Football is pro wrestling, as those handsome bastards at the Puro Pourri Podcast observed. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Everything is pro wrestling. But what if pro wrestling was football? Numerous grapplers who got their start in the beautiful game have gone on to excel in the squared circle – Ryusuke Taguchi, Tsukasa Fujimoto, Grant Holt – but surely there are some out there who could make the trip in the other direction.
These are the kinds of thoughts you have when the sponge that is your brain is so utterly soaked in the vinegar of football. And so, upon realising that the influx of rookies into Emi Sakura’s weird and wonderful joshi promotion Gatoh Move, whose roster had hitherto been so small that you could fit them all in a phone box, meant that the company now employed 11 wrestlers, a little lightbulb went off in my head telling me that they had enough for a footy team. Then I began thinking about who they should play up front. And now here we are.
This, then, is my effort to line the entire Gatoh Move roster up from 1 to 11 in a way that, in my opinion, would give them the best chance of triumphing in a football match against a rival company or the Nazis from Escape to Victory or whoever, given a few weeks’ training sessions and access to the best statistical analysis the boffins at Opta can supply. Even though former star player Riho has sadly had her head turned by the riches on offer in the Chinese Super League AEW, I hope you’ll agree it’s an outfit worthy of being called die Meister. Die Besten. Les grandes équipes. The champions.
A note on the formation; although it may look from the way I’ve written the positions like we will be playing 4-4-2, a setup long derided as the calling card of the footballing Luddite even after Leicester City used it to win the title in 2015-16, it is more accurately described as a 4-1-3-2, with a defensive mid, two wingers and a playmaker. And before you say that sounds just like a 4-4-2 with a Sven-Goran Eriksson-style midfield diamond, you are just plain wrong. Leave 4-4-2 in the past where it belongs. It’s 2019. Don’t @ me with your half-baked tactics.
1. Lulu Pencil (Goalkeeper)
On the face of it, this may seem a strange choice. Your goalkeeper, after all, is meant to be the dependable last line of defence, the proverbial and literal “safe pair of hands”, and Lulu Pencil is not a capable wrestler. By which I mean, Lulu Pencil (the real-life person) is a GREAT wrestler, brilliantly portraying Lulu Pencil (the character), who requires her tag partner’s help to execute basic techniques, and whose finishing move consists of lying down on the ground a slowly rolling over her opponent like…well, a rolling pin. Thinking in kayfabe terms, is this the type of athlete you want between the sticks?
However, goalies are, by their very nature, mavericks. Not for nothing is Jonathan Wilson’s magisterial study of the position called The Outsider. Living as we are in the age of stoppers like Chile’s Christiane Endler, who won plaudits for her textbook acrobatic technique at the recent Women’s World Cup, or the North-West-England-based Brazilians Alisson and Ederson, as comfortable with the ball at their feet as many outfielders (and certainly more so than Manuel Neuer), we may think that we have bred the true idiosyncracies out of the game. Figures like Ramon Quiroga, who once tackled an opponent during an international match in their own half, or Jorge Campos, who stood all of five feet six, designed his own garish kits based on Aztec motifs and sometimes played as a striker, or Jose Luis Chilavert, the free kick-taking, journalist-punching, ballboy-kicking Paraguayan. (And those are just the Latin Americans.) However, the suspicion remains inside every football fan that the goalkeeping race are simply biding their time, and that every seemingly straight-laced, precision-engineered custodian stands one scorpion kick away from becoming consumed by the primordial madness.
Often, apparent deficiencies in technique are just that. Witness Joe Hart, who in three short years has sunk from England’s undisputed number one to Burnley benchwarmer thanks in no small part to a growing inability to deal with low shots to his left. But sometimes the unorthodox can prove beguilingly effective, as in the case of Jan Tomaszewski, famously derided as “a clown” by Brian Clough before proceeding to knock England out of contention for the 1974 World Cup with a string of death-defying saves while never at any moment giving the impression that he was more than a split-second from disaster. Just because Lulu Pencil can’t climb over a ledge without falling on her head doesn’t mean the opposition forwards are going to find a way past her.
Additionally, keepers have a reputation for being somewhat contemplative figures, which Lulu – a freelance writer in her spare time – fulfils with her thoughtful musings on what it means to be a woman starting out in professional wrestling. Although she’s only been writing on the sport for a few short months, she has already produced more insight than, say, Ashley Cole’s autobiography.
2. Tokiko Kirihara (Right Back)
Both of my full backs are rookies. There’s a reason for this. If you’ve ever captained a Sunday League team, chances are you’ll have had to field someone you’re not too familiar with, or even someone you’ve never actually seen play at all. Maybe you knew you’d be short on numbers due to holidays so you asked your regulars if they knew anyone who could fill in, and your left mid invited his friend Denzel along, but then the left mid’s boiler exploded and he had to stay home to clean up the mess. With nobody to vouch for the new man’s ability, you decide you need to put him somewhere on the pitch where he can’t harm the team too much if he turns out to be crap. You’re probably sticking him at right back, aren’t you?
Tokiko Kirihara had her first match in August at the age of 44, which astonishingly makes her only the second-oldest female wrestler to make her bow in Japan this year (Kaori Yoneyama recently debuted a 56-year-old rookie called Matsuzawa-san in her YMZ promotion, because of course she did). Many footballers of advancing years have excelled in the right back position, from Brighton and Hove Albion’s former captain Bruno, who retired this summer at 39, to Cafu, who played his last game for AC Milan at approximately the same age as the Great Pyramid of Giza was when Mark Antony and the lads sailed over the horizon. To put it in right-back terms, only time will reveal whether the as yet untested Kirihara blossoms into a Lucy Bronze, blasting in thunderbastards from 20 yards at will, or turns out in-ring performances akin to Gary Neville’s diabolical (and, it goes without saying, deeply hilarious) display against Vasco da Gama in 2000. Either way, maybe this time next year we’ll know her best position, and be talking about her as a future midfield general/Super Asia Champion.
3. Sayuri (Left Back)
I don’t know why, but I’ve always seen left back as a more glamorous position than right back. Maybe it’s the relative paucity of left-footers in society. Or maybe it’s because, in the almost-great Brazil team I enjoyed when I was growing up, the solidity and assurance of Cafu was offset by the presence on the opposite flank of Roberto Carlos, a troll-like figure who once scored a goal from an angle of less than 1°, whose similarly physics-defying banana shot against France in 1997 led him to spend the next fifteen years of his career smacking almost every free kick he took into the wall or twenty feet over the bar in an attempt to replicate it, and who got his country eliminated from the 2006 World Cup by bending down to tie his shoelace only a split-second before the set piece was taken, leaving the man he was meant to be marking, a lower-league hoofer by the name of Thierry Henry, unmarked to score at the far post.
Basically, what I’m saying is that out of all types of defender, the left back carries within them the greatest capacity to wreak chaos. As such, the only possible choice for a Gatoh Move rookie to fill the position is Sayuri, who dresses like she’s about to head off to spend Halloween in Whitby, practices an uber-aggressive forearm-heavy wrestling style in which each move comes accompanied by a guttural scream, and overall gives every impression of having missed out on her true calling as the frontwoman of an especially visceral black metal group. It’s as if she hates the world simply for forcing her to exist in it. Swashbuckling runs forward will be the order of the day, with only a modicum of lip service paid to the defending part of being the team’s left-sided defender. She’ll be the Japanese Ian Harte.
5. Emi Sakura (Centre Back, Captain)
Marshalling the defence, we have Gatoh Move founder Emi Sakura, a criminally underrated veteran and inveterate Anglophile responsible for training more wrestlers than you’ve had hot dinners. The guiding light behind the promotion (and now its football team), there is simply no other choice to don the purple and yellow armband.
Putting her at the heart of the defence makes sense in a purely instrumental way, as there’s something very normative and comforting about the captain leading from the back. But, more than that, you need someone with veteran instincts to boss the game, someone with the wiliness, the experience and the knowledge of their own body and its capacities that can only come through many hard years in the sport. Someone akin to late-career Rio Ferdinand, or Ledley King, who had such chronic knee problems that he could only play a maximum of one game a week (and even that would leave him so fucked up that he couldn’t train for the next six days) and still be one of the best centre backs in the country; in short, a player who knows exactly what and how much they need to do to help their team flourish, and not a whit more.
Which is not to call Emi lazy. Far from it; I’ve seen her wrestle in person in the UK over a dozen times, and not once have I seen her half-arse it. What I mean by the preceding paragraph is that she adapts herself to her setting. Comedy match? Let’s bring the banter. High-speed nonsense? Sure, let’s get our skates on. Stiff “workrate” classic? You’ll hear the chops in Cape Town. And when you get something that combines all of those elements, as with her exceptional match against Kay Lee Ray at Pro Wrestling EVE last year, something truly special is born.
It’s easy to imagine how this adaptability might manifest on the football field. If the opposition are dropping deep, requiring her to build attacks steadily from the back, Emi will be able to do that. Conversely, if the game turns into an absolute humdinger with tackles flying in and devastating Judas Effects being meted out to all and sundry, she’d have no problem ending the game bleeding Terry Butcher levels of red viscous liquid, as long as her team got the three points. (Emi started her career in IWA Japan, so she knows a thing or two about blood.)
One might say that sticking such a woman at centre back is a waste of her manifold talents. But in an age when even players with nicknames like “Slabhead” are bringing the ball out of defence with the marauding drive and assured first touch of a modern-day Beckenbauer, it’s surely not out of line to give your team’s greatest all-round talent the thankless role of the destroyer. Captain. Leader. Legend.
6. Sayaka (Centre Back)
Where centre-back partnerships are concerned, there is no such thing as a pair of equals. There must needs be a commanding officer and a first mate. A dom and a sub. Whether partnered by Joel Matip, Joe Gomez or (shudder) Dejan Lovren, we all know that Virgil van Dijk is in charge. Steph Houghton is not only the captain of the England women’s team but also of her little two-woman squad at the back. It’s only natural. You can’t have two brains controlling the body, or two bladders storing the piss.
This is why I don’t have any compunctions about putting the sometimes tentative rookie Sayaka in the centre of defence, even given her inexperience and relative lack of aggro compared with her fellow trainees. Our skipper has helped develop literally hundreds of wrestlers, and I have every confidence in her ability to put a motherly arm around her young charge and say, “Don’t worry, we’re going to get through this, you and me. Remember what Toyota-san told us? ‘If you stick close to the oppo and don’t let them get goalside of you, you can snuff out their attacks and get the three points for the gaffer’? Just concentrate on marking, and I’ll do the complicated stuff. Intae this photobook pish.”