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Bradford wrestler who was 'conned' in the Olympics
Following our recent feature on the Bradford contingent who participated in the 1948 London Olympics, we have had a wonderful e-mail from Jackie Bond, who writes: “My late father, Harold Parker, was a member of the 1948 Olympic Amateur Wrestling team, a member of the Hilltop Wrestling Club and holder of British flyweight and bantamweight championships. Harold Parker went from a salesman to opening the first cash-and-carry warehouse in Bradford – Parker and Butler. He emigrated to Australia, where he died at the age of 91.”However, Harold had written down his memories of the 1948 Olympics, and we are pleased that his family has allowed us to share part of them with you here.
Mr Webb, [Harold’s boss at the time] informed me I would receive no pay from him while I was away at the Olympics – he claimed it would set a precedent for other salesmen. I often wonder how many other people worked for him that represented Great Britain at sport.
That Wednesday I finished work and trained at Hilltop as usual and received the best wishes of all.
We made our way to Uxbridge RAF station, the place chosen for the wrestling team to stay. Accommodation was of the bleak variety, iron cots and painted walls. There were several of us sharing a room. Food was quite good despite rationing of some goods being in force still.
Saturday meant that anyone who wanted it would be taking part in the opening ceremony at Wembley Stadium.
We waited impatiently for the order to move, the clapping and cheering we could hear from the stadium.
Nations that had supported us in wartime, Australia, New Zealand, India, Canada, South Africa and other members of the Empire, were of course given extra-hearty welcomes from the 90,000 spectators who filled the stands and terraces of the vast bowl of Wembley.
Twenty or so yards behind that proud flag, I emerged to see the absolute fanaticism in a British crowd indulging in an outburst of sheer patriotism. Every section of the audience rose to give us a standing ovation as we went by.
Then the big moment. Clad in the full regalia of Admiral of the Fleet, there stood our monarch King George VI. Chests out and giving ‘Eyes right’, we swaggered past.
Here it was, the accomplishment of all our dreams, the culmination of our years of training in the meanest of conditions, Long cold nights of jogging, skipping, hoisting weights, grappling for hours, before a cold shower, then home. Sunday sacrificed to our sport, paying our own expenses to wrestle as a pastime or indeed as a representative of England. Now the struggle seemed all worthwhile.
Speeches were made. His Majesty was known for his speech impediment but managed a few words.
The oath was taken by an athlete on behalf of us all, the Olympic flag was paraded then hoisted. Germany had last held the flag in 1938, now in 1948 it had been placed in the safekeeping of the Lord Mayor of London.
On the giant scoreboard appeared the words spoken by Baron De Couthbert, the French founder of the modern games. ‘It is not the winning that counts, it is the taking part.’ The Games were on. Great Britain won very little, no gold medals came their way. Six years of conflict told the tale. Top athletes had aged, some killed or maimed. Youngsters had emerged but lacked top-class competition at international level.
Monday I sat among the spectators in Earls Court. I wore my games tracksuit over my white wrestling costume. We had made the long journey from Uxbridge to Earls Court by coach. There were three mats laid out for wrestling.
I heard my name called and ran towards the ring, glad to be actually involved. Introduced, I weighed up my opponent, Johansen.
He was spindle-limbed taller than me. I was tall for a flyweight, but he had obviously been trained down from a higher weight to flyweight.
Time was called, we shook hands and crossed and fell to. The bout was a short one. I lost.
The way I lost still rankles. I was taken in a deliberate banned lock on my right arm that was designed to break my arm unless I yielded and allowed myself to be pinned.
I couldn’t have carried on wrestling after that, thus the Swede would have won on my retiring injured, my right arm was useless.
What I mourn over is that officially Johansen was awarded a fall against me. I know my shoulders never touched the mat, I know I was taken in an illegal hold, I know the officials gave a fall because they couldn’t believe anyone could bridge out of such a position.
I was approached by some French officials, and through an interpreter they asked if I would simply cross over and shake hands with their man who would have been my next opponent. They said it was simply a goodwill gesture to show sportsmanship.
There were no officials, ref, timekeeper or judges at all, no announcement, so the bout could never officially take place, just a private gesture of goodwill.
We met in the centre, shook hands then, holding shoulders, left the ring.
Next thing the French claimed a victory. I found I had officially been beaten by the Frenchman. I had been conned.
No work, no wages for me, so I decided to return home and did so on the Thursday.
The Games lasted two weeks. I had been there five days, and I was looking forward to having Friday at home.
Hardly had I got through the door when came a knock on the door. There on the doorstep was Webb with two suitcases at his feet.
He somehow deduced that I would be home, how I will never know.
He brought samples so I could get out earning him some cash.
My bandaged arm was still very sore and weak, but that did not faze Mr Webb. He chose to ignore it, concentrating on telling me I could still make a wage if I worked hard on Friday.
He drove off happy he had me back on the road.