Alan Shillitoe

I’m 37, I live in Bedford and I work in computer modelling and simulation for a defence company. I learned to play when I was at school in Essex at the age of 15. A few people were playing in the canteen (under the tutelage of future Lady Milne winner Audrey Hartley!), I was curious and got hooked. My junior career was a case of last board-itis. Losing the Schools Cup final on the last board, losing the U25 Pairs final on the last board, going for 2200 on the last board of the 2000 Junior Trials…

I did manage to win the England Junior trials in 1998 with Ed Sheldon and then was part of the side that won the Junior Camrose, but I only ever played a few friendlies for England and never made it to a Junior Euros. Apart from partnering Ed, I partnered Catherine Jagger while I was a member of the U25 squad.

As my junior career was winding down I began to get involved with coaching the next generation. I was aware that they responded better to someone who was their age. Being a current international I was also able to get over the ‘uncool’ image that the game often has. Initially I was mostly involved as a local youth officer in and around Bedfordshire, but gradually became more involved on the national scene at the time Mel Starkings was running the squad. I’d also started attending the annual Junior Teach-In and I’ve now got the longest current streak of 14 JTIs, although I’m still a few short of Marryat Stevens’ all-time record!

When Mel opted to give up running the U20 squad in 2006(ish) I was asked to take over. I didn’t have the time to run it full-time myself, but I did know of someone who was perfect for the job and so I recommended some little-known player by the name of Michael Byrne. I continued to work with them, and so the most successful era of U20s in English (and British) history began.

2007 gave us 4th in the Euros at Jesolo, although I wasn’t in attendance. Things got better though. Having qualified for the World Championships, in 2008 we finished as runner-up to France in in Beijing. After a bumpy 2009, we bounced back with another silver in Philadelphia in 2010 – this time losing the final to the Poles. A new generation of players came through in 2011 and narrowly missed the bronze in Bulgaria and then pushed the eventual world champions to the limit in the world quarter final in Taicang the following year. 2013 proved a fallow year, so there will be no world tilt next year, but plans are already afoot for 2015 in Norway.

In addition to this, the players we have developed have also won Channel Trophies at U20 and U25 level and taken record scores in the Peggy Bayer. So if you meet such luminaries as Ed Jones, Tom Paske, Ben Paske, Graeme Robertson, Dan McIntosh, James Paul, Shivam Shah, Alex Roberts, Basil Letts, Freddie Illingworth, Toby Nonnenmacher, Michael Alishaw, Kyle Lam, Tommy Brass, Sarah O’Connor, Sinead Bird, Simon Spencer, Ankush Khandelwal, Adam Hickman, Rob Myers, James Thrower, Tom Rainforth (and quite a few others, I’m sorry, I can’t mention you all) well then I apologise profusely!

Away from the bridge table my major interests are running and cycling. I’m a member of the Bedford Harriers running club but I prefer being on two wheels. I’ve completed such events as the Etape du Tour (a mountain stage of the Tour de France), the Ride With Brad (the man himself said the 100mile route was too tough for him!) and the Dragon Ride. A few years ago I even rode a 2000km charity ride across Europe with disabled servicemen. I’ll watch pretty much any sport (nothing involving horses or judges marks) and support Southampton FC. Life however, is incomplete without Test Match Special on the radio and a cup of tea in my hand!

I also enjoy DJing, especially classic house but most electronic music in general. I’ll listen to most things if they are good though. This year, I also completed a degree in Sport Science which has given me a lot of insights and I’m now using it to help inform my junior coaching and with the development of the England junior structure as a whole. I said I wouldn’t but I’m now considering a masters in the subject too…

My aims for the future are to continue coaching the U20s with Michael and win major titles and medals with them. I’ve now taken leadership of the U25 girls squad to try and develop the next generation of female players too and taken on some organisation of the U25s. I want to establish a strong junior base at all levels, so that when I pass it on to whoever follows, they have a strong system to work with. I haven’t ruled out the possibility of working on my own game to achieve open recognition, but I recognise that it takes the time and effort that I’m currently directing elsewhere.

Updated: October 2013

Since writing this biography Alan has continued to be an important part of junior bridge in England. He was NPC for the Under 26 team which finished fourth in the 2015 European Championship, and which performed well (but without the results they deserved) in the 2016 World Championships.

In 2015 Alan developed the Junior Award Scheme with Simon Barb of EBED, and this was launched in the autumn of that year. This enables youngsters to reach different achievement levels as they progress through their bridge development. He is also working with EBED to identify opportunities for online resources to encourage more young bridge players.

In recognition of his contribution to junior bridge, Alan received the 2015 Tom Bradley Award, which was presented at the 2016 Summer Meeting.

Junior Camrose Selections: 1999