Birthday cheers for Mansfield bridge club playing its cards right

Whether you consider bridge to be a sport or merely a hobby, it’s a pastime that has kept members of a Mansfield-based club entertained for the last 40 years.

Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 11:30 am
Checking their cards are two stalwarts of the bridge club, Tom and Jean Richardson, who have been married for 65 years. Tom is 90 and Jean celebrates her 90th later this year.

The South Mansfield and Blidworth Bridge Club is celebrating its ruby anniversary this year, and is on the lookout for new members as it emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic as healthy as ever.

"We are back to normal and we want to promote the fact that we are still here,” said club secretary Mike Gyles.

"We are up and running again, in a safe and secure environment.”

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Members of South Mansfield and Blidworth Bridge Club ready for another session in the club's 40th anniversary year.

For the record, Mike doesn’t believe bridge is a sport. “In my view, if it doesn’t make you sweat, it can’t be a sport,” he said.

But the International Olympic Committee has recognised the World Bridge Association as a sporting organisation. And who knows? We might yet see it at a future Olympiad, especially as it is one of the world’s most popular card games, played by millions in clubs, tournaments, online and with friends at home.

The South Mansfield club, one of 13 affiliated to the Nottinghamshire county association, prefers the friendly version of the game. As Mike says: “Although we have the opportunity to play in leagues and tournaments, we find the more competitive it gets, friendships are put under strain.

"Yes, there is a competitive element, but we play for the fun of it, for enjoyment.”

Club secretary Mike Gyles with wife Helen (right). They were inspired to take up bridge by Mike's sister-in-law, Julie Weremczuk (left).

For the uninitiated, bridge is a trick-taking game of skill and chance, played with randomly dealt cards by four players in two competing pairs. Tactics, communication and memory are key to success.

The South Mansfield club was launched in 1981. The last of its founder members, Ivan Haslam, died in 2019.

For 30 years, it has been based at the South Mansfield Community Centre on Bellamy Road in Mansfield and, in 2018, it amalgamated, for convenience purposes, with Blidworth Bridge Club, which had the same venue as its headquarters.

"Since the merger, we have gone from strength to strength,” said retired HR and payroll manager Mike.

Bridge is one of the most popular card games in the world, and is played by millions of people.

"We are proud of our reputation for being a warm and friendly club, where everyone is made welcome. We have players of all abilities, from those just learning to others who have played for years.”

The club meets on Monday, Tuesday and Friday evenings, for up to three hours per session, and currently has 55 members, who enjoy the social camaraderie of the club as well as the game.

Amazingly, two of its long-standing members, Tom Richardson, of Ravenshead, and Dorothy Beaves, of Sutton, celebrated their 90th birthdays earlier in the year, while a third, Tom’s wife Jean, is looking forward to hers.

Tom and Jean have been married for 65 years and have been playing bridge at the South Mansfield club for more than 30 of those. It is estimated they have attended more than 4,000 sessions!

Sprightly stalwart Tom Richardson, who has been a member of the bridge club for more than 30 years, marked his 90th birthday by playing an 18-hole round of golf with sons Peter and Andrew.

The presence of three nonagenarians rather reinforces the notion that bridge is a game more likely to attract players of a senior age than younger members of the community.

But the fact that Tom marked his milestone by playing in an 18-hole golf day at the Woodhall Spa course in Lincolnshire with sons Peter and Andrew proves that physical fitness is not necessarily lacking within the club!

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In any event, Mike, who himself is 71, has a sound theory about bridge’s generation game.

"It is true that bridge tends to associated with the older generation – and it is true that we are soon to have three nonagenarians,” he said.

"But it is, in reality, a game for players of all ages.

Concentration is key when playing bridge, as these members of the South Mansfield and Blidworth club show.

"What tends to happen is that people learn bridge at school or university, but often they then drift away before picking it up again at a later stage in life.”

It was a similar story with Mike himself, and wife Helen, who took up bridge only seven years ago after he had retired.

"My sister-in-law, Julie Weremczuk, who lives in Kirkby, was the catalyst for us,” he explained.

"She had been playing for about 20 years, and we knew she got a lot of fun out of it. She persuaded us to take it up and, about three years ago, I became club secretary.

"Things became quite difficult during the pandemic, especially communicating with everyone. But the job is enjoyable.”

Now Mike, who lives in Newton, near Tibshelf, is determined to ensure the club continues to flourish – and that means attracting fresh, and hopefully younger, members.

"We are looking to expand, so it is important that we extol the benefits of bridge and the social interaction that results from playing the game locally,” he said.

"As we look to grow and develop as a club, and attract newcomers to the game, we are considering starting informal daytime sessions on Mondays between 2 pm and 5 pm.

"This will be intended primarily for those learning or looking to improve their game.”

The club doesn’t offer formal training at the moment, but it does boast dedicated members who can provide one-to-one guidance, mentoring and practice sessions to help newcomers to bridge.

"We find that once people have got over the initial learning stage, very few turn away from the game after that,” added Mike.

"It gives them something to look forward to each week. Bridge really is a growing pursuit.

"It may not test your athletic abilities, but it certainly keeps your brain active, and it’s a great, and inexpensive, opportunity to meet people and have fun.”

If you fancy giving bridge a go, you should give Mike a call on 07947 845305 or 01773 872244. Alternatively, you can pop along to one of the club’s evening sessions at South Mansfield Community Centre.

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Bridge is a game for all ages and for women, as well as men.