#15 in the list of senior British men to have represented GB (1954)
Alan Sydney Cattee was born in Medway, Kent, on the 26th June 1934. His father was a carpenter whilst his mother ran a greengrocers on Luton Road in Chatham. It was here that Cattee grew up and in 1947 as a 13-year-old youngster he started to frequent the Rochester Casino roller rink.
Rochester United were well established as both a speed skating team and a roller hockey team and Cattee tried his hand at both from an early age. He joined the National Skating Association for the start of the 1950/51 speed season at 16, which at the time was the youngest one could join, and immediately set about making a name for himself.
On 18th November 1950 Cattee entered the Lee Cup handicap at Alexandra Palace. It was one of his first ever races and still only 16 was given a handicap of 50 yards. Up against 88 other skaters Cattee went on and won the event much to the amazement of many. It was no small feat either as in amongst those entered were former internationals Jackie Reeves and Stan “Jimmy” Hartigan, but the one scalp that really stood out was when he caught and passed Ron Coopey, who within a year would be representing Great Britain at the World Championships in Italy.
George Maddock writing in the popular “Roller Skating” magazine commented:
“We must now add to the illustrious names engraved on this trophy, that of Alan Cattee, 16-year-old Rochester speedman, who gave a remarkable dispay of courage in winning this well-established race. … His ability is great, and I was much impressed by his modesty”.
Astonishingly, Cattee’s victory in the Lee Cup would be his one and only victory in a handicap event. All other victories would come in scratch races.
A few months later he made up one part of the Rochester quartet that entered the British Championship relay at the Birmingham Embassy. Alongside teammates Reg Smyth, Peter Wimble and Roy Link, Cattee took his first British Championship medal. The same year he also successfully passed the NSA gold speed test.
Even at this stage in his skating career, Cattee was starting to juggle his speed skating exploits with those of hockey, but he was still yet to break into the main Rochester United hockey team. Undoubtedly, his natural skill, strength and speed was enhanced by the regular hockey matches he was now playing in. On 19th January 1952 Cattee would secure his first individual British Championship medal with silver in the One Mile at Alexandra Palace.
The 1952/53 season was a lean year for Cattee. Barring a couple of silver medals, his speed skating achievements could not be repeated from the year before. Whereas only twelve months earlier everyone was looking at him as being the next Denis Hill, this particular season he came down to earth with a bump and for the 1953 World Championships in Venice Cattee was overlooked in favour of his teammate and friend, Peter Wimble. There was some consolation as Cattee was selected to represent Great Britain at a ‘B’ international in Grenade-sur-Garone, France. A later report of that event singled him out as the “outstanding skater of the British team” gaining a third place in the 500 metre time-trial, but Cattee knew that he needed to up his game. Throughout the off season of 1953 he trained hard to make amends and in 1954 that hard work paid off.
On 30th January 1954 Cattee made the semi-final of the Half Mile Championship at Granby Halls, Leicester, then on 13th February 1954 he was victorious in the One Mile Championship at Alexandra Palace. Cattee had only qualified for the semi-final as a ‘fastest second’ having been beaten in his quarter-final by his good friend, Roy Parsons. Cattee, however, would go on and win his semi-final to set up a final with the previous year’s winner, John Whatley, alongside Bradford’s Bob Tankard and local London boy Charlie Applebee. From the gun Cattee led into the first bend and never looked back. Cattee controlled the lead for the entire race from start to finish and crossed the line to win his first national title. His victory would be captured in a now famous photo that epitomised what it was to be crowned a British Champion in the 1950’s.
A couple of months later on 17th April Cattee would also take a bronze medal in the Southern Counties Championship on Herne Bay. He was back on the scene and as the Great Britain squad prepared for selection for the forthcoming World Championships to be held in Bari, Italy, Cattee made certain that he would not be overlooked this time. Not even his enforced call-up for national service would get in the way of his training.
The World Championships were late in 1954, October in fact, right at the start of the British racing season. The team arrived and they soon found out that the rink at Bari was not best suited to the British skaters. In fact, British men would only take one individual medal when Geoff Wright obtained a bronze in the 20,000 metres. Not even Denis Hill could muster enough speed to finish any higher than 7th. Cattee would only take part in two events, the 1000 metre knock-out and the 5000 metres in which he would place 12th and 13th respectively. Not even a third place in the relay alongside his teammate Geoff Wright could quell the disappointment the team felt as they returned home.
Dusting himself down, Cattee went about his training once again and in April 1955 was rewarded with a victory in the Southern Counties Championship at Herne Bay. Again, he was picking up medals but in 1955 the international federation declared that there would be no World Championships. Further international disappointment for the Rochester skater.
As 1956 approached, Cattee was getting more and more involved in the hockey scene, although on February 25th he would win his one and only Five Mile Championship medal at Alexandra Palace, a bronze. On 31st June, a week after his 22nd birthday, Cattee retained his Southern Counties title. Adding the Squire Cup and the Fernbank Cup to his list of victories he would undoubtedly have been a top contender for a place on the British team, however, as with the previous year there would be no World Championships. Cattee was still young, but it was just another blow to his speed skating endeavours and the lure of hockey and its own regular international competitions was beginning to look more attractive.
1956 was also an important year in the personal life of the young Cattee. On one of his skating trips to Herne Bay, Cattee would meet Ann Collins and very soon the couple were courting. The couple would eventually go on to marry, but for now Ann was happy to support Alan in whatever direction his skating decisions took him.
The 1956/57 season started relatively well for Cattee. Silver medals in the George Walters Cup, the Pitt Cup and the Southern Counties, followed by victories in the Fernbank Cup and the Stableford Cup. His second place behind John Whatley in the Southern Counties was a close affair. Both skaters were awarded the same time, but Whatley was given the nod and Cattee just missed out on a ‘three times in a row’ achievement. There was, however, a World Championships scheduled for 1957. After a three-year absence it seemed that Great Britain would once again have a crack at bringing home its first post-war World Champion and Cattee was certainly in the running for inclusion. Then came the bombshell that nobody was expecting. The NSA, moreover, the Roller Speed Committee decided that they would not send a British team. This is how it was reported in the Roller Speed Committee Annual Report of 1957:
Great Britain did not send a team to these Championships due to ".....the apparent absence of a suitable outdoor surface in London or the provinces on which skaters could undertake training prior to selection in the team, the short notice received of the events taking place and the considerable expense that would have to be borne in travel to the venue".
Dismayed, Cattee’s interest in speed skating was naturally starting to wane. He did enjoy some successes in the 1957/58 season, but they were not enough to see him included in any British team. Granted, he did secure a commendable second place in the One Mile Championship in February, narrowly beaten by the great Les Woodley, but that doesn’t tell the full story. Cattee qualified for the final only when Dennis Stafford, who finished ahead of him in the semi-final, was disqualified. In addition, he only qualified for the quarter final in the Half Mile Championship (having been put back 5 yards for a false start from which he never recovered) and failed to progress past his heat in the Five Mile Championship. Ironically, in 1958 Great Britain did send a team to the World Championships in Finale Ligure, Italy, where a young Danny Kelly on his Great Britain debut came home with two silver medals and a bronze, taking on the might of the Italians virtually single handedly in their own back yard. Ironically Dennis Stafford who had ‘gifted’ Cattee his place in the One Mile Championship final, also debuted in a British shirt at these World Championships.
The 1958/59 season was set to be a pivotal year for Cattee as far as speed skating was concerned. In one of the early races of the season, the George Walters Cup at Herne Bay, he would come home third behind current international, Leo Eason and a very young Ricky May in his first senior race on Herne Bay. All the talk was about May and how he had the potential to be a champion of the future. Cattee had some thinking to do.
Three weeks later on 6th December 1958 the Half Mile Championship was held at Granby Halls, Leicester. Cattee would make the final and cross the line in fourth place but disqualifications for Les Woodley and Ron Kyte elevated him to second.
A week after that was the Pitt Cup, again on Herne Bay. Cattee would do his customary “lead from the front” and take the victory ahead of Alexandra Palace’s Charlie Applebee. Immediately after the race Applebee announced his retirement. Cattee was still only 24 and on paper had plenty more years in him, if he wanted to of course, but by now he was firmly part of the Rochester United hockey club and was “doing the business” with a hockey stick for their ‘A’ team as much as he was winning races.
Cattee’s victory in the Squire Cup on his home rink would be his only other individual medal of that season. With regards to hockey, however, Cattee and the rest of the Rochester United team would beat the mighty Herne Bay in the N.R.H.A. Cup Final in May and become national champions for the very first time. Cattee would also score two of the goals (within three minutes) in Rochester’s now famous 5-2 victory.
When it was announced that there were to be no World Championships in 1959 Cattee had pretty much made his mind up, but in doing so he ensured that the world of British roller speed skating would not forget the name Alan Cattee in any sort of hurry. At the end of the season he decided that he would retire from racing and focus on hockey to be his main sport of choice.
On December 5th 1959 the Half Mile Championship was held on the Herne Bay rink, a venue Cattee knew very well from both his speed and hockey competitions. There were 69 entries for the event and although Cattee’s name was on the starting list it was touch and go if he entered or not. After all, he had “retired” at the end of the previous season. Cattee made his way to Herne Bay with his skates only deciding to race at the last minute, and then “only for fun” as he would later remark. Despite this Cattee made his way to the final. As well as Cattee the final also consisted of Leo Eason, Ricky May and Terry Horner. This would be no walkover for whoever won and it was Cattee who would take the gold medal.
This is how the final was reported in the “Roller Skating” magazine of January 1960:
“Cattee, ever the opportunist, an acknowledged master of this small track, had the worst of the draw for starting position in the final, but his usual extra-fast get-away still enabled him to gain leading position after the first bend and hold off challenges from the always dangerous Eason”.
And there it was, almost six years on from when he won his first national title, Alan Cattee was once again a British Champion. He would race just one more race, the Pitt Cup again on Herne Bay and again he would take home the gold medal and trophy, but Cattee had made his mind up. This was it for him as far as speed skating was concerned and bowing out as British Half Mile Champion was a fitting way to go and pursue his other interests.
Roller hockey’s gain was definitely speed skating’s loss. Alan Cattee was a well respected character within the speed skating fraternity. His acceleration and explosive speed were something to behold, but the sport simply could not give Cattee what he craved – to be able to pit oneself against the best of the best regularly and consistently. It was unfortunate that Cattee found himself in a period within speed skating where opportunities could be considered ad hoc. In later years this would be put right, but for Cattee he made sure he got what he wanted (or needed) on his own terms.
In 1960 he again helped Rochester United successfully defend their national hockey title, giving them their second and last N.R.H.A Cup victory. He became a hockey international and went on to captain England during his time in the sport. He travelled extensively throughout his hockey career taking him to far flung places such as Switzerland and Brazil. Shortly after marrying Ann, she came home one evening to a note left by Alan that simply said “Gone to South Africa”. He was beginning to relish his role within hockey and the excitement that international competition gave him.
It is fair to say that Alan Cattee was a “sporty” person. If it wasn’t speed skating it was roller hockey, and when that phase ended he turned to crown green bowls – and became a champion of that!
Sadly, Alan Cattee passed away on 5th July 2017 shortly after his 83rd birthday. During his all too brief sojourn into roller speed skating he became one of the youngest British Champions, he took on and beat a legend of the mile distance, Denis Hill, and he competed for Great Britain at a time when to make the team you had to be able to go toe-to-toe with a chance of winning against the best in the world. He was focused and single minded when it came to winning but he was also modest and a thoroughly likeable man. And for what we also now know of Alan Cattee he will always be a British skating legend.