An Ode to Pontins

Some of the greatest shitholes I’ve ever wrestled in.

By Aaron O’Malley

In 1946 Fred Pontin opened his first holiday park. Over the next few decades he grew the company to 30 locations across the UK. The idea was to create a brand similar to the popular Butlins holiday parks, but smaller and more affordable. They’d have Bluecoats as opposed to the Butlin’s redcoats. Their costumed characters would be called the Croc cre        w as opposed to the Butlin’s Skyline Gang.

In 2022, a survey by Which? ranked Pontins as the worst holiday park company in the UK. By that stage, Pontins had already been through some pretty wild hardships, including slowly being whittled down to just 6 locations. As of today, there are just three sites left: Sand Bay, Brean Sands (closed until further notice) and Pakefield.

Previously I held off on mentioning Pontins by name, because I didn’t want to badmouth a company I generally enjoyed working with, or cause problems for any of the wrestling companies I’ve been associated with. But with the company being in the state it’s in today, and little interest in wrestling from the two sites that are still operational, I feel somewhat safe to talk about my time wrestling across the various Pontins sites.

Let’s get the good stuff out of the way; wrestling in Pontins was almost always a blast. The crowds at Southport and Prestatyn especially could be absolutely massive. Having a big crowd of young families hanging on to your every action, lining up to get photos with you after the show, was always amazing. And some of my favourite people in wrestling I’ve met through doing those shows. Getting drunk with a bunch of Maltese wrestlers in Northern Wales and visiting one of the dodgiest nightclubs in the UK was a hell of a highlight.

The crowds were almost always loud and excited

The bad part of Pontins was rarely the venues or the entertainment staff. It was the accommodation. One time a fellow wrestler took Booker T to a Pontins to stay while they were setting up for a massive show nearby. Driving through the area, with two story tall apartments of identical size, lined up in a grid, with massive spiked fences lining the outside perimeter, Booker muttered under his breath that it looked like a prison. Which, considering Booker spent time in prison, feels apt.

The picturesque accommodation

The typical Pontins room (outside of Sand Bay, which was quite nice) consists of a cheap pleather futon, a couple of basic chairs and a table, basic utilities, a set of single beds complete with some nasty, thin spring mattresses and flimsy pillows (mattress protectors and other bedding costs extra) showers that may or may not have a timed button like you’re in a gym shower, and a decade old TV. There’s about a 1 in 8 chance of something in the room either being broken or missing. Power also needs to be turned on manually, and is offered as an additional cost to anyone staying there.

The number of times we rocked up at midnight only to find out there was something wrong with our accommodation were numerous. Sometimes we’d be given keys to already occupied rooms. Sometimes we’d find discarded food left out collecting ants. Stained sheets. Broken windows. Busted doors. We’d have dodgy looking guests peering through our windows at night. We were told by older wrestlers to check kettles before using them in case they were pissed in. Sometimes it took having to go back to reception multiple times because we were given the wrong keys. Sometimes they just forgot we were arriving, leaving us to make a mad scramble to find alternative accommodation. I remember one time being given a key to a room that just had a sink full of rock salt with a trail that led all the way to the stove, with bedding shoved into the bathtub and discarded tissues all over the floor and an odd smell wafting throughout the whole apartment. I didn’t sleep there that night.

I’ll never forget the time in Brean Sands that a group of kids from the same family went on a mini crime spree. Stealing one of the wrestler’s phones, flooding the toilets, setting off the fire alarm, stealing the security’s patrol kart and taking it for a joyride. They were kicked off site the same day.

And who could forget Camber sands! Ring setup required first hauling the thing up two flights of stairs. You had two options: The rickety broken down wooden steps that hadn’t received any repairs in decades, with chunks of wood chipped out of the wooden handrails from years of neglect and doors that couldn’t be propped open without obstructing the limited walkway. Or you’d have the metal stairs that started near the front entrance of the pool. Naturally, our ring setup was always around the same time that the pool opened, so we’d have to carry the wooden boards and metal posts past screaming children, running around us without a care in the word, and then up stairs that would get slippery if it rained. By the time the show started, we were normally already exhausted, which made for some very low energy showcases.

I say all of this, and yet I still consider the Pontins tours to be highlights of my wrestling career. Outside of the wrestling and friendships I made, I also got the opportunity to travel to a bunch of places I never would have normally been to. I read so many stories of wild wrestling adventures, and I’m glad I got to have a few of my own.

On my last trip to Prestatyn I woke up before all the other wrestlers to make my way up the massive hills that surround the town. I’d spent weeks telling myself I was gonna do it, but I’d never committed to actually scaling them all the way, knowing that we’d have a show to make in the early afternoon. But I found a path, walked up the steep incline, all the way to the top to overlook the town. I knew then and there that I may never come back. Wrestling is a niche interest, Pontins always felt like a company on the brink of collapse, and who knew where my career was going to take me. But looking out at the scenic Welsh countryside, all the worries about the future drifted away. Somehow, someway, this stocky red-headed Tasmanian wrestler had made his way to wrestle in Northern Wales. And that felt pretty cool.

Thank you Pontins.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *