World Masters Tracks Championships preview with Janet Birkmyre

EMTC Thumb 3 JB jersey

This week sees the start of the World Masters Track Championships in Manchester. Cycling on the boards of the velodrome at the National Cycling Centre should be exciting and one of the protagonists will be Janet Birkmyre.

One of my favourite riders, she has prepared for the championships by racing against some of the best riders in the world, including Scottish sensation Katie Archibald.

The World Masters brings the best riders from around the world and that is something that Janet thrives off.

Despite having a huge collection of gold medals, Janet still enjoys the competition and wants to improve all the time.

She was kind enough to give me some of her time ahead of the championships for her thoughts ahead of the event which starts on Saturday.

Q.       It’s the World Masters Track Championships again, how much are you looking forward to the competition?

Massively, I love this championships!  With the Euro Masters not happening this year, the World Masters is the only opportunity I get to race internationally.  The racing is always fierce and there are so many lovely people to catch up with between times.

Q.       How has your form been this year?

Cyclists always talk themselves down in advance of a big race or meeting and I wouldn’t want to disappoint you, but I am being completely honest when I tell you that I feel like I have been riding through treacle all season – my form has really not been great.  The only good news is that I think I know why and I hope I have addressed it.  After the World Masters last year I only had two weeks rest before starting intensive training again, because I wanted to prepare for the rescheduled Derny Championships on December 29th (they were rained off in August).  So it was the “driest” Christmas I have ever had and I was a dreadful hostess over the festive period, but I needed to keep a race focus and concentrate on speed work, rather than the more usual base conditioning training that I would do at that time of year.  It was a decision that I am entirely happy with, I picked up a silver medal behind World Champion and World Record Holder in the team pursuit, Katie Archibald, but it came at a price for the season that followed and I feel like I have been just surviving in races this year.  Happily, the National Omnium Series that I ride in preparation for the big, end of season goals, finished early, so I have had the opportunity to address this and I think I am back where I need to be now in the lead up to the World Masters.

Q.       How much do you still want to win gold medals after having won so many already in this championships? (I think I can guess the answer but…!)

That is not an easy question to answer, but I guess I just love winning and the World Masters is one of the biggest stages that I can compete on.  But the winning and all the positive emotion that comes with it is just a by-product of the work that I put in all year and in truth, I (mostly!) really enjoy the training.  Yes, it is often incredibly hard and I am suffering with more and more back pain on the bike, but I have a fascination with the whole process of going faster and if that gets me to a position where I can win, then that is all the fuel I need to want to do it all again.

I have said this before, but it is not just me, my husband David works incredibly hard to help me succeed.  For example, his search for free speed has ended up with him becoming the UK distributor for CeramicSpeed after he upgraded the bearings in all my wheels and bottom brackets and saw just how good they were.  Right now he is working with a carbon company that supplies F1 teams to develop new cranks and disc wheels which will be stronger and more aerodynamic than anything currently available.  The search for the best is something that we both live and breathe daily, for me that is fitted around the job that pays the bills, but for David it is what he does.

Q.       Who will likely be the main competition for you this year?

There are so many new names is it difficult to be sure, but I am aware that a number of riders have just moved up from the 35-39 to the 40-44 category and I notice that my scratch race is likely to be 40-49 years.  When I am racing women who are eight years younger than me I need to stay extra sharp, but I have spent the season being “bullied” by some seriously talented 19 year olds, so I should be ready for them!  That said anything can happen in a bunch race.

For the pursuit, I have worked really hard to make that a strong event for me and I hope that shows, whilst in the sprint events I will take whatever I can get away with, given that I do not do any sprint specific work.

This year, the team sprint is a championship event for the first time and I will be racing that with the very lovely and super-fast Ali Chisholm.  We are expecting strong completion from the Aussies and the Americans.  I really enjoy the team events and hope that the new line up for the team pursuit, including Mel Sneddon and Niki Kovacs works out.  Sadly the ladies I rode with last year are not racing this year because of injury and/or family commitments, so it has been back to the drawing board.  Anyone that underestimates the technical difficulty of riding a good team pursuit needs only to come to one of our training sessions – when I say if it could go wrong, it has.  We have redefined Murphy’s Law, but I am confident that we will work really well together on the day and I have really enjoyed working with them to achieve whatever we can.

Q.       How good is it to be see so many riders from overseas travelling to the championships and is there good spirit amongst all the competitors?

I am particularly pleased to see such a big entry this year, it really is amazing.  I know the organisers have worked very hard to encourage more women to ride these championships, so it is good to see their efforts rewarded.  Every year I get to know a few more of the competitors and, off the track, the women are really supportive and encouraging.  I don’t want to sound cheesy, but I feel privileged to be a part of it.

Kevin Phillips retires

As published in the Tranmere Rovers matchday programme (03/05/14)

One of the Football League’s most decorated players will bow out of professional football this afternoon as Leicester City centre forward Kevin Phillips has announced his retirement.

In recent years, the striker has been the ‘go to’ man for clubs looking for goals to win promotion and this season has been no exception.

He has played a part in Leicester City winning promotion back to the Premier League since joining the Foxes in January, and although he has only played a bit part, he has scored a couple of vital goals which has helped the club back into the top flight.

It is a fitting way for him to end his career. He won promotion from England’s second tier into the top flight on no fewer than five occasions having previously helped Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion, Birmingham City and Crystal Palace get into the promised land of the Premier League.

He has scored more than 280 goals over a career which has spanned over 650 appearances with arguably his best spell coming when he was at Sunderland.

Phillips helped the Black Cats into the Premier League with 25 goals from 32 appearances in the First Division (now called the Championship) as they won promotion and his form continued with an outstanding season the following year in the top flight.

He amassed 30 goals from 38 Premier League appearances that following season which helped him win the Premier League Player of the Season award, the Premier League and European Golden Boot awards as well as an England international call-up.

He played nine times in the Three Lions shirt but failed to score a goal at international level, and was a part of the Euro 2000 squad although he was an unused substitute for England’s three matches during that tournament.

He hangs up his boots at the King Power Stadium today for the final time, but he is to remain at Leicester City next season as a part of the coaching staff as the club start a new chapter in the top division of English football for the first time in over a decade.

If his coaching career goes as well as his playing career has done, then don’t expect that this is the last you will hear of Kevin Phillips. He has been a fantastic goalscorer in English football and I’m sure he’ll go on to become a successful coach as well.

The Leeds United ownership saga

As published in the Tranmere Rovers matchday programme (12/04/14)

The saga regarding the ownership of Championship club Leeds United appears to have come to an end after Italian Massimo Cellino won an appeal against the Football League’s decision to block his takeover of the club.

Unhappy at that decision, Cellino took the matter to the courts and he has been successful in overturning the decision. His company, Eleonora Sport Limited, has now completed the purchase of 75% of the club’s shares and he has taken his place on the board of directors.

The League vetoed the takeover initially after Cellino was found guilty by an Italian court for failing to pay import duty on a yacht with the board voting unanimously to block his takeover bid under a disqualifying condition in its owner’s and director’s test.

A Football League statement qualified this, “The relevant disqualifying condition being that Massimo Cellino has been convicted of an offence involving acts that would reasonably be considered to be dishonest.”

The Football League have their policy in place, but it appears that in spite of the fact they had valid reason to disqualify Cellino’s bid, their decision can be challenged and overturned in the courtroom.

With some clubs falling victim to financial issues and going into administration, it’s important for the longevity of football clubs that the right people are allowed to take charge of these clubs, which is why the league have this procedure in place.

Hopefully for the Yorkshire club, the Italian is the right man for the club who have struggled in recent years after falling from the Premier League.

He is no stranger to owning a football club. He currently owns Serie A side Cagliari although he is trying to sell the Sardinian club.

On the pitch, Leeds aren’t enjoying the best of spells. They are currently in the middle of a run which has seen them lose seven of their last eight fixtures with their last match being a 3-0 away defeat at Watford on Tuesday night leaving them in 16th position in the Championships league table, eight points above the relegation zone.

Though it seems unlikely they will fall back into League One, manager Brian McDermott has been under intense pressure this season as the team have struggled this season.

Cellino has already attempted to sack him once this season, despite not being in charge of the club at the time, and the Italian has fired an amazing 35 managers in 21 years! It suggests that McDermott might not be at Elland Road too much longer.

What’s going on at Nottingham Forest?

As published in the Tranmere Rovers matchday programme (29/03/14)

Championship club Nottingham Forest has an illustrious history in English football, having won two European Cups, but at the moment things are not going so well for the City Ground club.

Looking at it, they don’t look too badly placed in 7th position in the Championship just two points from a play-off spot. But a run of eight matches without a win, including a 5-0 thumping from local rivals Derby County last weekend, has seen manager Billy Davies removed from his role and the side slip away from the promotion race.

The club is owned by the Kuwaiti Al-Hasawi family, who took over in the summer of 2012. During their 20-month tenure at the helm at the City Ground, they are now looking for their fourth manager, Sean O’Driscoll and Alex McLeish being the other two managers who have come and gone during that time. The manager’s seat in the dugout never gets too warm it seems.

Davies had not done himself any favours with the fans well before the 5-0 demolition of his side by Derby. Refusing to speak to the media meant that the fans were kept in the dark as to what was going on as the team drifted into a bad run of form which has now seen them fall out of the play-off places.

But is Davies the real reason behind the poor form that Forest are currently going through? The search for a new manager is ongoing and one of the main targets appeared to be Neil Warnock.

The former Sheffield United and Leeds United boss spoke after talks with the Nottingham Forest owners and rejecting the chance to take over at the City Ground suggesting that the owner was trying to interfere a bit too much with football affairs.

Fawaz Al-Hasawi has denied these claims saying that he has never interfered with such matters since he has been at the club, but it does make you think that perhaps things were unsettled behind the scenes. Before this eight-match winless run, Forest had been flying and playing great football.

Gary Brazil is in caretaker charge and will be given the opportunity to show what he can do during his temporary stint but a 1-0 home defeat against Charlton on Tuesday didn’t do his chances too much good.

Nottingham Forest legend Stuart Pearce has been linked with the job as has former Watford manager Gianfranco Zola and ex-England and Tottenham boss Glenn Hoddle.

Charlton part with Powell

As published in the Tranmere Rovers matchday programme (15/3/14)

Another week goes by and so yet another manager loses his job in the Football League. This time it is Championship club Charlton Athletic who parted company this week with boss Chris Powell after their exit of the FA Cup at Sheffield United last weekend.

The Addicks are currently bottom of the Championship with just 27 points from their 30 league games so far this season, although that doesn’t appear to be the full story behind Powell leaving the club.

The South London club have new ownership in Belgian businessman Roland Duchatalet, but despite talks that a new contract was being discussed to extend Powell’s tenure at the club, it appears that the pair didn’t see eye-to-eye with how things should be ran on the football side.

Announcing Powell’s departure from The Valley, Duchatalet said, “We could not reach an agreement over the club’s football strategy going forward.”

They have wasted no time in finding his replacement as Belgian-born Jose Riga steps into the hotseat.

Despite the fact that the 56-year-old has no previous experience of English football, his appointment should come as little surprise. Duchatalet also owns Standard Liege and Riga was head coach there for a time, leading them to the last 16 of the UEFA Europa League during the 2011/12 season.

There appears to be a growing trend with clubs to appoint foreign managers or ‘head coaches’, but, of course, it is particularly the case when the owner comes from abroad too.

Duchatalet obviously wants to bring in someone he knows well and has worked with previously in the hope that he can lift the team out of the Championship relegation zone and to safety in the remaining 15 league fixtures.

He also seemingly wants to dictate as to which players come into the club. Five of Charlton’s six signings during the January transfer window came from European clubs which Duchatalet has links with.

None of those players started the FA Cup quarter-final against Sheffield United last weekend, so has that upset the owner? Maybe.

In the precarious position in which Charlton find themselves, it is a big risk bringing in someone who has no experience of the English game. Whether it is a risk worth taking, time will tell, but Riga has a big task on his hands if the Addicks are to be playing Championship football again next season.

Oldham owner threatens to quit if Latics go down

As published in the Tranmere Rovers matchday programme (25/3/14)

The owner and chairman of League One side Oldham Athletic, Simon Carney, has threatened to quit the club if his team gets relegated to League Two at the end of this season.

The Latics are involved in a relegation battle in League One with eight games to go this season but are currently on the right side of the relegation zone at time of writing.

But should they drop into that relegation zone and fall into English football’s fourth tier for the first time in over 40 years, Carney has said he would consider it a ‘personal failure’ and would step down as chairman and hand control of the football club over to the supporters.

Those supporters have been very critical of Carney’s running of the club in recent weeks in radio phone-ins and on internet forums, so perhaps his threat would give some of them a glimpse into the harsh realities of running a lower league football club.

Carney has put his faith in the Football League’s youngest manager Lee Johnson to guide the team out of trouble. When a lot of chairmen might have hit the panic button, Carney has made the brave decision to stick with Johnson when he could easily have gone down the lines of a tried and tested experienced manager in his place.

Off the pitch, it has not been an easy time for the Latics. Under-performing players were moved on but at a cost, while work on a new stand down one of the sides of Boundary Park has come at a greater cost than anticipated as the Football Foundation withdrew plans for a £700,000 grant.

League One survival will be key to ensuring that there are supporters to sit in the new seats once the development is completed. Playing the likes of Sheffield United will be more enticing to fans than facing the likes of Torquay United.

So in more ways than one, staying in League One is vital to the Boundary Park outfit. And to think that 20 years ago they were playing in the Premier League. Times have certainly changed and those good times of top-flight football seem a long way away right now.

Burnley flying high in the Championship

As published in the Tranmere Rovers matchday programme (1/3/2014)

At the top of the Championship, one team who are perhaps performing better than many people expected are Burnley. The Lancashire club got off to a flying start and many pundits were waiting for them to slide down the table, but they remain in second place in the league table as things stand with just 14 games remaining.

The Clarets boss Sean Dyche, or the ‘Ginger Mourinho’ as the Burnley fans like to call him, has done a tremendous job at Turf Moor. With fewer resources than many of the other clubs fighting at the business end of the standings, it is remarkable that they have maintained their lofty position for so long.

When you think that they lost their top goalscorer at the start of the season when Charlie Austin left to join rivals Queens Park Rangers, it is even greater testament to the job that Dyche has done there.

Forwards Danny Ings and Sam Vokes have stepped into the void left by Austin’s departure and, to be fair, he really hasn’t been missed with the strike duo notching an impressive total of 42 goals between them so far this season.

So where as Burnley appear to be over-achieving in the Championship, Austin’s new club QPR are almost certainly under-achieving.

Harry Redknapp’s squad is assembled with a large number of international and rather expensive players who, on paper, you’d think should be doing a great deal better than their 4th position in England’s second tier.

But having watched them in recent weeks, you’d wonder how they are as high in the league table as they are. They have lost their last three matches and look a shadow of the side you’d expect to see with such a costly squad.

Harry has ‘had to’ wheel and deal with an ‘emergency loan’ in the last couple of weeks, bringing in West Ham attacker Ravel Morrison to Loftus Road in a bid to stop the rot and get their promotion push back on course.

I’m not entirely sure it is an emergency when they have the likes of Shaun Wright-Phillips, Niko Kranjcar, David Hoilett and Yossi Benayoun at their disposal who all play in that attacking midfield role, but that’s a debate for another day.

With the calibre of players in their squad, they really should be making an instant return to the top flight. As it is, Burnley may have less quality in their ranks but they are all pulling in the same direction and that may be the difference which gives them a better chance of promotion ahead of Rangers.