Philip Roberts recently returned from the Commonwealth Games in Australia as part of England’s medal-winning wrestling squad. The 28-year-old has wrestled since the age of six when his grandad first introduced him to the local club in Aspull, Wigan. But it’s not the type of wrestling you’re likely picturing right now.
Forget the choreographed routines and fixed outcomes of the often televised sports entertainment wrestling – which is, confusingly, referred to as professional wrestling. Philip competes in a different type of professional wrestling known as freestyle where he feels every trip, throw and takedown.
A match in the high-intensity sport is contested between two wrestlers from the same weight category across two three-minute rounds. The competitor who either scores the most points or pins their opponent’s shoulders to the mat for the required time is crowned the victor.
“It’s important not to get swept away with the crowd,” said Philip, who has wrestled in front of crowds of hundreds of people at events all over the world.
“So I focus on the approach, running through my mind the walk up to the mat, visualising my preferred techniques, before looking my opponent in the eyes. Ready for when the whistle blows to test our will against each other’s”.
Philip’s other identity
Since 2015, Philip has worked for Virgin Trains West Coast as an announcer at Preston station. Despite the introduction of an automated system in recent times, Philip can still be heard informing passengers of disruptions, platform alterations and safety messages, as well as assisting with other customer service and dispatch duties.
“I like being the centre of everything,” he said. “Being the connection between the signal box, platform staff and the customers. To be honest, I enjoy the challenge when things aren’t going according to plan, trying to think of options and the best way we can do things – even though we don’t want it to happen.”
Asked what skills he uses on both the mic and the wrestling mat, he’s quite honest: none, and lycra singlet garments aren’t likely to become a Virgin uniform requirement either.
“People are normally quite surprised when they find out I’m a wrestler. It’s a minority sport so some are quite interested and intrigued in what I do,” Philip added. “They often can’t resist the temptation to make a joke. Usually about jumping off the ropes or something like that.”
From West Coast to Gold Coast
Philip’s 20 years’ experience of wrestling has seen him compete at many international championships. Three gold medals in different weight classes at the English Senior Wrestling Championships along with a bronze at the 2013 South Africa Commonwealth Championships are among his greatest successes.
The 2018 Commonwealth Games was his third such tournament, following Delhi in 2010 – where he was eliminated in the semi-finals – and Glasgow in 2014. Philip’s role in the Gold Coast Games was limited, however, after failing to get a call up. Despite this disappointment, he was flown out to help team mates prepare and to be on standby should one fall foul of injury. To help restrict his calorie intake, Philip switched to a vegetarian diet in the run up to the Games and dropped his weight from 72kg to 67.5kg but did not get to compete. In total, the English team entered five competitions and bagged three bronze medals in the 65kg and 86kg men’s and the 72kg women’s contests.
Something in the water
Of the thousands of daily users of Preston station, few would suspect the man whose voice they hear over the public announcement system could throw someone to the floor in the blink of an eye – not that it’s in the job description. To come across a wrestler in the rail industry is uncommon.
But to come across two who not only work for the same company but have similar job roles is rare. Yet, 20 miles down the road in Wigan, Damian Metcalfe, a fellow member of station staff, is also a wrestler. Damian and Philip worked together during the 2014 Commonwealth Games and now train and coach at the same club in Aspull.
The final showdown
At the age of 28, Philip has plenty of competing ahead of him but the juggling act of full-time work, training up to four times a week, children’s coaching and flying out to competitions will only get tougher as he pours more of his energy into achieving his ambition of becoming a train driver.
He’s aiming for one last medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham before he calls an end to his freestyle wrestling career.
“It’s been brilliant, to represent my country for as long as I have has been a great honour.
“I’ve not really achieved what I wanted to achieve in terms of Commonwealth Games podium finishes, so that is why I want to continue and make an effort and an attempt to achieve that when it comes to Birmingham.”
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