British Skating Legends

Unsung British heroes of roller speed skating

GEOFF MATTOCK

GEOFF MATTOCK - 1971

Geoffrey Mattock (No.30 in the list of male British team members) was born on 13th December 1944 in Leicester.

Mattock was a relatively late starter to speed skating, joining the National Skating Association in readiness for the 1967 season aged 22.  Leicester once had a strong roller speed club, but by the time Mattock was starting out the club had disappeared.  The nearest speed skating club was some 30 miles away in Birmingham.  Mattock, along with some other Leicester skaters, such as Cliff Stafford and Len Law, would make frequent trips to Britain's second city to train.  Whilst there were two clubs at that time in Birmingham, Midland Olympic and Birmingham Roller Speed Club, Stafford and Law belonged to the latter and it was only natural that Mattock should follow suit.

Almost immediately Mattock was making himself known amongst skaters from other clubs and in July 1967 joined the South London club on an international trip to Wetteren, Belgium.  Almost immediately he made an impact.  Some of his results, especially in the shorter distances, saw him middle of the field, but in the 5000 metres Mattock would come home in 5th place, the highest placed British skater.  Ahead of him were Belgian internationals which included Belgian legend and World Champion (and race winner) Willy Raes.  Behind him was British international Ron Hawkes and John Folley, who would both represent Great Britain later that year at the European Championships in Inzell, Germany.  (Folley would of course go onto be World Champion just two years later). 

The Birmingham club was well established, with the likes of former World record holder John Toy amongst it's members and headed up as it was then by former World Champion, Leo Eason.  Eason was now in his twilight years with regards to competing and his international career would be over within 12 months of Mattock joining.  That said, Eason was still more than worthy of holding his own in a race and on 9th March 1968 he joined up with Mattock in the Midland Trophy relay event at the Birmingham Mecca.  The duo won gold, beating the Midland Olympic team on their own track.  It was Mattock's first taste of victory and soon he would be getting himself noticed even more.

Mattock would again return to Belgium with the Birmingham club later that year and again put up some decent performances. On 19th October 1968 (the 1969 season) Mattock had his first taste of individual victory when he won the one mile handicap, the North London Trophy, off 35 yards at the Alexandra Palace Rink.  The remainder of his results domestically in 1969, along with those achieved in yet another Belgium international, were pretty similar to those the year before.  To an outsider it may have seemed that progress wasn't being made, but 1970 and 1971 would see Mattock emerge as one of Britain's top skaters.

Internationally there was a changing of the guard within the British team.  Leo Eason had been dropped in 1969 and in 1970 Bill Sharman decided to retire.  The most senior skater on the team was now 1969 World Champion John Folley, with new blood John E. Fry and Mick McGeough establishing themselves as first choices.  This left the way open for one more skater to make up the British quartet.  Unfortunately there would be no World or European Championships in 1970 so whoever was going to fill that gap would have to play the waiting game.

Whilst there were no individual victories for Mattock in this period there were a rake of top three finishes.  For example Mattock would finish on the podium in the Clore Cup (March 1970), Northern & Midland Counties Championship (March 1970), British Open Handicap - Jesson Cup (April 1970), Peacock Shield (May 1970), Geoff Wright Cup (February 1971) and the Alexandra Palace Trustees Cup (April 1971).  By the time selection came round for the British team to take part in the 1971 European Championships in Wetteren, Belgium, the fourth place was up for grabs between Pat Feetham (Southern) and Mattock.  Mattock had trained extensively on the Kings Norton Factory Centre in Birmingham which was not unlike the circuit for the European Championships, especially the adverse camber into the last bend.  When the team was announced it was Mattock who got the nod with Feetham being named as reserve.

1971 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS - MATTOCK SITS IN 2ND PLACE

The 1971 European Championships will always be remembered for the two British victories, John E Fry in the 500 metres time trial and John Folley in the 1000 metres knockout, both beating Italian legend and multiple World Champion, Giuseppe Cantarella, in the process.  What is less well remembered is the bronze medal won by Mattock in the 10,000 metres, just one tenth of a second behind winner Becue (Belgium) and just three hundredths behind silver medallist Marotta (Italy).  Mattock also managed 4th in the 20,000 metres and 5th in the 5,000 metres, helping Great Britain secure victory as overall top nation at these championships.

In 1972 again there were no World or European Championships.  In fact, there were to be no British Championships either that year.  There was, however, an international event for the top European skaters in Inzell, Germany, in August of that year.  Effectively a mini-European Championships.  Along with Mick McGeough, John E. Fry and another emerging star, John Mullane, Mattock was once again representing Great Britain.  John Folley had retired at the start of the 1972 season having become the first (and only to date) British skater to win a World and European gold medal.  With no British Championships to compete for Folley had decided to call it a day.  It was the dawn of a new era for British skating.  McGeough and Fry had the most experience having been in the national team since 1968 and 1969 respectively, but they were still relatively young.  At 27 years of age, Mattock was the oldest member of the British team.

The event started well.  In the 500 metres time trial Fry would take first place against an unbelieving Cantarella.  For Mattock, however, he would have his own taste of victory in the 10,000 metres ahead of the likes of Italians Pino Fregosi and Corrado Ruggeri.  He would also help the team to 3rd place in the team time trial and 2nd in the 10,000 metres relay.  Mattock had firmly stamped his mark on the British team.

Returning home Mattock would go on and take bronze in the 8,000 metres (what was previously the 5 Mile) British Championship on the 21st October 1972 at the Leeds Mecca rink.  A week later and another bronze for him in the North London Trophy on the Palm Court at Alexandra Palace, however, despite the year ending on a high, 1973 was to be dismal in terms of domestic results for Mattock.  By the time the team was selected for the forthcoming European Championships in Grenoble, France, Mattock's name had disappeared from the team sheet in favour of new boys John Mullane (Midland Olympic) and Gerard Bissett (Southern).  Mattock would not even feature as reserve.  That place would go to Pat Feetham.  It was time for a re-think.

By the end of the 1973 season it was evident that Mattock needed someone else and more of his calibre to train with.  Leo Eason had since retired and the likes of John Toy, Cliff Stafford and Len Law were no longer spring chickens.  The Birmingham club had effectively all but folded and Mattock found himself pretty much it's only competitive member.  Mattock knew the boys from the Midland club, most notably Fry and Mullane, and it seemed only logical to him that he join forces if he was going to continue to play a part in any future British teams.  In October 1973 Mattock became Midland Olympic's newest member.

Now in the colours of Midland Olympic, Mattock was back.  When selection for the 1974 European Championships in San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy, came around, Mattock made sure he was not overlooked.  Admittedly it helped that in 1974 the rules changed that a nation could now enter a team of four skaters from a team of five, unlike the three from four rule in previous years, but that said, Mattock was there by his own right. Together with Fry, McGeough, Mullane and Feetham, Mattock boarded the plane for Italy. 

The Team Manager at that time was Dennis Cousins.  This was to be his first and last time out as National Team Manager and was one for discipline, shown in a letter to each of the male skaters which was sent out saying:

"The Roller Speed Committee at a recent meeting received a report concerning the Championships and during the course of which it appears that two or three of the party, after indicating to the Team Manager that they were going to bed, went out drinking.

The Committee does not propose to take action on this occasion, but will not tolerate such lack of discipline and bad behaviour in future."

The truth was that the three Midland team mates decided to down a pint after the racing whilst McGeough and Feetham did indeed go to bed.  The trip was not great for the British skaters and Mattock's highest individual placing would be 8th in both the 1,000 metres knockout and the 20,000 metres.  Despite this both he and Fry would obtain 3rd in the two man relay behind the two Italian teams.  Unbeknown to Mattock it was the last time he would don a British race shirt.

1974 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS - MATTOCK ENJOYS A MOMENT (AND LATER, A BEER) WITH FELLOW CLUB MATES FRY AND MULLANE

Shortly after the team's return on 23rd June, Mattock won his first and only domestic scratch race when he crossed the line first to win the Len Law Triumph Trophy at Mallory Park.  The circuit was (and still is) a 1.3 mile motor racing circuit just a few miles from his home in the middle of Leicstershire.  A few weeks later and he took the second of his two British Championship medals when he finished 2nd behind Pat Feetham in the 10,000 metres.

For the 1975 season the Midland Olympic club had talked about a name change.  The name Midland Olympic harked back to the days of rinks and the old Birmingham Mecca Olympic rink which had long since closed.  The club discussed many names but there was one thing that the Leicester contingent (Cliff Stafford, his brother Dennis and Len Law having all decided to also join the club) were keen on keeping, and that was the broader association with the Midlands area and not a name that suggested "Birmingham".  They had originally been members of the Birmingham Roller Speed Club but now wanted to belong to a club that better identified where they came from.  Although the name "Midland" did just that, they all agreed that it was "old hat", so after much deliberation they settled on the name Mercia.  It was an old historical name that pre-dated the name Midlands to describe that area of the country, and so was born Mercia Roller Speed Club.

Next on the agenda was new club colours.  It wanted to be something different.  All other clubs still had the block coloured shirts with the bands across the chest.  Alexandra Palace with their green shirts and red band, Southern with their white shirts and red and blue bands, Birmingham with their black shirts and yellow band and so on.  The old Midland club was a black shirt with red and white bands, but Mercia wanted something different.  It was Mattock who came up with the design.  Well, he "borrowed" a design.  Mattock was also a keen cyclist and one of the leading cycling clubs of that day was the Peugeot Cycling Club.  It had a plain white shirt but across the breast and around the back was a black and white checked pattern.  Mattock suggested that Mercia might use this but with a different colour scheme.  The shirt became blue and the checks became orange and white.  The transformation was complete.

On 20th October 1974 Mercia took to the track for the first time.  It was the Anglo Daor Championships and the senior men's event was a 10,000 metres.  First over the line was Fry closely followed by fellow Mercian, Mattock.  This glorious moment for the new club was to see Mattock win his last individual medal.  Just shy of his 30th birthday Mattock began to re-evaluate his life's priorities.  Having joined Midland back in 1973 Mattock became firm friends with Steve Collins, another skater with the club.  In doing so he also struck up a bond with Collin's sister, Lesley and soon they became a couple.

By 1975 Mattock's place in the British team was far from assured.  Fry and McGeough were still top dogs and Mullane and Feetham were still hot on their heels.  Then there were other up and coming youngsters all knocking on the door of international call ups - Alan Vial, Eddie Bradbrook, Tommy Bartlett, Steve Mayhew, Bobby Smith to name but a few.  For Mattock to continue in skating at the level he expected of himself was becoming ever difficult.

On 27th April 1975 Mattock took to the track one last time.  It was a 10,000 metres relay and along with team mates Fry, Mullane and John Toy, Mattock took home one last medal, a silver behind club rivals Alexandra Palace.  Later that year Mattock wed his fiancé Lesley Collins and walked away from skating to pursue other interests.

7TH MARCH 1970 - CLORE CUP - FUTURE TEAM MATES MATTOCK AND FRY SHAKE HANDS WHILST FUTURE BROTHER-IN-LAW, COLLINS, ADMIRES HIS TROPHY

Today, Mattock remains a modest man.  Asked if he would take part in an interview for British Skating Legends he respectfully declined.  Mattock doesn't believe himself to be a "legend" and of course that is his prerogative.  But on reflection we can at least say this about him.  Mattock was a late starter in terms of speed skating but very quickly established himself as one of the British elite.  He broke into a national team at a time when skating in Britain was at it's peak internationally.  We had just had a World Champion and he was taking medals in Europe when legends within the sport internationally were ever present.  He may not have ever established himself as "the best skater" but he was a successful skater.  Not only that but he held his own in an era known for great skaters, both domestically and internationally.  He helped bridge the gap between the old guard and the new and it was through people like him that other skaters pushed themselves harder to try and break into the British team.  Geoff Mattock may not consider himself to be a British Skating Legend, but I for one believe he should at least be spoken about in the same breath.