#10 in the list of senior British men to have represented GB (1949)
John (Jackie) Reeves was born in Willesden in 1924. Although not much is known about his early life it is almost certain that he frequented the roller rink at Cricklewood before the outbreak of the war in 1939 when he would have been 15 years old.
In 1944, despite the war still raging, Reeves joined the National Skating Association of Great Britain and took up speed skating for the Broadway Cricklewood club alongside the likes of Geoff Sanders, Frank Lamb and the rising talent that was Don Brown. Of course, NSA racing did not reconvene until 1946 but club races were regularly held and Reeves was starting to get himself noticed amongst the Broadway rank and file.
Immediately after the war most race victories were hotly contested between the Broadway club and Alexandra Palace, with the likes of Stan 'Jimmy' Hartigan, Bob Halford and Alf Martin amongst their elite. In 1947 the rivalry between the two clubs was intense but in the British Championships of that year it was Broadway who came out on top. Only Stan Hartigan prevented a Broadway clean sweep by winning the Five Mile Championship. Sanders was victorious in the Half Mile Championship whilst Lamb would take gold in the One Mile and Southern Counties Championship. On the 8th March Broadway would also take gold in the British Relay Championship on the very tight Herne Bay rink. It was Reeves's first major medal alongside Sanders, Lamb and Dibling. It was also Broadway's first relay victory since 1936.
Then, later that year, a series of events would lead to the "banning" of the entire Broadway club for the whole of the 1948 season and Reeves was stopped dead in his tracks. The reason for this punishment was that the club, along with the Birmingham club, had taken part in both "unofficial" British and World Championships events, not sanctioned by either the NSA or the world governing body, FIRS. Reeves himself was not selected to represent Britain at the "World Championships", held in Oakland, California, but some of his team mates were - the likes of Frank Lamb and Geoff Sanders. Both Lamb and Sanders won medals at these Championships, with Lamb taking the gold medal in the 2 Mile event.
The events came about because the Cricklewood Rink and Birmingham (Embassy) Rink were owned by the same company who were themselves members of the RSROA (Roller Skating Rink Operators Association). These British rink operators were allied with similar operators in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and India. The British contingent also had their own governing body, the BFARS (British Federation of Amateur Roller Skaters). Taking part in events organised by these "governing bodies" was obviously frowned upon by the NSA and FIRS, and subsequent bans were handed out. This meant that in 1948 no Broadway or Birmingham skaters were allowed to compete in that year's "official" British Championships, and nor was any skater eligible for selection with the "official" British team. This of course included Reeves.
By 1949 the ban was lifted and the Broadway club were once again top dogs. This time they would win every individual national title available to them (Don Brown the Half Mile, Denis Hill the One Mile and Five Mile) but was surprisingly pipped to the post by Alexandra Palace in the relay.
Reeves was still to take an individual medal in British Championships but his speed was never in any doubt. In September 1949 the World Championships on the road were held in Ferrara, Italy. On the team sheet was his team mates Don Brown, Denis Hill and Alexandra Palace's Bob Halford.
The team returned and the 1949-50 British One Mile Championship event was held on the Alexandra Palace rink on 19th November 1949. Denis Hill would win the title but just behind him was Reeves, taking his first individual medal. Just a few weeks later in December the World Track Championships were held in Lisbon, Portugal. Again Brown and Hill were selected but Halford was dropped in favour of Reginald Smyth (Rochester United) with Reeves named as first reserve. As luck would have it, Smyth had to withdraw from the team prior to travelling and Reeves found his way onto the plane.
Whilst Brown and Hill both took home two individual medals each, the trio would finish second in the Lisbon Grand Prix 5000 metres three man relay. Reeves performances were also worthy of note, with two fifth places and two seventh places. These individual performances helped Great Britain to win the "Best Overall Nation", but it wasn't over yet. Reeves would take victory in the Coupes des Nations 1000 metres handicap off 20 metres. Whilst not a championship event it was still a great achievement against the world's elite.
On the 18th February 1950, Reeves was once more in a winning relay team with Broadway alongside Brown, Hill and Sanders. Then on the 18th March the Five Mile British Championship was held on Alexandra Palace and Reeves came away with his first individual gold medal, just beating the man he had replaced in the British team, Bob Halford, into second place. It was a fantastic achievement when you consider that to win the title he had to take on world medallists Brown and Hill to do so. Despite being team mates, in the late 1940's and early 1950's it was very much "every man for himself". Just three weeks later and with new found vigour he also went on to win the Southern Counties.
To look at Reeves did not cut an athletic figure. He was short and stocky and often looked knock-kneed when standing still on his skates. He certainly didn't look like your archetypical speed skater, but never more so were looks deceiving than they were with Jackie Reeves. He was also a quiet man, quite reserved. Some would say serious. But despite all these nuances Reeves was now justifiably being seen as one of Britain's top skaters. Soon afterwards it was announced that there were to be no World Championships in 1950. It was a huge disappointment for Reeves, as it was for many other skaters, but still he continued to train hard with just one goal on his mind. Win.
The 1951 season started but by comparison to his previous season Reeves struggled to find form in the British Championships. Despite yet another gold in the British Championship Relay his only individual medal was a bronze in the One Mile on Granby Halls, Leicester. Granted, he did take gold in the Southern Counties on Herne Bay in April, but eyes had turned elsewhere. When the British team was announced for the World Championships in Monfalcone, Italy to be held in September, Reeves's place on the team was taken by Brixton's Ronald Coopey. Brown and Hill were still the mainstay but as Reeves had stepped in for Halford two years before, so Coopey had now done the same to him. Reeves was again named reserve, but it was small consolation for the Broadway skater and with no late withdrawal this time, Reeves stayed at home.
Reeves knew he had to up his game and in 1952 he did just that. On the 2nd February he won the Half Mile Championship on Granby Halls, Leicester, just ahead of team mate Don Brown. Many years later Brown would later suggest he believes he could have taken the title from Reeves in the closing stages, but felt that "he deserved it". It would have been Brown's fourth straight victory in the event, something never achieved before. Whether or not Brown could have beaten Reeves will forever remain unanswered, but what is not in question is that Brown was absolutely right when he said Reeves deserved the victory. March was another victory for Broadway in the relay whilst April saw Reeves be crowned Southern Counties Champion for a third successive year. Only Peter Walters (Herne Bay) and Tom Wilson (Catford) had previously achieved this feat.
For Reeves, however, disappointment would again soon follow. As with 1950 there were to be no World Championships in 1952. Due to be held on the road in Barcelona, the Spanish Federation withdrew at such late notice that there was no time for any other country to organise an event. Once again Reeves was a victim of circumstance and whether or not he could have made the British team again was, in his eyes, now irrelevant.
Like 1952, the 1953 season started well for Reeves. In March he was once again victorious in the Half Mile Championship on Granby Halls, retaining his title. Graham Stead, who finished second to Reeves in that event was once asked "what was Reeves like?". He answered simply "fast".
On 11th April 1953 Reeves did something that nobody had ever done before, or since. He won the Southern Counties Championship for a fourth successive time. It was a remarkable achievement considering that most of the British team and subsequently World's elite resided in the south of England at that time, and Reeves had to beat them all, four times no less, to achieve this excellent feat. Despite these domestic performances Reeves was again overlooked when the 1953 British team was announced for the forthcoming World Championships in Venice-Lido, Italy.
1954 was the beginning of the end for Reeves, and he knew it. On 30th January at Granby Halls he set out to retain his Half Mile Championship title but was narrowly beaten by team mate Denis Hill. On 27th March Broadway again won the British Relay title, but Reeves was not amongst the team. He was now 30 and knew that barring any sort of minor miracle he was never going to put on a British jersey again. Not only that but a new generation of skaters was emerging. A young Les Woodley had already attracted attention and despite having yet to win a British championship medal had been selected ahead of Reeves for the national team. Ken Rawlings likewise. Not wanting to keep going until he became an also ran, Reeves decided to call it a day deciding not even to attempt to retain his Southern Counties title.
To his credit Reeves did not walk away entirely from the sport. He knew he wasn't cut out to be a team manager but he did want to put something back into the sport that had given him so much and so became a track official. This quiet, unassuming man, regularly stood out in the middle of a roller rink throughout the late 1950's and early 1960's, supporting those skaters who, like him, were trying their best to achieve their dreams within roller speed skating.
On Sunday 14th April 1968 the British skating world was rocked with the sad news that Jackie Reeves, along with his three year old son, Keith, had died. Reeves, his wife Doris and their twin boys, Keith and Brian, were out on Holehaven Creek at Canvey Island in their small glass fibre dinghy. It was something the family did and enjoyed regularly, but on that day the boat capsized and both Jackie and one of the boys drowned. It was a tragedy that defies description.
Reeves was just 44 when he died. Very few people reading this will have known about Jackie Reeves or his roller speed skating exploits, but his unorthodox looks and style should enthuse one or two budding skaters that to "be the part" you don't always have to "look the part". Two time British Champion, record breaking four times consecutive Southern Counties Champion and British team member, Jackie Reeves is more than deserving to be recognised as a British skating legend.