good reason. Shirley Crabtree AKA “Big Daddy” would always do his tag match 2nd. A good clean wrestling bout won’t burn the fans out before the “Shirley Tag”. So, yes there was a method behind Max Crabtree’s madness. Shirley went 2nd, then there would be an interval when Shirley would sell all his “Big Daddy” merchandise. The Crabtree family were very good businessmen.
Many people have often asked me if there was any serious money to made as a pro wrestler. There wasn’t much money in it at all. Don’t get me wrong we were paid money, but nothing compared to the big American stars in WWF/ WWE and NWA/ WCW. Those guys signed contracts for hundreds of thousands of dollars. All we had was a handshake. A gentleman’s agreement. It was at a point in time when people stuck to their word. As for who really made the big money, well most of it wend in the promoters pockets. Promoters are not stupid. They know young hungry wrestlers love the business so much they will settle peanuts.
There was a lot of tough, hard men in the business back then. Proper tough blokes who could scrap for real. The toughest guys were from places like Yorkshire or Lancashire. I was always getting stiffed around the ring in the very early days. It was a wrestlers initiation. It wasn’t like the old school were taking liberties. I was inexperienced and making mistakes. That’s what it was for. To teach you to wise up. After every match, I always returned to the dressing room. Shake hands with whoever my opponent was, and thank them for the wrestling lesson. I shut up and took any criticism on the chin. Didn’t complain. I just took it like a man. Suck it up as they say… To my credit this behavior earned me some respect. My first wrestling gear was made up of a pair of swimming trunks and a pair of cheap boxing boots, but it wasn’t long before I invested in some professional attire. Look the part. I quit the day job and started working out every morning. I had a great peer group around me at the gym. Bodybuilders, power lifters, strongman event champions. I invested in myself. It payed off.
Max Crabtree was kind of mentoring me. He would tell me to get loads of calories in and keep doing weights. He told me to hit the sunbeds and grow my hair, and I did it. I saved my wages from my bouts and brought my own sunbed. I didn’t think of it as spending my money, I thought in terms of investing in myself. You reap what you sow. All the wrestlers told me to stop drinking beer and drink Guinness instead – because it was good for you.
In the summertime I could be out working every night. It was great. For once in my life I was getting paid for doing something that I loved. I could be working seven days a week. All over the country.
There was one dressing room at a venue called The Floral Halls in Southport and none of the wrestlers would enter there. A wrestler called Alan Dennison had died in there shortly after a match. Nobody would go inside – except for the Stoke wrestlers. It’s like everybody had this superstition about the place. None of the Crabtrees or any of the big name stars, or any of the hard tough shooters would come in there.