Quidditch? It’s all a question of sport to UK team vice-captain Bill Orridge

UK vice-captain Bill Orridge finds space against Belgium at the European Cup EMN-151126-155340002
UK vice-captain Bill Orridge finds space against Belgium at the European Cup EMN-151126-155340002
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STANDFIRST – Within a quiet Melton cul-de-sac, a revolution is slowly bubbling.

Here, fending off the jibes and taunts of naysayers, the UK vice-captain is plotting world domination for his beloved sport; quidditch.

Team UK line up for the anthems. Quidditch is fiercely proud of its inclusivity - every team must feature both men and women EMN-151126-155328002

Team UK line up for the anthems. Quidditch is fiercely proud of its inclusivity - every team must feature both men and women EMN-151126-155328002

Melton Times sports editor CHRIS HARBY learns all about Harry Potter’s favourite game and its quest for credibility. Snigger at your peril, muggles.

For sports journalists manning regional news desks, debates on what constitutes a ‘sport’ are regular ragers.

The parameters are stretched weekly by attempts to infiltrate column inches with reports, results and tables of activities and games thinly masquerading as sport.

Quiz leagues, dominoes, dancing, a variety of card games - crib, whist, bridge - Scrabble even.

Bill scores against Southampton Quidditch Club at the British Quiddicth Cup in March 2015 EMN-150112-085745002

Bill scores against Southampton Quidditch Club at the British Quiddicth Cup in March 2015 EMN-150112-085745002

A host of what grumbling hacks would call hobbies, all vying for legitimate inclusion at the back end of the paper.

You could well imagine the spluttering of coffee and offended outrage when a tip-off comes in about a great sports story involving quidditch - the game invented by author JK Rowling as a vehicle for up-and-coming wiz Harry Potter to strut his stuff.

Cynicism and suspicion of change is ingrained in human nature, and a trait practiced with particular vigour by the British.

If you’re going to be a disciple of something new, a stout constitution and iron will are essential.

Bill Orridge (left) and Team UK team-mates, Tom Norton and Lucy Quidditch with their European Games silver medals EMN-150112-085758002

Bill Orridge (left) and Team UK team-mates, Tom Norton and Lucy Quidditch with their European Games silver medals EMN-150112-085758002

UK vice-captain Bill Orridge and his partner Charli Davies, the captain of Loughborough Longshots, don’t mind the odd brickbat.

They can give as good as they get.

Having become hooked on quidditch as students at Loughborough University, they are on a mission to pluck it from the page and into our sporting consciousness.

“Now it’s starting to get recognition, people know the name, but haven’t seen it so don’t see it as a legitimate sport,” Bill said.

Longshots pile on Orridge after taking the snitch to seal third place at the Northern Cup in Durham EMN-150112-085813002

Longshots pile on Orridge after taking the snitch to seal third place at the Northern Cup in Durham EMN-150112-085813002

“We get a lot of that ‘it’s a stupid game for stupid people’, but that’s something we will have to live with until people start to see it more.”

Whatever your viewpoint, the figures don’t lie.

There were 24 teams in the UK in 2014 when a national league was formed, still a relatively tiny figure, but a 50 per cent rise on the previous year.

Tournaments are organised throughout the year, including northern and southern qualifiers for the British Quidditch Cup - their version of the FA Cup - which is played over two days every March.

Quidditch has become particularly well developed in America, Canada, Australia and France, but it’s also played widely across Europe as well as China, Malaysia and Mexico.

For Bill, Charli and quidditch’s national governing body, Sport England recognition by 2020 is the next target.

“We are massively helped because it’s quidditch and has the Harry Potter association,” Bill said.

“It’s good that we have it. Other new sports could only dream of the media coverage we get.

“That creates interest and opportunities to bring more people into the sport.”

You couldn’t hope for a better marketing tool than a global best-selling book, box office phenomenon and a cult following.

But the world of fictionalised fantasy is like marmite and divides opinion as readily.

Potter aficionados flock to the sport without the faintest idea of what it involves.

But there are plenty more sceptics who wouldn’t touch it with a wand-shaped bargepole.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Bill explains.

“There are some people who think they like Harry Potter and will go and try it out, and others think ‘it’s Harry Potter, it will be a stupid sport for people running around trying to cast spells’ and such gibberish.”

Charli added: “Mostly people ask ‘do you fly?’ and ‘how do the broomsticks work?’”

Don’t be fooled, like the stories, quidditch has its darker elements.

There’s napalming and suicide snitch (now toned down to cold catching).

Goal hangers are ‘trolls’ who can score from either side of the hoop.

We are not talking a gentle game of tag here.

“Generally most people’s reaction is quite condescending,” Bill adds. “But once they see people being rugby-tackled to the floor they soon change.

“I accidentally dislocated the shoulder of the UK team captain in a (club) game.

“When we played the French in the European Cup final, their captain went off at half-time with a broken collarbone and rib.

“I’ve been fortunate so far - I’ve only had twisted ankles and a nosebleed.”

Bill was brought up on a conventional diet of popular mainstream sport.

He captained his junior football side at Mowbray Rangers, was a decent swimmer and a good enough 800m runner to qualify for county championships.

He remains a keen footballer, but is inspired more by the blank canvas a fledgling sport offers.

“I was raised on football, but enjoy quidditch as much.

“With football, it’s all there and been done and there isn’t anything left to develop.

“Quidditch is still developing. You can come up with new tactics and new ways to improve.

“I was coach at Loughborough last year and spent most of my summer holidays learning different things for the team. During quiet days at work I would scribble away ideas.”

Perhaps it was such dedication to his craft, as well as the embryonic nature of quidditch, which earned him an honour you and I could only dream of.

The chance to play for your country.

“It’s a small sport, but it’s not every day you get picked for a national team.

“It was more of a surprise when the coach asked me to be vice-captain.

“It’s still a young sport and there aren’t as many people playing, so you can reach the next level quite quickly if you work at it.”

Despite a growing worldwide market, UK quidditch is still enjoying a successful honeymoon period in international competition.

Last year Bill helped guide them to the European Cup final against France.

And while a fresh new sport, the old national rivalries still burn deep, as his tone betrays while reliving the French clash.

“We lost in the final when they caught the snitch and won 90-50.

“In football terms it was like conceding a 93rd-minute winner.”

A casual passer-by chancing upon a game of quidditch in full swing, may first get a sense of anarchy rather than sorcery.

There are 14 players on the pitch, but each side has a squad of 21 and the use of rolling substitutions would challenge the strongest of reporters to keep track.

And then there are three separate games within a game.

It may sound as orderly as the queues for the Tube at rush hour, but to the initiated, it’s organised chaos.

“It’s very tactical and very technical - a cross between handball and rugby,” Bill explains.

“It has the same passing and movement as handball with the full contact aspect of rugby.

“You have to learn to throw a ball, and run and catch a ball while holding a broom.”

Firstly, the chasers - the equivalent of strikers - try to put the quaffle (a deflated volleyball) through a hoop. That’s 10 points.

Then you have two beaters per side - quidditch’s version of spoiling midfielders.

Their job is to hustle for possession of three dodgeballs, or ‘bludgers’ in parlance, and throw them at opposition chasers who, when hit, are temporarily put out of action.

Still with me?

The third and final part of game is the seeker, the potential matchwinner.

They are there to catch the snitch.

In the banal real world, playing with feet of clay and minus the magic and CGI, snitches are a tennis ball in a sock draped from the back of the shorts.

If successful, the game ends and a whopping 30-point bonus is yours.

If that sounds simple, it isn’t.

Bill: “You can only grab the snitch sock, not the runner who can do anything to get away from you.

“You get big, powerful snitches who put you on the floor and hold you there until you give up.”

And there’s one final spanner in the works.

Bill: “It was created as a homage to Harry Potter so the broomstick element is there.

“If the broom comes out from between your legs you have to return to your hoop before you can come back into play.

“It’s there as a handicap to make sure it’s about technical ability and stops huge powerful people dominating the game.

“You can go up against anyone”

Bill and Charli are keen to market quidditch’s value as a genuinely unisex affair, a boast as rare as hen’s teeth in competitive sport.

With corruption reportedly rife among the besuited male-dominated hierarchies of football and athletics, perhaps sport is in need of some fresh ideas and a bit of wide-eyed innocence.

That might be stretching the case for quidditch, but it’s at least worth putting the sneering aside without actually taking a look.

Bill said: “We pride ourselves most on being, as far as we can, the only equal opportunities sport out there.

“There must be players of both genders on the field at all times.

“Quidditch also recognises transgender people. It allows them to be themselves and be comfortable playing sport.”

“There are quite a few women in our squad so that helps to get others in,” Charli added.

“And there are plenty of girls in our team who enjoy tackling blokes.

“There are a lot of very active feminists.”

A founder member of the Harry Potter Society at Loughborough University, Charli was happy to shrug off the inevitable jibes, and drive quidditch on within the sports-dominated institution.

After lengthy health and safety risk assessments, the game flourished on campus, convincing them to form Loughborough Longshots

Just two years on from their launch, the Longshots are ranked fourth in Britain and 13th in Europe.

“It started just as Harry Potter fans who wanted to play the game,” she said.

“Now it’s athletes who have never seen the films or read the books.

“We didn’t want people to think they had to be Harry Potter fans.”

Convincing the anti-Potter brigade is one thing.

Taking quidditch out of the universities and into the wider marketplace of minority sport - let alone the mainstream - is a greater challenge altogether.

Only three of the current 24 teams are independent of universities.

But Bill is confident quidditch can survive the end of degree courses and, like the books, court mass appeal beyond the campus.

“Every year people will be graduating and want to keep playing so we hope more teams will be set up around the country.

“We are not financially that capable yet because we’re only four years old in the UK, but we are growing quickly.”