By: Aaron James Robinson
When I first moved to the UK in 2018 it was after a disastrous run in Asia Wrestling Entertainment. I’d moved to Malaysia with the allure of wrestling full time, but after spending months sitting around waiting for our fortunes to turn, I made the decision to cut bait and move back home. All I wanted was to pursue wrestling full time, but AWE was a dead end.
With that avenue closed, I thought I’d try my luck in the UK. Over the years I had trained multiple seminars with Saraya Knight, and I knew that the Knight family ran shows regularly throughout the Summer, so it seemed like an obvious fit to go and wrestle for them during their busiest period.
Before I rocked up on their doorstep, I’d heard a lot about working “the camps”. How it was a bit of a gruelling schedule to work them, but they provided a solid way of earning money through wrestling. I’d heard wrestlers like Bryan Danielson and Colt Cabana always speak highly of their experience working the “Dickson camps,” and how it shaped them as wrestlers. But in spite of everything I didn’t really know what they were. It wasn’t really till I got here and started working them that I understood what I’d got myself into.
So my first entry in this series of blog posts, let’s go over what the camps are. And why working them is so different from anything in Australia.
So for starters, holiday camps are just a shorthand for the various holiday parks that exist across the UK. Holiday parks are a uniquely British thing, in simple terms they’re places for lower and middle income families to travel to over the school holiday breaks. Unlike hotels, holiday parks don’t just offer a place to stay, they’re designed to be an all inclusive holiday destination for the whole family. They’re typically near a beach, and have their own arcades, gambling rooms, shops, restaurants, bars and they’ll provide family entertainment to keep the kids busy throughout the day.
And that’s where wrestling comes in.
Between the magic acts, cover bands, licensed kids shows, dancing and other activities with the park’s various mascots, there’s also the fun activity of taking your kids to watch full grown men and women throw each other around in ridiculous outfits. Rather than working a full 6-8 match show, you’ll typically only have 4-6 wrestlers working a 3 match card. Sometimes it’s 3 standard singles matches, sometimes it’s a mini tournament, sometimes it’s two singles and a tag. We vary it up week to week based on who is available and what’s been done before.
As entertainment for kids and families who may have never seen wrestling before, we keep the matches simple, telling easy to follow stories with clearly defined villains and good guys. The holiday park entertainment staff will normally explain the rules and hype the crowd up, and offer their unique take on commentary during the match. With the small roster, matches need to go at least 15min to provide a solid hour of entertainment, but through calling simple spots on the fly, it’s never too hard to make up the time and keep things entertaining. Pretty much every show ends with the good guys winning, the bad guys getting their comeuppance, and the crowd going home happy. Lines of families will take their kids up for pictures with the good guy wrestlers, and to get whatever merch they can for the wrestlers to sign.
So the typical day involves rocking up in the morning, setting up the ring, doing a show, packing it up, and moving to the next town. Sometimes you work multiple shows in a single day, putting the same ring up and taking it down, working the same basic matches for different audiences in different parks. You might do a show at midday, a show in the afternoon and a show at night. It all depends on who wants shows, when they want them, and the logistics of whether or not it can be done. Thanks to the camps I’ve wrestled on shows in Wales, Scotland and pretty much every corner of England. With shows running all throughout summer, you’ll get a solid 6-8 weeks of shows running nearly every day of the week. I wrestled at least 60 matches during the Summer break the first time I visited, and over 40 the most recent season.
It can be a pretty gruelling schedule at its peak, and long hours driving between towns, normally staying in small beds designed for affordable family holidays. And taking up and putting down a ring multiple times a day doesn’t help. Luckily most rings used on the camp scene are lighter and easier to assemble than most you’d find in Australia… but not always. When rings break or vans break down, sometimes you’re tasked with lugging a heavy ring up two flights of stairs, which isn’t great. But it does make the summer season eventful if nothing else.
And that ends the first entry on camp wrestling in the UK. Next time I’ll be going over some of the pitfalls of actually staying at the holiday parks, and some of the horror stories that can come out of a camp gone wrong.