WRESTLING HERITAGE

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D: Jimmy "Boy" Devlin


That's Our Boy


Jimmy "Boy" Devlin

He was known as "Boy," and although it's half a century since he entertained  wrestling fans it's easy to understand how he came by the nickname. Now living a more sedentary life with his wife of more than fifty years, Valerie,  Jimmy "Boy" Devlin remains as effervescent and irrepressible as ever.   Flipping over the top rope might prove an obstacle these days, but Jimmy can still talk a good fight. 

By refusing to work for Joint Promotions and their offers of television exposure Jimmy remained an unknown name to many wrestling fans of the 1960s and 1970s. Those armchair fans content with the sanitised wrestling shows they watched on television missed out on one of the most exciting and skilled wrestlers of the time. 

Jimmy was born in the Haverton Hill area of Stockton on Tees.  He attended St Bede's school but had little interest in the sports usually played, football and cricket.  Wrestling was another matter and Jimmy was a spectator at the Corporation Hall in Stockton. It was here that he came across  a man who was to become a huge influence in his life, Gentleman Jim Stockdale.

Stockton, Middlesbrough and the surrounding area was a hotbed of wrestling that produced  not only the "Boy" but Les Prest, Shaun McNeill, Bill Stones,  Dicky Swales,  Jim Stockdale, Jim McCormack, Arthur Openshaw,  Ray and Milton Clarke, and many others.  Jimmy had no thoughts of taking up wrestling himself until the suggestion was made to him by a former boxer, Billy Russell.

One night in 1959  when he was a spectator at the Stockton Corporation Hall Jimmy introduced himself to Jim Stockdale, a legendary figure amongst the north eastern wrestling fraternity.  By day Jim Stockdale was a plumber; by night he was transformed into Gentleman Jim Stockdale, entertaining wrestling fans  both under his own name and that of the villainous masked man The Blue Angel. 

Jim invited the youngster along to his gym at Stockton College, and that was Jimmy's  inauguration into the world of wrestling. Jimmy immersed himself in training, two nights a week weight lifting and two nights a week wrestling.  The training sessions soon moved to a new venue, the Apollo gymnasium which was situated at the old gas works in Stockton, now the Co Op undertakers.  It was hard going at the Apollo, Jim Stockdale was a hard taskmaster who taught his trainees to wrestle on thin mats that covered the concrete floor.

Jim Stockdale had a reputation as a strong disciplinarian, and his rules had an immediate and long lasting impact on young Jimmy, with swearing, smoking and alcoholic drinking no longer allowed a place in his life.  Although he now takes the occasional pint or two Jimmy still has no time for smoking or swearing. Something “the boys” have to be mindful of every Monday lunchtime when half a dozen ex wrestlers pop round to what they  call "Val's Diner."

A couple of years later Jimmy made his professional debut in the village  hall  at Stillington, and was paid the princely sum of a half crown (12 1/2 pence), instructed by Stockdale that at least half must be handed over to his parents.
Jim Stockdale impressed on the youngster that the crowd must be given their money's worth. That he did, "I tried not to repeat the same move in a bout," and Jimmy was soon receiving regular bookings against the likes of Bob Anthony, Zoltan Boscik, Johnny Saint, Johnny Williams and Butcher Goodman. Jimmy established himself as a popular figure on the independent circuit, working regularly for Don Robinson, Paul Lincoln, Cyril Knowles, Dominic Pye, Jim Stockdale  and other opposition promoters. Those who faced him in the ring have told us that he was a fast and skillful wrestler, but a bit of a nightmare to work with because he was just so energetic.

It wasn't just a case of entertaining the fans; Jimmy was a true professional in every sense of the word. He maintained peak fitness at all times and always took pride in his appearance. His trademark was the wearing of leather green boots, white socks showing of course, always bought from Fosters of Bolton.  

Fosters was a famous and highly acclaimed shoe and boot manufacturer. Their footwear was made famous through being worn by great sportsmen that included  Olympic champion Harold Abrahams, world mile record holder Derek Ibbotson, and in the 1958 FA Cup Final Nat Lofthouse scored the winning goal for Bolton Wanderers wearing Foster's boots. Add to the list of famous sportsment Jimmy "Boy" Devlin. 

Jimmy always shared his wrestling commitments with a daytime job. He could have made enough money from his wrestling bookings but was always mindful of his responsibilities supporting a family of three children. Working at Sparks Bakery in Stockton he had met Valerie Aithwaite and the two married in 1963. They are looking forward to celebrating their sixtieth anniversary in a few years time.

Jimmy had opportunities to work for Joint Promotions and travel overseas. Other than a trip to Finland he turned them all down because he was an unashamed home boy, who wanted to make sure he could return home each night.  Most of Jimmy's bookings were in the north, midlands and Scotland, with routine bookings as far as Lincolnshire, though he did work further south on occasions. The trip  to Finland was a  one-off, arranged by Don Robinson, along with wrestlers Klondyke Bill, Bob Sherry, Toma Hansom, Pedro the Gypsy and Eric Leiderman.  Mind you, Jimmy did make sure he phoned his wife, Valerie every night. It must have cost him a fortune, but he assures us she was worth it!  

Finnish newspapers reported that 11,000 fans packed the hall to watch Jimmy's two matches against Finnish champion Kyosti "Kopi" Lehtosen. The name probably means nothing to British fans, but it should. 

Kyösti  Lehtonen was a lightweight Greco-Roman wrestler who competed in the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Olympics, winning  a gold medal in 1956. He also won two silver medals at the world championship nine Finnish titles.  Although he lost against the Finn in both their matches they remained the highlight of Jimmy's career. 

Another highlight for Jimmy was the time he wrestled Milton Clark on one of the two occasions that the BBC broadcast wrestling in the 1960s. Don Robinson paid very good money that night, but it was back to the usual pay a couple of nights later when he wrestled  in front of 6,000 fans at the Queens Hall, Leeds.

"I was very popular in Barnsley," joked Jimmy, "because I would take the lads a crate of Newcastle Brown."  Good memories for Jimmy, but sadness at the way it ended.  Wrestling Johnny Peters one nigh Jimmy fell awkwardly and broke his leg. He was out of the sport for about eight months. He returned to the ring for two charity shows, but realised his best days were behind him.  

It was time to hang up those green leather boots.

Page added 6/4/19