TRIBUTES have been paid to an Arnside man who was a champion Cumberland and Westmorland wrestler in the 1950s and 1960s.

John Bland died at age 86 on December 27.

He spent most of his life in the area. He lived on a farm near Kirkby Lonsdale for eight years and lived near or in Arnside from the age of 19. His brother Chris Bland, who is the president of the Cumberland Westmorland Wrestling Association, said that there were around 350 mourners at his funeral in Arnside Church. 

John had been involved in Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling since 1951 when he was taken to the academy by his father. There he met Peter Hayhurst and the longstanding Bland and Hayhurst family friendship was forged from a mutual love of wrestling. 

John won the Grasmere 12st in 1955 when he was 18. In 1957 and 1962 he won the 11st. In 1968 he won the 13st. 

On John's first championship win, Peter Hayhurst recalls: "The first person to congratulate him was my Aunty Lily who ran out into the ring and gave John a big hug. She said she had to be the first to congratulate him because she was the first to bathe him when he was born. It was all part of the Bland - Hayhurst family friendship."

The 1968 Grasmere Sports competition featured an exciting battle between John and Alan Davidson, who Chris said was 'the very best of that era.' The 12st event saw John reach the final and he took runner-up to Alan. In the 13st event they met again in the final. 

Chris said: "Alan was taller and younger than John and in my opinion was the very best of that era. In this second final, I am sure that John had got his thoughts together along with a bit more determination and the result was reversed.

"It was a tremendous performance against an extremely good wrestler, bearing in mind John was 31 and wrestling very infrequently but the skill was still there."

John also won the 11st at Kendal Gala in 1956 and again at Barbon in 1960. He became double champion winning the 10.5st in 1960. 

In 1954 when he was 17 John enabled Kendal to win their away match with Gilsland in an Academy Competition by 34 falls to 20 after an exceptional performance. He won nine falls, which is the maximum possible, three in each section, and it had not been equalled as far as records show. 

John will also be remembered for a moment during the 1956 Braemar Highland Games where he lost his hired kilt in front of The Queen, who was caught on camera laughing at the debacle. The photograph appeared in daily newspapers and a clip was shown on Pathe news, which the Bland family saw at the Palladium in Kendal.

"We were all there to see it and get a good laugh - John, where’s your trousers?" said Chris.