Saturday, 15 September 2012

Brilliant People II: John Lambie/Amy Dumas

Last time in our brilliant people series, we looked at an under looked Australian comic, and a sports star who returned from near fatal illness. Today, we turn our attentions to the world of football, and pro-wrestling. An interesting mix, you might say. Certainly. However, I do believe in easing an audience gently into a project, and both people are, as is everyone on the list, certainly brilliant.

So today, we focus on a man who proved himself too big in stature for any small job, and a woman who made her bid for equality between the sexes in the last place anyone would expect to find it.

John Lambie

John Lambie was Partick Thistle manager. Aha, I can hear the sceptics cry, he’s selling out already. A pure case of writers’ nepotism if ever I heard one. A tough audience!

Lambie was Thistle manager on three occasions, four if you count his short caretaker role in 2004. He was not a stranger to controversy in previous jobs, his two stints at Hamilton included knocking Rangers out of the Scottish Cup, and having his car rammed off the road by his own supporters he had annoyed! On his retirement, he announced, “FIFA should get someone else to run this game as those clowns know nothing.” A chain smoker of cigars with a penchant of swearing that bordered on the Tarantino-esque, he was and remains one of the more peculiar figures of Scottish football and society as a whole. Not a man able to take the quiet route either, a trip to Blackpool once led to a series of unfortunate moments, culminating in a punctured lung.

People who want his managerial stats can get them briefly: three promotions, five successful fights against relegation, and taking a team from the Second Division trap door to top league football within two years stands up for itself. He did this despite a distinct disbelief in certain aspects of the game. One time, when bemoaning the need for a Reserves side to fulfil reserves team football, he asked, “Where am I to find people for that?” When a roving reporter suggested it would be a natural progression from the youth side, Lambie responded: “Oh I don’t have one of those either.” He did also once suggest that the best way to deal with a concussed player was to “tell him he’s Pele.” A man from the school that burned down before they built the Old School.

His gift of the gab was legendary. The time the BBC decided to do a documentary on the Thistle, they were soon to realise the fierce nature of his lingo, as he “buggered up the bleep machine on his first team talk” (Jonathan Watson). He didn’t need to swear to get a laugh though, and he often used his appearance, as respectable older Glaswegian* to turn folks lofty opinions on their head. An example came at a gala ball where he was being awarded for services to football. All the great and the good of Scottish football were there, in their suits, black ties, and serious faces. The interviewer brought in to speak to the Thistle manager made the error of starting the interview with the question “What is your biggest achievement?” Quick as a flash, John replied: “First time I took Viagra” and brought the house down.

He was a big supporter of the Scottish National Party, having represented them in a failed bid to enter West Lothian council in 1999.

*Yes, I’m aware he’s from Whitburn, pre-empting angry missives. “Honorary Glaswegian” then.

A personal anecdote if you don’t mind: when my grandfather got MRSA and wasn’t expected to live long, he was in the Western Infirmary. By a stroke of serendipity, John Lambie was visiting the Stoke ward around the corner from the ward Bob was in. On hearing a long time Thistle fan was poorly a few feet away, Lambie decided to pop his head in and wish my granddad all the best. It meant the bloody world to him, and his rallying from near death – he delayed it for over a year – seemed to stem from this unexpected moment of loveliness. I think you can always tell the manner of a man from how he acts when the public eye isn’t watching, and in this moment, John Lambie will always be thought of as a man of pure gold for me.

That he is an absolute legend for me and my granddad’s football team is an added bonus.

So despite any flaws the man may have had in the art of football, he’ll go down in history for me as man of great, brilliant stature.

Amy Dumas

I admit it can be hard for a woman to establish herself in many areas seen as mans domain, even unfairly so. We only recently saw the first female winner of the Best Director Oscar. Whilst Britain had its first female leader in 1979, it was only within the last decade we had our first female Home Secretary, and we are yet to have a female Chancellor. Within the testosterone-filled arenas of sport, it becomes doubly more so. Within the choreographed elements of a fictional sport, more than that. So we focus on Amy Dumas, known to her legion of fans as Lita, a professional wrestler. A woman who took on the men at their own rigged game and came out having down as much for female equality, more than one might have expected.

I remember the first time she took a bump from a male wrestler well. For a number of weeks leading up to it, the WWF had established Lita’s knack for jumping off the apron of the ring and delivering Hurricanranas to neutralise outside help for any number of nefarious foes her significant other in storyline, Essa Rios, was facing. This time, as Rios was in the midst of losing his title, she went for the same on the late Eddie Guerrero, who responded by holding firm and slamming her to the ground in a powerbomb, her back smashing off the barely matted ringside area. All at once, the crowd gasped, making the sound only a crowd of twenty thousand all gasping at once can make.

Now a word of warning before we get the Zero Tolerance brigade out here. Pro-wrestling is fake, in that instead of being a sport, it is more of a performance art. Which opens up its own can of worms regarding woman in pro-wrestling. My view has always been that the best way to promote equality is to show the women being as good as the men. In the world of actual combat sport, that could be a bit tricky. Within the realm of theatre, actresses have proven themselves time and again to be the equal of the actors. Lita should be able to give and take as good as any male opponent within the squared circle; else, the women are relegated to their own little ghetto, as happens time and time again within wrestling circles. This former view is the one Amy Dumas decided to take.

Having started as a valet, Lita was getting more involved in matches until it seemed only a matter of time before she had matches of her own. Paired off with the Hardy Boys (Jeff and her real life boyfriend Matt) she started a feud with former glamour model Trish Stratus, a rivalry that was to last the rest of their careers as Stratus herself surprised all her critics by training like a dervish and becoming a fine technician herself. Her popularity set to explode; Lita won the women’s title off the boss’s daughter, Stephanie McMahon in summer 2000.

She was swiftly getting a reputation for doing anything the boys would do. Need a high spot in a cage match? Lita was there. Her boys were in a ladder match on the biggest show of the year? She’d take some spots grown men would be scared to. In an extremely rare event, she even bladed, in the first and only case I can recall of a female wrestler doing that in the WWF. (Again, for those who don’t know, until the threat of Hep became ever present in wrestling, facial bleeding was often encouraged to increase the drama of a storyline. Some wrestlers became famous for “wearing the crimson mask.” Much like spoiling whodunit in a Christie novel, it makes sense in context, sort of.)

The point is though that at this point in time in wrestling history, women were eye candy. They were there to titillate with their “puppies” (a phrase I hated hearing and hate writing just as much) and did little much than appear so they could get the teenage male audience. The women’s division was booked with all the care of Eric Saward in a drunken stupor. In doing everything the male wrestlers did, and doing it better than a good deal of the male wrestlers could, Amy Dumas wasn’t so much breaking the mould as creating a completely new mould for the wrestling business. She was ground breaking in a way few women had been allowed to be in the business, and all through a never say die attitude.

“I was this attractive women who guys could appreciate, but who was kinda tomboyish and not too intimidating – I was kinda the girl that could live next door, I added a new dimension to what a woman could be on the show.” (Responding to the question about why so many young girls looked up to her)

An attitude which was to bring the most out of her when it looked like her career was over, victim of a freak neck injury rehearsing for a non-wrestling related TV show. Over a year was spent on the shelf, and a lesser person would have called it a day. A career which had titles already, and legions of fans. Not a bad resume. Giving up the ghost, however, was not in Amy Dumas’ repertoire. Instead, she fought and rehabbed her injury, till she was able to return to her job a year and a bit later. Her popularity had not diminished in her absence; indeed, she seemed more popular than ever. In December 2004, along with her eternal rival Trish, she became the first female to ever main event Monday Night Raw.*

*Note, this was the second all female RAW main event. The first, mentioned above (with Stephanie) had also featured Lita though!

“That means a lot to me, because women are not typically given a lot of credit in the business. Those are proud moments in my history because we were not only viewed as top Divas, but top entertainers to hold the main event spot.”

Let’s put that in perspective. This is a spot reserved for the greats in wrestling. Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock, and so on. Dumas had become a main event, earned a main event spot in her own right. This was no mercy shot. It was completely deserved. Lita’s return chance to win the Women’s title back against Trish, a woman who had once been her rival and turned into her protégé, and who had turned heel in her absence, was the biggest draw on the show. The cheer when she won with her trademark Moonsault – again, a move rarely performed by females at this point – was massive.

“I loved being out there in front of the crowd, though that the shortest thing in your day.”

From valet to legit main event commodity in four years, and surviving a career threatening injury to boot, Amy Dumas had come a long way by December 2004. The road bump which was about to swerve into her career was as sudden as it was unexpected.

It was a tragedy that her reputation was to suffer, and for all the wrong reasons. When a case of alleged adultery comes into the public eye, the public tend to lay the blame square on the shoulders of the female partner, whilst the male gets all the sympathy. So it was when Matt Hardy and Amy Dumas’ relationship crumbled before their fans eyes in 2005, even more public for Hardy’s raging online about it. At the time, it seemed clear cut that Dumas had snuck behind her long time boyfriend’s back and had an affair with his best friend. Morally dubious, granted, but so it goes. Of course, it turned out the whole thing was completly different from the version told to the public at the time, and Hardy’s inability to deal with what was reality and what was fiction was to harm Dumas’s reputation in the eyes of her fans, unfairly, and led to her premature retirement. It is, after all, seen now that Dumas and Hardy’s relationship had ended some time before her relationship with his best friend started, and that becomes fair game as far as partnerships are concerned. Not that any of the people who yelled “Slut” in her direction have apologised for it, though.

Her retirement was yet to come, though, as she wound up the manager of Edge at a pivotal moment in his career. Making the most of bad publicity, the pair became the hottest heels in town, and Dumas was now as hated as she was once loved.

At this point, she wound up in a hardcore match against Terry Funk. Hardcore meaning that weaponry (chairs and assorted Jackie Chan comedy film weaponry, not Kalashnikovs) are allowed. Funk is a crazy Texan who held World titles in an era when that was more legitimate, and in his middle age elected to fight in a whole host of insane match types. This is akin to a Tory boy going up against Dennis Skinner in the Commons, going up against Nadal at the French Open, or having your first improv session going against Robin Williams.

She was on the winning side, and managed to walk out of the arena in triumph.

“I’m really proud of my legacy. There’s no animosity. It’s just that in order to be successful at something, as I was in wrestling, you have to devote all of your time and energy to one thing at a time.”

The full time career of Amy Dumas ended in 2006. Wrestling fans, being so fickle in nature, had turned fully against her in view of her perceived slight against their favourite, Matt Hardy. Showing how fickle fans are, it is now 2012, Matt Hardy has become a joke figure who is unemployable, and Lita is a loved veteran. Some might say, with a full relish, that justice was done there.

““Some people develop addictions, some find it hard to cope with the isolation and most of us put our bodies through hell but I have to say I loved my time as a wrestler. I had a good run and I don’t regret a thing.”

The career and life of Amy Dumas has to go down as an incredible success. She made the most out of wrestling, yet got out before it took the best out of her, as it had to too many poor souls. She had a legacy second to few, and is a sure-fire future Hall of Famer. She was able to walk out on her own terms, the WWE having wanted to commit her to their shows for another five years; such was their admiration for her work. She now spends her time in her second career in a band, and has acted in a few cult films. However, just as impressive as her career, is the way she seemed to prove that the battle for equality between the sexes has no area in which it can’t win. She was treated as the equal of her male counterparts, and it was all down to her own hard work.

I’d like to claim pro-wrestling has been more tolerant to women wrestlers ever since, the WWE especially. Sadly, I can’t. Pro-wrestling has always been great in spite of its many glaring flaws, I’m afraid. 

Yet there is light at the end of that tunnel. Recently, the WWE surprised folk by having a female wrestler, AJ Lee, outright win a feud and get revenge over one of their top wrestlers, Daniel Bryan. Moreover, by completely out thinking a man portrayed as one of the smartest men on the roster. In doing so, she is now the show’s “boss” on screen. AJ Lee’s idol, who inspired her to take up pro-wrestling?

Amy Dumas, of course.

May she continue to inspire many more for years to come. We’re lucky to have an independent, fiery, brilliant woman of her nature around.