ASPULL OLYMPIC WRESTLING CLUB
WHY KNOW OUR HISTORY?

We have decided to put a more detailed summary of the history of Aspull Wrestling
Club , aka Rileys gym on the web site as recently, we have noticed web pages, articles in magazines, etc.. all claiming to have trained or to have knowledge of the club when in fact the information which has been printed has been totally inaccurate. We feel that those who have trained at Rileys gym for any significant length of time know the truth in any event and perhaps if others "hear it from the horses mouth" so to speak it will clarify the situation. For those who wish to disagree with the contents they now have the opportunity to do this directly with ourselves as oppose to behind closed doors. Fortunately we have nothing to hide and we are living proof as to what is going on!

ORIGINS
In the past, Lancashire has been the wrestling capital. Wigan was predominantly a mining town and many of the old miners had wrestling as their sport. The history of this gym goes back to Billy Riley who founded Rileys gym. Billy was an apprentice moulder who was also a wrestler. He excelled in the sport and went on to win the British Empire Championship when he wrestled Jack Robinson in Africa. Billy's style of wrestling was tough. He did not understand the concept of losing and would do what needed to be done to win. Jack Robinson found this out in the competition and ended up with a broken arm. Billy was a man who didn't just talk a great game, he played one!

He extended this attitude to his own gym, Rileys. Billy decided that a permanent gym was needed and so in the 1940's he got a small plot of land and built a shed or a gym depending on whose eyes it was being seen through. The wrestlers at this time were seniors.
Many of the pro wrestlers trained in the morning as they has wrestling shows at night, whereas for others they had apprenticeships and full time work commitments through the day and therefore trained after work at night.

In the late '50's , Roy Wood had begun training. This was unusual for his family as he was one of four brothers all who did boxing. People would come to Aspull where Roy lived to have boxing bouts against the Wood Brothers. Roy's heart however, lay not with boxing but with wrestling. Son of a coal miner (his father had worked in the pits, coincidentally alongside Bob Robinson, who was his fathers "haulage lad" at the time), Roy chose to do his apprenticeship in the foundry and also undertake doorwork at weekend for extra money. When Roy began wrestling, he was in fact the youngest person in the gym. He recalls how he constantly got "murdered" when he first started. Nearly all the wrestlers were not only older but also much bigger and heavier than he was. He explained that when you walk on a mat Billy always taught that you wrestle everyone like they are World Class even if they say that they had never wrestled before. Many would often come to the gym, be treated like this and never return again. Roy however persevered and gradually learned about the sport.

The style of wrestling was Lancashire Catch as Catch Can also known as Submission. It must be appreciated that this wrestling was not the professional wrestling that has been seen the last 30 years but rather "Real Wrestling"! There were no children in this gym and there were certainly NO females. There was no toilet facilities. Such luxuries were not a part of Rileys gym. The facilities certainly did not reflect however on the standard of wrestling which came from the gym and many great wrestlers were produced. Some of these great wrestlers include Karl Gotch (Istaz) and Bert Azzerattie who visited the gym in the 1950's . By the 1960's other champions included Billy Rileys son Ernie Riley, Melvin Riss ( Harold Winstanley), John Foley, Jack Dempsey (Tommy Moore) and Billy Joyce (Bob Robinson).

Unfortunately, by the 1970's the wrestling as we know it today peaked. Showmanship and choreography began to play the main part and in effect threw ALL wrestling credibility into doubt. With these changes Riley's gym closed. This however wasn't to be the end of wrestling and Billy Riley and Lancashire Wrestling had made a lasting impression on too many people. Not everyone was interested in the "New Wrestling" and there was still a demand for good hard competition. The interest began again when Roy Wood's son Darren and a friend's son wanted to learn wrestling. Roy decided to start again and where better place to start than where he had learned everything, Riley's gym. Great in theory, however, when Roy visited the gym he saw that although it hadn't been a palace before, now it was completely dilapidated. The whole of the roof had caved in for a start! With help from other local people the gym was patched up and thanks to Bill Swiers donating material was rebuilt to twice its original size. Rileys gym was reopened. However this time as Darren had wanted to learn the gym was opened to children. Billy started visiting the gym again but was now older. He would take his usual seat by the mat and would watch Roy coach. Occasionally, Billy would give others insight into his knowledge offering his words of advice.

The whole concept of coaching children was not only new to Billy but also to Roy. He had learned the Submission style of wrestling and not the Amateur Freestyle Wrestling. This showed at competition level when Riley's wrestlers would often try a move only to be told it was illegal and forbidden. It was a trial period for all. It did not take long for Rileys to again be producing champions and by the age of 10 Darren had won the British Championships alongside Tony Leyland and Neil Maxwell who were also Riley's wrestlers. After competitions, the children would go round to see Billy and his wife and take their medals and trophies which they has won.

Sadly, in 1977, Billy Riley died. He had been the drive behind wrestling in Wigan and was and is respected by all the wrestling world. His picture can apparently still be seen in Trans Vall, marking his fight victory in the British Empire Championship. Roy Wood was not willing to let wrestling end as Billy had spent too much time and dedication to the sport and to him for it not to be passed on. He therefore continued to keep the gym going and after competition the children would still go to see Mrs. Riley to show her their achievements.

The next major change came in the mid 1980's when Yorkshire T.V. filmed the documentary " First Tuesday - The Wigan Hold". This clearly portrayed the working class element and the lack of resources that were available to wrestlers. This led to the Sports Council offering to rebuild the site. At the time there were various problems and it was decided that it would be best to relocate the gym and Roy therefore bought a new building a couple of miles up the road to Aspull. It then became named Aspull Olympic Wrestling Club (AKA Rileys). Osamu Matsunami, a Japanese wrestler with a very keen interest in the history of wrestling, saw the documentary and then saved up and came to England. He spent 6 month periods at a time wrestling at AOWC. He then went on to coach with Bill Robinson in Japan. He keeps in touch with Roy and this year sent a video of them coaching in Japan.

Other visitors which came to Wigan to trace Rileys / Aspull Olympic Wrestling Club were Mr. Watamatzu and Mr. Sakurada from SWS, who wanted to know about Lancashire Wrestling and Riley's gym. Roy took them to the original Rileys gym and one of them in fact cried when they saw the state that this world famous gym was in. They took pictures of them holding up the falling down roof. They even offered money to renew the building. It would seem that recognition for Lancashire Wrestling may be more recognised in Japan than in England! Roy also took them to Aspull Wrestling Club and switched his wrestling style from amateur to submission and the SWS representatives watched. They later returned with a 3 week wrestling contract. Roy then visited Japan and taught Lancashire Wrestling / Submission and this was finalised in a bout at Yokohama arena. Roy was then invited to stay but did not as he had home, family and business commitments and he returned back to Wigan.

Roy continued to teach the children at his club on a none profit making basis as he always had thinking that that was the end of his visits abroad. However, this was not meant to be. At the time, Karl Gotch had coached Mr. Fujinami who had decided to revive Lancashire "Catch as Catch Can" Wrestling. He had a wrestler by the name of Osamu Nishimura who had originally been an amateur wrestler and who had a great interest in "Catch Wrestling". He therefore decided to follow his dream and find out what it was all about. He flew to England and from there set off on foot to find Riley's gym and Roy Wood. He ended up at another gym who knew Roy and rang him to explain the situation. Osamu then spent time in Wigan with Roy and told Mr. Fujinami that he must see this for himself. This then led to Mr. Fujinami flying to England and watching the wrestling. The next time he returned he had a contract for Roy to sign to go and teach and also to take a team over to do some shows. It is these pictures which can be seen on the website.

Again, Roy returned due to commitments and again returned to Aspull to continue teaching the children. Aspull as you can see continues today and is stronger than ever. The results from the club are excellent and we are very proud of the club and the members.

Where now?
We hope to develop the club and take it further than ever. The club has seen many changes which we hope have been briefly outlined in this summary. We feel that it has maintained it's original teaching methods and principles for the Catch and Submission Wrestling, however, it has also branched out to teaching amateur, freestyle wrestling and has incorporated both children and females. The results of both these types of wrestling speak for themselves.

It is only by moving with the times that there can ever be progression, however there are some foundations which must never be changed. A successful club is one which can identify which require change and those which must stay!

 

 


William (Billy) Riley


Roy Wood (early years)