“He’s not really from Glasgow you know?”
I remember vividly my gran pointing out to me, via dependable source The Daily Record, that “Rowdy” Roddy Piper wasn’t really Scottish.
Growing up wrestling fans, we’ve all experienced the white hot anger and frustration that boiled up inside whenever it was pointed out to us that wrestling wasn’t real, was “fake” or staged. It’s almost a rite of passage; you only truly realise how much you love this weird hybrid of sport and entertainment once someone has made you so furious you want to vehemently defend it. Growing up in Scotland, being told “Rowdy” Roddy Piper wasn’t really Scottish was almost as bad.
Ok, he didn’t talk in an accent I’d ever heard from anyone in Scotland, but no way he comes to the ring in the kilt puffing those bagpipes if he wasn’t just a little bit Scottish, right? Look, if he was willing to put on the skirt, it was good enough for me.
I didn’t start watching wrestling until 1989, so my memories of Piper don’t include his much lauded heel run against Hogan in the mid-1980s. To me, he was always the hero. I delighted at him taking down the chain smoking Morton Downey and no doubt irritated my mother to no end with the unanswerable question: why is Roddy painted half black at WrestleMania 6?! Even now I can’t really decide what the right answer is to that one, I’m not sure he knew either, but I’ll never forget it.
I’ve often joked wrestling taught me everything I needed to know about the world. What other six year old was aware of the conflict in Iraq, who Saddam Hussein was or that Baghdad was even a place? Thank you Vince McMahon, for the highly educational and sensitive portrayal of Iraqi Sympathiser Sgt Slaughter! In all seriousness, the story Piper and Bret “Hitman” Hart told at WrestleMania 8 stuck with me. Two friends, one goal; when Piper questions striking Bret with the ring bell and opts not to, only to lose the match and congratulates him anyway. I felt I’d learned a lesson about principles that night. Wrestling is never better than when a performer can convey the inner turmoil of a conflict, moral or otherwise, physically. There were few better storytellers than Roddy Piper.
Back to Scotland. April 25th 1991 to be exact. It was the first time I ever got to see live wrestling, and I was a lucky kid, it was a WWE show at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre. Many UK fans, rightly so, now bitterly complain about the lack of star power the UK house shows had back in the day. What they really mean is Hulk Hogan was almost never there. This thought never even occurred to me as this Glasgow show was billed as a “Homecoming” and the main event was Roddy Piper taking on “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. I was 6 years old so the memories have faded, but I’ll never forget the overwhelming sensation of hearing and feeling the crowd come unglued for Piper’s arrival. The tour programme had the absent Hogan on the front, but “our” guy had come home.
Twenty years later, at a show in Perth, Scotland for a local promotion, I got to see DiBiase and Piper tangle again in a Piper’s Pit-style segment. They were visibly wearing their years, it had a surreal air to it given the location, but it was a nostalgic delight nonetheless.
I’ve had a lot of strange wrestling trips with two of my good friends and seeing a Piper’s Pit sticks out as a great memory. Beforehand I got the chance to meet Piper, so naturally I goofily told him about my first ever wrestling show 21 years ago being headlined by DiBiase and him. Roddy shook my hand, smiled and chatted to me about that show like it was yesterday. Did he really remember it? Doesn’t matter. He knew it meant something to me, even if it was just another show on the road for him. From my limited time with him I think that’s the kind of guy he was. He made you proud to be a wrestling fan, because he was proud of the connections he’d made as a performer.
So now I don’t hold a grudge against my Gran for insisting on ruining my childhood with wild proclamations that Roddy Piper wasn’t really Scottish. Just like I don’t let it bother me for too long when guys like UFC promoter Dana White make offhand comments about wrestling being fake. Oh sure when I first read it that white hot boiling rage started to bubble up from my gut, but then it subsisded.
We get angry because we’re terribly passionate about this crazy wrestling we all love. We’re terribly passionate because of men like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. The best bad influence any young Scottish kid could hope for.
RIP to one of ours.
Robert Duffin is one half of the Inside the Ropes radio show team along with Kenny McIntosh. For more info on the show check out Insidetheropes.co.uk now!