Is wrestling taught in your school? Wolverley secondary school business studies teacher Chris Green teaches wrestling at his school as an after-school activity
Do you remember Please Sir and the Welsh teacher (Mr Price) who used to mark his pupils’ books down the pub?
That was the first time I had ever pondered what these highly respected figures did to unwind away from the stresses and strains of ‘the chalk face’.
So I’m not quite sure what to make of Chris Barth. Less than three hours after leaving school this softly-spoken young business studies and ICT teacher is pinned prostrate in the corner of a wrestling ring while his spandex-clad gonads are undergoing a gratuitous – and largely defenceless – attack by a seemingly crazed opponent called Disgrace.
Chris Barth has morphed into Chris ‘The Cage’ Kobain (he’s blond and has long hair – you work it out).
Hamming it up for all he is worth Chris grimaces in agony but, billed tonight as ‘Kidderminster’s own…’ local hero, he performs a thrilling fightback to win. As he jumps astride the ropes to yell a bloodcurdling roar of victory, this is a completely different character to the one I had interviewed only minutes earlier.
Chris leaves the ring to hand slaps from the ringside audience including many of his pupils here to watch ‘sir’ make – well a fool of himself, I guess.
This is American-style wrestling – loosely based on the malevolent, muscle-bound stars of WWE (formerly known as WWF) – although Chris’ troupe of 10 fighters is run by a wrestling school in Worcester and, in truth, is a fairly pale imitation of the grotesque giants you see on satellite TV who have totally transformed a sport whose past reputation in the UK owed more to the likes of Big Daddy, Les Kellett and Mick McManus on ITV’s erstwhile World of Sport.
While the American shows are massive worldwide pay-per-view box office, local British shows like this one, which takes place at Wolverley Sports and Social Club – not far from the school where Chris teaches, Wolverley CE Secondary School on the outskirts of the Worcestershire town of Kidderminster – are decidedly down at heel.
The ring takes up most of the floor space and some 70 or so punters, paying £1 for adults, 50p for children, squeeze in at the bar side of the lounge. The roof is disturbingly low and during the opening bout a wrestler crashed his opponent’s head on the ceiling to audible gasps and groans. It isn’t repeated.
When Chris – at 6ft 3in the tallest of the fighters on the bill though he has a fairly slender frame – is sent crashing against one of the corner posts it creases with pressure.
“It is a cross between theatre and sport”, explains Chris, who caught the wrestling bug when he was 11 years old after seeing a World Wrestling Federation (WWF) bout on Sky Sports.
“I was fascinated by the drama and the characters. People like Hulk Hogan, Jake the Snake, who carried a cobra into the ring, and The Undertaker,” the latter a dark and moody character still going today.
Chris saw Summer Slam at Wembley in 1992 (watched by 89,000 – the largest American wrestling show ever staged outside of the USA) and for a time his school chums in Kidderminster were equally absorbed – collecting the sticker books and practising the moves in the playground.
They even made their own videos until one of Chris’s friends broke an arm because they’d had no proper training. While his mates grew out of it, Chris remained hooked – often staying up until 3am to watch live shows on Sky Sports.
“It was well known at school that I was hugely into wrestling and my teachers could always tell when I had stayed up.”
At 18, Chris came across an ebullient character know as Mad Eli (Collins) – a ringside protagonist at the Wolverley show – who put Chris in touch with a training school in Trowbridge, Wiltshire.
His first show came while studying for a business degree in Worcester just four weeks after he had started training locally.
“About 60 of my friends came on a coach to watch me – and I won. They went absolutely mental. They all knew I had been into wrestling since I was a kid. It was fantastic.”
After studying a business and psychology degree and working in the retail industry for a year, he then studied for a PGCE, which included a teaching training spell at Wolverley Secondary School.
After graduating four years ago, Chris joined the full-time teaching staff and has stayed at Wolverley since.
Understandably he was initially reticent about his love of wrestling and kept his double life and nom-de-guerre (‘Chris Cage’ at the time) secret.
“I made a conscious decision not to tell anyone because I thought it wouldn’t come across as a very professional thing to do. I didn’t know I would be staying so I thought I might get away with it.”
Not so. Chris wrestled too close to home. “A colleague saw a poster in Worcester [15 miles away] and approached me and I had to admit it was me.”
By the end of the day everyone from fellow teachers down to the youngest Wolverley pupils knew of Chris’ twilight grapple-mania.
“The kids were fantastic. The only problem is they want to ask me about wrestling before I can get on with a lesson so I have to say ‘if you want to chat to me about wrestling, let’s do it at break-time or after school’.”
Indeed Chris now holds wrestling classes after school: “It’s the most popular, regularly attended, after school club class,” he beams.
What about ‘Sir’ turning up to school battered and bruised? “Obviously I am under greater scrutiny. I have limped into school with black eyes but never had time off. After all, if I got injured playing football or rugby no one would bat an eyelid.”
Indeed Chris has collected more injuries playing basketball – a sport for which he has a more natural physical shape, tall and thin – than from wrestling.
“It’s a physical piece of drama. When I was 12 I used to go to drama school. It was my ambition to be an actor. Then I discovered wrestling and the two things fused. Teaching is also acting in a way. We effectively put on a show for the kids each day – we try to keep them entertained.”
Chris’s local – and I guess unusual – reputation has twice sold out the 600-capacity Kidderminster Town Hall and he has grappled in front of hundreds of spectators on several occasions. But there is no real money in it. “You have to go the US for that. And you have to be very good.”
The Wolverley show – more like a local am dram than a sports event by comparison – ends with a cheery team tag bout. Chris, again, wins. It is a sobering thought that in less than 11 hours’ time ‘Chris Kobain’ – spandex costume and all – will be back in the closet and Chris Barth, his wrestling thirst fully quenched, will be a sober business studies teacher again…
until the next time.
Chris Green is a freelance journalist