WHEN the invitation arrived seeking a player to take part in an international bridge tournament in France, St Helens club secretary Bill Hogan played his trump card.

He called up an adopted daughter of St Helens to spearhead the town’s challenge… Martine Shepherd, who happens to be French.

The result was a triumph for retired university lecturer Martine and her partner – solicitor David Johnson – who crossed the Channel to claim third place.

The tournament was staged to mark years of friendship forged by the twinning of Chalon sur Saone with towns in St Helens, Novara in Italy, Solingen in Germany and Naestved in Denmark.

Martine (58) has been playing bridge for two years. Her pastime was born at Manchester Bridge Club, but with a home in Carr Mill she finds it easier to play three times each week in St Helens.

Bill, secretary of St Helens Bridge Club, said: “The Martine-David partnership is in its quite early stages, but I thought they would be ideal candidates to represent the town and the club, particularly with Martine being fluent in French. They did extremely well and the club is very pleased for them.

“Martine would be the first to agree that she is relatively at the novice stage, but her game is coming together very well, thanks to bridge sessions at our club meetings on Mondays and Tuesdays and her involvement in lessons we run on Wednesday mornings at the Lester Drive Community Centre.

“There were 32 players in France, so third spot was an outstanding performance.”

Martine speaks highly of the Wednesday classes she attends.

She said: “They have given me a much better understanding of the game and, importantly, built my confidence.

“I was surprised that David and I performed so well – it was a wonderful experience.”

The invitation came via St Helens Council, and once Martine and David had accepted, they were asked to carry a piece of modern art work – made, of course, from glass – to present to the town of Chalon sur Saone.

It was received by Francoise Dickson, who chairs the Chalon twinning committee.

The venue for the tournament was the Chalon Bridge Club, which boasts a membership of 180 – almost three times the size of St Helens Bridge Club.

Of the bridge showdown, Martine said “It was a very scary experience for me, because everyone was playing different systems.

“But it was very exciting and most rewarding. Our hosts were very pleasant, and it was a very jolly experience.”

The inaugural tournament was so successful there are plans to make it an annual event in the pretty little French town.