The reference may be ageing - the first Harry Potter book was released back in 1997 - but the game of Muggle Quidditch is beginning to take off in Britain. What it lacks in flying broomsticks and a golden Snitch, it makes up for in enthusiasm and competitive play from both the players and supporters.
The first British Quidditch Cup takes place this November, in Oxford, and two teams from Scottish universities are set to attend. The St Andrews Snidgets and the Holyrood Hippogriffs - Edinburgh University’s team - and both hope to bring home the Quidditch Cup. Serious contenders can even go on the play in the European regionals, and perhaps one day the World Quidditch Cup. Currently, this sport has been dominated by American teams, but the popularity of the game has been slowly growing in the UK.
So, without magic how does a game of Quidditch work? The rules are in fact very simple. Teams are made up of seven as in regular Quidditch: three chasers, two beaters, one keeper and one seeker. Each player must always be carrying a broomstick between their legs. Three chasers handle the Quaffle, a volleyball, with each goal scoring 10 points. Beaters use dodgeballs as Bludgers, knocking players aside. If hit by a Bludger, a player must run the length of the pitch back to their teams hoops before being able to take part in the game again. Finally, the seeker is in charge of capturing the Snitch - a small ball attached to the waist of a neutral athlete dressed in yellow, whose mission is to stay as far away from players for as long as possible - even if this means climbing a tree to get out the way.
Quidditch is actually much more active that one would first expect, considering the idea originates from literature. According to Cory Faniel, captain of the St Andrews Snidgets, it is an exhausting yet addictive sport to take part in: “I was covering the fifth Quidditch World Cup for a French Harry Potter website and I got hooked. Since then, I really wanted to play Quidditch and, because there was no team where I was, I decided to create one. The sport is fairly exhausting. Every time you get hit by a bludger you have to run back to your hoops, which can lead to a lot of running back and forth.”
Johnney Rhodes, captain of the Holyrood Hippogriffs, admits his interest in the game stems from wanting to get involved in something a little bit extraordinary: “I hadn’t played very many sports before and this was to me a unique, new opportunity to run around and have fun. It seemed to be very much its own special sport and its strangeness fuelled my wish to be part of it.”
The Holyrood Hippogriffs claimed the title of being Scotland’s first Quidditch team, whilst the St Andrews Snidgets are just under a year old. Both teams have enjoyed a steady growth and are looking forward to competing in Oxford the autumn. Practice has been rigorous to prepare for the upcoming event.
Cory explained what a normal 2-hour practice looks like for his Quidditch team: “We have the necessary warm-ups, then some drills we designed for Quidditch or borrowed from other sports. We have to practice catching a volley ball single-handedly or grabbing a ball from the ground before an opponent. Then we try to improve throwing accuracy for our beaters and chasers, or ambidexterity for our seeker. But we mostly work on strategy with scrimmage games.”
The two captains are keen to encourage other students in Scotland to get involved in the magical game. Whilst many Scottish university sports associations had expressed an interested in setting up a team, including Glasgow, most have been unsuccessful. Teams need as many as twenty-one players, due to the large amount of substitutions which take place during a match.
The sport may look confusing to newcomers, even those who are clued up on Harry Potter, but the high number of teams across the world highlights how enjoyable Quidditch can be. There are now well over 1000 unofficial teams globally, 71 of which are from the UK according to the International Quidditch Association. Johnney and teammate Emily Starbuck, who founded the Holyrood Hippogriffs, last year represented the UK alongside other players across the country in the Quidditch Summer Games.
The Highlander Cup, hosted by the Holyrood Hippogriffs, was the first UK team championship and the British Quidditch Cup hopes to feed of its success. Johnney speaks of the competition with pride and ambition: “Our team has competed, and will continue to compete, in a range of competitions. In March we even hosted the Highlander Cup, but our real dream is to take the team Stateside for the World Cup.”
So does everyone who competes in Muggle Quidditch have to be a huge Harry Potter buff? Johnney tells me that most of the Hippogriffs are: “Our team is mainly huge fans. For example, as well as being captain, I am also head of Gryffindor at the University’s Harry Potter society - and most of the team hold ranks within the society. But we are far from the norm.”
And he’s right; Cory tells me the divide between fans and non-fans on the Snidgets is about equal: “The ratio of Potter fans and sports fans in our team is fairly 50:50. Some came for Harry Potter, some came by curiosity and some came because we kindly forced them to. In the end, they stayed for the sport and the spirit. We definitely have non-Harry Potter fans in the team. Since it’s a new sport, we all started from ground zero; nobody has ever played it before and everyone can bring something in. People who played handball, basketball, rugby or American football before help with their experience for strategy - but they still have to adapt to the bludgers and the brooms!”
The whole deal certainly sounds intriguing, if a little nerdy too. Perhaps if a Scottish team comes home with the British Quidditch Cup, Glasgow’s competitive fire will be ignited and we could be sending our own team to take part next year. For a university that looks like Hogwarts, you'd think we wouldn't be able to resist joining the fun.