Here we go again at last.
Over three years since the last Face to face international competition – with the World Championships first postponed in 2020 and then definitely cancelled in 2021 – the U16 are back to compete on stage at the Junior European Championships, in Veldhoven, Netherlands.
The disruptions that Covid has brought upon us don’t need to be repeated. For the youngsters playing bridge, on top of everything else, it has meant that those born in 2005 have lost completely the chance to play in a major tournament, at least as U16s.
For youngsters born in 2006 the EBL has decided, very aptly in my opinion, that up to two of them, that are now over age as at the end of last year, were eligible to be selected for this year’s Europeans.
That has meant that a group of very capable players, that normally would have all been selected, had to fiercely compete for two places. They had the chance to prove themselves at the Peggy Bayer back in February, which they dominated in style. And then at the Shapiro foursomes, where they were invited to play thanks to the generosity of an anonymous sponsor.
Once I had eventually made up my mind and selected the team, with the blessing of the Selection Committee that oversees all the internationals, some bad news came from the EBU’s headquarters.
The perduring difficult financial circumstances caused by a very slow return to face-to-face bridge have meant that our governing body has had to cut dramatically the funding for all Junior internationals.
Think about it: you have been stuck playing bridge in front of a screen for two years; yet you kept going at it, fighting for your dream; now that bridge is back and you have made the team, there is no money for it?
Thankfully individual members and the County associations have stepped up and came to the rescue in our moment of need. Surrey CBA, Dorset CBA, Kent CBA and HIoW CBA have generously donated to sponsor “their” kids in the U16 team. I cannot thank enough on behalf of my team the county officials and ultimately the county members for their generosity. The team is very determined to do you all proud.
I guess it’s time to introduce them.
Lucy Norman, from Dorset. The senior player, the playing captain of the team. Four years in the making, since I came across her at the Ardingly bridge camp organized by William Bourne.
Charlotte “Lottie” Bedford, from Hampshire and Isle of Wight. The team’s superstar, probably the youngest player in history to have played for England (I mean the grown-ups), who was recruited at EBED’s junior teach-in back in 2019.
Then the two Surrey boys; Will Battersby, who made his name at Richmond Bridge Club, when they were running junior bridge on Sunday afternoons before the pandemic; and Aman Parekh, who learnt at Wimbledon Bridge Club and was recruited there, when I attended a junior teach-in organized by Tim Warren.
Last, but not least, is Thomas “Tom” Furness from Kent, the new kid on the block; he has joined the squad only recently, after Lucy herself – who played with him a few games when Young Chelsea BC was running Friday evening games for juniors during the lockdowns – brought him to my attention.
As I write, we made it safely to the Netherlands. Not without some palpitations though. As I was scrambling to reach Stansted airport this morning, with many trains being cancelled because of the heat, the mum of one of the players called me saying that the son had been unwell for a few days and was not coming with us. Not today at least. The dad was hoping to bring him there, I mean here, tomorrow.
Long story short, the young man is here, is resting and hopefully will be playing the first match tomorrow morning!
During the opening ceremony I got another call. This time the dad of another of my young men, who had been reached by the Lost & Found at Veldhoven airport, where they had retrieved his bag with medications.
After some negotiations between the kid (“I don’t need them, they can wait till Sunday”) and the parents (“go and get them right now”) it has been decided we’ll go tomorrow afternoon, when we have a bye after the third match of the day.
Not too bad as a day zero!
Thankfully tomorrow the bridge begins.
By Giorgio Provenza (Youth Squad Leader)