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Doreen Aspley

Doreen Aspley

#01 in the list of senior British women to have represented GB (1953)

Doreen Margaret Aspley is not a name one would readily associate with roller speed skating in Great Britain these days, but back in the 1950’s and early 60’s she helped shape women’s inclusion in the sport.

Aspley was born in Solihull on 26th March 1932. Unlike many skaters of that time, she did not live near to any recognised roller rinks but still frequented the Birmingham Embassy in her teens which would have been a five mile bus ride from her house in Shirley, Solihull.

In the late 1940’s the Birmingham speed club was still very much in its infancy, then known as the Birmingham Eagles. Other than national championships any racing for women was still quite a sporadic affair. By 1950 things were starting to move forwards with an increase in the number of female races and Aspley was starting to shine around the Embassy rink.

1950 - 18 year old Doreen Aspley far left with her Birmingham club mates

A day before her 18th birthday Aspley made up one quarter of the Birmingham ladies relay team that took part in an unofficial challenge event on her home track. The team of Aspley, Marlene Worrall, Anne Humphreys and Patricia Kirkham took on a crack team of Broadway ladies, namely Yvonne Brod, Joyce Robinson and M.Damer. Such was the class of the three Broadway skaters that they did not need a fourth skater to overcome Birmingham’s challenge, however, Kirkham and Humphreys would go on to set new world records for the half mile just 12 months later.

By 1952 Aspley was by now an established competitor on the speed skating circuit. She travelled the length and breadth of the country to pursue her passion and in the July of that year she would write her name into the global history books for the first time.

At the start of the year, it had been suggested that the recognised world records were more than capable of being broken by current British female skaters.  American skater J.Smith held the Quarter Mile record (set in 1948), Britain’s Maureen Stewart the Half Mile (set in May 1952), Britain’s Edie Hansen the One Mile (set in 1939) and specialist Italian distance skater, Massimina Carucci, held every imperial record for three miles and above set in Rome in 1950. On 20th July 1952 a group of Birmingham female skaters made a sanctioned attempt to rewrite the record books. The venue selected was, of course, the Birmingham Embassy. At just eleven laps to the mile, it was one of the largest and fastest rinks in the country. By the end of the day Pat Kirkham had set new world records in the Quarter Mile, Half Mile and One Mile whilst Aspley set new world records in both the 3 Mile and 5 Mile distances. The attempt was a huge success and put Great Britain firmly on the world map with regards to women’s speed skating. Aspley’s records would stand for four years until being beaten by global speed skating legend, Alberta Vianello.

As 1953 approached it was announced that FIRS, the world governing body, would be holding the very first women’s official World Championships around the streets of Venice-Lido, Italy. It was decided that Britain would send a female delegation and so training for the event started almost immediately. There was a buzz around as British female skaters digested the news. Those selected to form the British squad found themselves training on the roads around Moorgate, London. The venue had been used for a few years now for team training and selection and still bore the scars of the war. When the ladies’ team was announced it was the three Birmingham women of Aspley, Kirkham and Marlene Worrall that found themselves selected. Being the first British female team to take part in an official World Championship meant that they would pave the way for generations of female speed skaters to come.

September 1953 - The first women's World Championships in Venice-Lido, Italy

It took two days for the team to reach the venue by train. They arrived on the Friday with racing taking place on the Saturday and Sunday of 19th and 20th September. Despite this the British ladies put up a splendid performance. The Italians took 1-2-3 in every event and were obviously a cut above all others, but Britain were certainly the “best of the rest”. Favouring distance events over sprints, Aspley would come home 4th in the 5000 metres, just a whisker behind the Italian trio of Wanda Lazzari, Alberta Vianello and Anna Gobitta. It was certainly a performance to be proud of.

On her return, Aspley and fellow club mate, Jack Struggles, decided that they would club together and donate a trophy to the sport. On 28th November 1953 the inaugural running of the Aspley-Struggles Trophy would be held. It was a team event comprising of both men and women who in teams of two competed in various races and amassed points. The trophy was then presented to the winning team/duo with the most points.

Aspley had always shone in distance events, as proven with her three and five mile world records, but with the British Championships being over just a Quarter Mile and Half Mile she would always find it difficult to obtain her own individual medal. When the British team was announced for 1954 Aspley was overlooked in favour of others who were making their mark in these shorter distances. The year wasn’t a complete write off for her, though, as she helped Birmingham win the first ever ladies British Relay Championship for the Tuffnell Bowl. The trophy was an award donated and presented by Alan Tuffnell, himself and his wife Sylvia both speed skaters with the Alexandra Palace club and of course parents of cricketing legend, Phill Tuffnell. Between 1954 and 1962 Aspley would help Birmingham win the trophy on no fewer than seven consecutive occasions, a record that still stands to this day.

16th January 1954 - Aspley helps Birmingham win the inaugural Ladies Relay Championship

For some time, Aspley had been dating fellow Birmingham skater, John Campbell and in 1956 they were married. A few months later, in February 1957, Aspley would win her first individual British Championship medal, a bronze in the Half Mile on her home track, the Birmingham Embassy. In April of the same year she would take her second medal, again a bronze, in the Quarter Mile on Herne Bay. From one of the largest tracks (the Embassy) to one of the smallest tracks (Herne Bay) Aspley had shown her versatility, and after almost a decade of trying she was now a British Championship medallist.

The next few years were lean years for Aspley but in July 1961 she would secure another personal first. She would come home victorious in the coveted Carlton Shield on the Alexandra Palace rink, ahead of Daphne Sangster and the up and coming talent of Pat Barnett.

A further silver in the Ladies Lee Cup in May 1962 and a bronze in December 1963 would be the last individual medals Aspley would take in open competition. Aspley would make the final of the Half Mile Championship for the last time on 18th January 1964 at the Embassy, but would just be pipped to a medal by Gwen Thompson (North London).

1964 - Half Mile Championships final - Aspley starts far right

By coincidence or design Aspley’s last race would be in the Aspley-Struggles event on 2nd May 1964. It was also the last time the event was run and the trophy presented until it resurfaced almost 60 years later when John Fry Junior came across it in a cupboard at what was once the home of Pat and Leo Eason. Fry donated the trophy to FISS and it is now presented annually to the “most improved male skater” of that year.

Doreen Aspley had touched the heights of female roller speed skating during her time in the sport. She had set new World Records, had represented Great Britain at the very first women’s World Championships, narrowly missing out on a medal, won seven consecutive British relay titles and achieved individual British Championship medals. Sadly, Doreen passed away in December 2016 and will never know or realise just how much she helped influence the future of female speed skating in Great Britain. Her name lives on, however, in the form of the Aspley-Struggles Trophy, and so for all those who have ever wondered who “Aspley” was, well now you know. Doreen Aspley was and will always be a British skating legend.

2022 - The Aspley-Struggles Trophy - honouring the legacy of Doreen Aspley

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