A bit like the Eurovision Song contest, Europe has always taken the Bakery World Cup slightly more seriously than we Brits have done. While our cousins on the mainland Continent take the contest to heart, with national heats and everything, Royaume-Uni has consistently scored ’nul points’.

Hardly surprising, given that we’ve never actually entered before - until now, that is. A team from the UK, sponsored by Tameside College, broke the duck by competing in the Western Europe regional heats at the end of 2007.

The prize was a place at the seventh Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, to give it its proper title, which will be hosted by Paris’ Europain bakery exhibition in April.

The UK team was up against stiff competition from Italy, Israel, Belgium, Spain and The Netherlands at the semi-finals in Lille, France. Rookie Gabrielle Baxter had just five months’ training under her belt, while Michael Wilde was a former student, fresh into employment at Slattery’s Patisserie and Chocolatier. The opposition were all full-time professionals.

Despite a valiant first-time effort in the Viennoiserie, baguettes and speciality bread and artistic displays, they eventually lost out to winner Spain, who took home the Louis Lesaffre Cup.

"They should be really proud of themselves, because the quality was up there with the rest of the teams," said Tameside’s team captain, bakery tutor Steven Salt, of his team. "They were up against professional bakers, they held their own and they can only get better. We’ll be back."

Runners-up Italy and The Netherlands completed the 12 teams battling it out for the World Cup. Over 35 countries in total took part across the increasingly competitive heats.

"The level of the teams is growing very rapidly - you cannot imagine the difference between three years ago and now," says Europain organiser Jean-Paul Broutin. Baker and World Cup organiser Christian Vabret adds that the event is a chance for bakers to update their image: "It enables us to communicate the passion of bakers, to bring this profession into the new Millennium and to bring together young people and give them ideas."

The Bakery World Cup finals will be held at Europain in Paris from 29 March to 2 April. For more details, see [http://www.europain.com].