To many people of my generation, Saturday afternoon television meant just one thing... wrestling. The instantly recognisable tones of Kent Walton would introduce the viewers to grappling action featuring a host of household names. Johnny Saint, Giant Haystacks, Kendo Nagasaki, The Dynamite Kid, Mark "Roller-ball” Rocco, Marty Jones, Jim Breaks... the list goes on.
Arguably the biggest name (although not quite the biggest wrestler... but very nearly) was Big Daddy, who was born Shirley Crabtree Jr on this day in 1930. His let’s say rotund frame hid the fact that Crabtree had previously had a muscular and athletic physique, but fame would come much later in a wrestling career that started in the early 1950s.
His style was far different to the wrestlers seen in today’s American promotions, but even though Crabtree’s 26 and a bit stone bulk limited his moves in the ring, Big Daddy became a huge favourite with fans young and old. Sadly, tragedy struck in the summer of 1987 when Mal “King Kong” Kirk died soon after receiving Crabtree’s trademark “splash” at the end of a bout in Great Yarmouth.
Although absolved of any blame or responsibility (Kirk was found to have a serious underlying heart condition), Crabtree was badly affected by the incident and eventually retired from the ring in 1993.
Shirley Crabtree passed away following a stroke in December 1997 – he died in the same place he was born, the West Yorkshire town of Halifax and whilst the Crabtree wrestling legacy may have been consigned to the history books, the sporting dynasty still lives on through Shirley’s nephew Eorl, a professional rugby league player with Huddersfield Giants and also England.
Shirley “Big Daddy” Crabtree 14/11/1930-02/11/1997
All my own work... almost.