For the freshers among you, that headline you just clicked on may be your first encounter with the University Quidditch Club, or indeed the very idea of Muggle Quidditch. Others may be aware of us, or have even caught a glimpse of our Uni Parks practice sessions. Regardless of your familiarity with Quidditch, the reaction is probably much the same: a sort of confuddled bemusement, followed by a faint chuckle.
Given that Potter-loving and sports-playing Oxfordians combined must equal well over half the student population, why is this such a common reaction? Perhaps it is because neither Potterphiles nor sportspeople can fully grasp Quidditch: the former are perturbed by their beloved fiction’s transformation into a sport in its own right; the latter feel uneasy about a sport that, in its original form, was never intended to be played. We, on the other hand, believe that an introduction to the sport can give the lie to both groups’ reservations. We’ve come a long way in eight years, and we think what we do merits a response beyond bemusement. Welcome to Quidditch.
The first thing to mention is that yes, we do run around with brooms, and no, we do not aspire to become the world’s first airborne sport. Having to keep a wooden stick between your legs not only looks hilarious, it also serves as a vital handicap to mobility, stability and throwing accuracy. This means that the three Chasers have to develop a precise throwing arm and positional awareness, unless they want to be on the wrong end of Quidditch’s physical contact rules: wrapping, grabbing limbs and tackling to the ground are all condoned and encouraged.
The Chasers’ ultimate goal is to score 10 points by getting the Quaffle (a volleyball, slightly deflated so it can be held with one hand) through the opposing team’s hoops, but being tackled isn’t the only threat they face. Both teams are aided and abetted by a pair of Beaters wielding partially deflated dodgeballs known as Bludgers, which are thrown at opponents to send them back to their hoops. Beaters tend to take a slightly unhealthy relish in this task, neatly epitomised in the technical term ‘facebeat’.
Even if your Beaters manage to gain control of the three Bludgers on pitch and neutralise any opposing Chasers, you still have one final hurdle: the Keeper. Not only are they immune to Bludgers whilst near their hoops, Keepers usually have the physique of a rugby player, with overwhelming stopping power to match. To get past all these hurdles, a team can’t just run blindly into the mêlée – they have to think first.
Of course, while all this is going on, somewhere far outfield the most iconic figure of Quidditch lurks: the Snitch, with two Seekers hot on its tail. And we mean ‘tail’ literally – the Snitch is an actual person, who is caught by grabbing a ‘tail’ consisting of a sock and a tennis ball behind their back.
Now, to you this may seem ridiculous. You’re right, it is ridiculous, but it is also brilliant. Having our Snitch as an actual person with free roam of Uni Parks gives enormous scope for tactical decisions which often verge on insanity, such as a certain player’s infamous dip in the River Cherwell. Furthermore, when the Snitch eventually returns to the pitch they can grapple, wrestle and throw the Seekers to evade capture, making for a nail-biting finish. A successful Snitch catch is only worth 30 points, rather than Rowling’s 150. However, not only does this balance the game, but it makes the Snitch catch a matter of intricate timing; if your Seeker doesn’t know you’re 40 points behind, their catch could actually lose you the game.
The game outlined above is extremely simplistic, yet I hope it gives you some idea of the pleasure and depth that can be found in Quidditch. I’d also like to think it points to an answer to the ‘reservations’ discussed above: Quidditch is a sport that blends the sublime and the ridiculous, and we welcome people regardless of whether they’re turning up for one , the other, or both.
Over the coming weeks we’ll be introducing you to some of the men and women who play this sport (as in the books, Quidditch is a mixed-gender affair), both in our top-flight Radcliffe Chimeras and our burgeoning second team, the Quidlings, as they discuss their excitement and preparation for the inaugural British Quidditch Cup. This is being hosted by Oxford on the 9th and 10th of November, and promises to be a thrilling event, with a Bangor-Oxford rematch and 16 teams competing. But in the meantime, why take my word for it? We practise at noon every Saturday in University Parks. Look for the hoops.