Report by Jeff Morris (Manchester Bridge Club):
At a special reception held in the Lord Mayors Parlour at Manchester Town Hall the Lord Mayor of Manchester, Councillor Mavis Smitheman, said she was delighted to welcome the Manchester Bridge Association to the Town Hall and to congratulate the players on their remarkable achievements on the world stage. Other sporting heroes from last year’s Beijing Games have been honoured by the City and it was fitting that the achievements of our Mind Sports Competitors should be equally celebrated and applauded.
Kevin Comrie, Chairman of the Manchester County Bridge Association, responded by saying that as a Mancunian he was proud of his home town and proud of the successes of Mancunians especially those he knew personally. He introduced from the Manchester Bridge Association delegation a number of distinguished players -Michelle Brunner, former World and European Champion and current England player, Barbara Hackett former World Champion and current German International, John Holland current England Player, Kath Nelson former European Silver Medallist and current England Player, and Paul Hackett, former World Championship finalist ,England player, and captain of the winning European team in last years Europe vs America match. He also introduced two Manchester members of the Board of the English Bridge Union who have done much for bridge on the National stage, Alan Nelson, former Chairman of the English Bridge Union Tournament Committee and Jeff Morris owner of Manchester Bridge Club and the inspiration behind the inaugural Commonwealth Nations Bridge Championship, held in Manchester in 2002.
Kevin then went on to say that today's gathering was to celebrate the latest achievements of three Manchester players in Beijing. He introduced Michael Byrne to the Lord Mayor.
Michael Byrne is a graduate of Manchester University. Since finishing there some 6 years ago Michael has made huge contributions to local and national youth Bridge. Michael is a very good player in his own right. As a junior he represented England 14 times. Since turning 25 he has twice been selected for English Open teams. He is Squad manager of the English Under-20 team giving his time and energy over many weekends to encourage and train young bridge players. His hard work with the juniors was rewarded in Beijing in October when he captained the under 20 team to a Silver medal, losing narrowly to favourites France in a closely contested final.
Kevin then went on to introduce twins Jason and Justin Hackett. He recalled with pride that in 1996 he was lucky enough to be in the Town Hall to celebrate Gold Medals won at the World Junior Championships in Bali by the British team containing the twins. Since then Jason and Justin have moved effortlessly from Junior Champions into the Open Bridge Scene and have become the backbone of the England Open team. Currently Justin is 22nd and Jason is 26th in the World Rankings. No other English players are ranked in the top 50.
Last year Justin and Jason were selected for the English Open team in the World Mind Sports. The Open teams championship is universally regarded as the premiere championship of the World Mind Sport Games. It is played over two weeks and players can play over 100 hours of bridge within this period. It requires skill, endurance, patience, intense concentration and good temperament.
England surpassed all previous achievements in reaching the final where they faced Italy, the favourites, whose six players are all ranked in the world top seven! After a closely fought contest played over two days Italy emerged as narrow winners and England took the silver medal. Arguably this was the best ever performance by an English team. Jason and Justin are a credit to Manchester and the game of bridge.
At the end of the reception the Lord Mayor presented Chairman of the Manchester County Bridge Association, Kevin Comrie, with a hand painted Manchester Coat of Arms.
by Jeff Morris