From fiction to field: a beginner’s look at quidditch
With little team sports experience and a whole lot of misplaced enthusiasm, Jack Moran dives headfirst into the fast-paced world of one of the university’s most unusual games.
When I first heard that the University of Newcastle had a quidditch team, I was fairly sceptical and more than a little bemused. As little more than a casual Harry Potter fan and with no interest in team sports, it seemed like it wasn’t the game for me. This year, however, while meandering through the O-Week stalls and desperately trying to think of a blog article to pitch I impulsively signed up to see just what all the fuss was about.
My first taste of quidditch was from one of the trial sessions held by UoN’s own team, the Fireballs. There I was given a crash course in the game’s basic rules and techniques, then thrown into my very first game. Like its fictional counterpart, quidditch is a complex game and not necessarily one made any simpler by the real-world players’ inability to fly. In terms of gameplay, the sport is in many ways a fusion of rugby, basketball and dodgeball with the aim of scoring as many points as possible by putting the quaffle (a volleyball) through any of the three hoops on the opposing team’s side of the field.
Keep in mind that while you’re playing this hybridised game, you’re also required to have a broom between your legs – meaning you have to run, catch, throw and even tackle while riding a piece of wood. Expect to hear and see plenty of jokes and sight gags about that particular phrasing while you’re playing. If you ever drop the broom, it’s called a dismount and you are out of play until you run back to your own team’s hoops and remount. I’m told this rule is meant to simulate what would happen if you were to fall from a flying broom but I distinctly remember that being a more bone-breaking scenario in the novels.
On a quidditch team there are a maximum of seven players on the field at a time with free substitutions through the game. Each of the players can be one of four positions: Chaser, Beater, Keeper, and Seeker. These positions are all based on those found in the Harry Potter series and have very different responsibilities and specific rules applied to them during the match.
First up are the chasers – the team members responsible for scoring points. The three Chasers on each team are playing what constitutes the basketball part of the game and are in charge of getting the quaffle into a hoop. Offensively, this position is all about speed and placement, ensuring you’re in the right spot at the right time to help your fellow chasers set up and score. Defensively, you’re marking the other team’s chasers to interrupt their plays and take possession of the quaffle.
Next up are the beaters. Beater is a highly strategic position, often not recommended for new players. As a suck for punishment, this was of course the position I played first. Each team’s two beaters are effectively playing a game of dodgeball with each other and every other player on the field. When a beater hits another player with one of the three bludgers (a slightly deflated dodgeball) on the field at a time, the player is immediately dismounted and has to drop any ball they may be carrying. When on the offense, the beaters’ goal is to protect their chasers from getting dismounted by the opposing team’s beaters. On defence, naturally, their role is to attack the chaser currently holding the quaffle.
There’s only one keeper on a team and are very similar to goalkeepers found in other sports as they try and prevent any goals being scored. They are invulnerable from bludgers and other players while in the keeper zone around their hoops. When attacking, however, the keeper also acts as a fourth chaser to help score. The key responsibility of a keeper is that they fulfil the crucial leadership role in the team, coordinating plays and positions during the game.
For an outsider, seeker is arguably the most glamorous of all the positions on the field – it is after all the position preferred by our favourite lightning-shaped scarred protagonist. Their only job is to catch the snitch, represented on the field by a non-player wearing yellow shorts with a tennis ball tail. They are put into play 18 minutes into the game and the game ends when the snitch is caught. The successful seeker earns their team a further 30 points, much less than the 150 points depicted in the series.
As I mentioned earlier, quidditch is a tackle sport and is full contact. A player can only tackle a player with a ball and the tackle must be from the front and one handed. Chasers can only tackle chasers – and the keeper when they’re out of the keeper zone. Beaters can only tackle beaters. In this sense, the game can get dangerous with concussions a possibility if you haven’t been taught how to tackle or fall correctly – although this is one of the first things I was shown during the quick lesson before my first game.
For someone who considers himself fairly active, one thing I noticed about quidditch is just how physically exhausting it can be. All of the positions on the field spend their time running around and if you’re dismounted as frequently as I am, you will definitely start to tire fast. This is especially the case if you’re playing a game with few substitutes and you’re on the field for long periods of time. Something else you’ll figure out quickly is that despite all odds, the broom is nowhere near as uncomfortable or unsettling as it might seem. While initially awkward to run with and even more difficult to catch with, after a short while of playing you start to forget about it and adapt easily to the added challenge.
Beyond the physical aspects of the game, the key thing I’ve noticed from my six weeks and counting of quidditch is how friendly the players are. Despite my general ineptness at the sport, the other players have always been more than patient and helpful – happy to offer sage-like wisdom on strategy and rules. Perhaps it’s because of the unique nature of the sport itself, but there is definitely a strong sense of community surrounding the sport that you can’t help but want to be a part of.
If you’re interested in quidditch at UON, check out the University of Newcastle Quiddtich Club Facebook page to find out more.
Feature image: Screenshot from Movieclips on Youtube.