Glasgow’s very own quidditch team is soaring

4 April 2019

The Glasgow Grim Reapers. Photograph: Mark Hill Photography

The Glasgow Grim Reapers are playing in British Quidditch Cup and have qualified for European tournament too. Is it time we took the sport seriously?

Quaffles and bludgers, chasers and beaters, Nimbus 2000’s and snitches, unless you’ve been hiding in Merlin’s cave for the past 20 years, you’ll know what franchise these terms pertain to. They are, of course, all elements of the boy wizard’s favourite hobby, quidditch.

The wizarding world of Harry Potter has always had connections to Scotland. J.K. Rowling wrote many of the magical novels in Edinburgh cafés and still lives in the city, not to mention that several iconic film moments were shot here. From Steall Falls in Glen Nevis, the backdrop for many a game of quidditch in the films, to the much-sought out train ride along the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Lochaber, where wee Harry first met his besties as they rode the Hogwarts Express to the school of witchcraft and wizardry for the first time.

But what if I told you, outside the grounds of the famous school, in the world of muggles, mere humans have adopted quidditch, the sport of witches and wizards, and can be seen playing with reckless abandon up and down the country.

Dumbledore would be turning in his grave, no doubt (assuming wizards have graves.)

But it is true, the sport exists, and it’s threatening to make it into the mainstream. The Glasgow Grim Reapers have been in existence for two years now and they are flying the flag for our city, but there are many more teams all over: St. Andrews Snidgets, Holyrood Hippogriffs and Stirling Dumyat Dragons are but some of the clubs listed on Quidditch UK’s website.

The hoops set up in Glasgow Green. Photograph: Calam Pengilly

This weekend will see teams from the UK gather in Newcastle at Northumbria University for the 6th edition of the British Quidditch Cup (BQC). Previous winners of the cup include: Velociraptors QC (2018, 2017), Oxford Radcliffe Chimeras (2013, 2016) and Southampton QC (2015)

It will be the Reapers first time competing at the BQC but they’re hopeful of their chances, having had a string of good results recently.

In January, the team became the first Scottish team ever to qualify for the European Quidditch Cup (EQC) after finishing fourth in the UK qualifiers and were runners-up in the Scottish Quidditch Cup on the 17 February, losing out in the final to Edinburgh 1sts.

Matěj Ballaty, captain of the Reapers and a chaser/keeper said of their chances: “I think we’re quite hard to predict right now because it’s the first time our team is going to the British Quidditch Cup and to EQC as well and as a quickly growing team we came out of nowhere to qualify in the first place, so it’ll be fun to watch what exactly happens.”

Chema Hidalgo Lopez, the team’s coach and chaser/keeper said: “Surprisingly we’ve done very well and now we’ve set the bar very high for ourselves, we finished fourth in the EQC qualifiers and now that means that we have to continue to do good. We’re not that worried about the position [for the BQC] so much because we have a lot of new players and we want them to be ready for the European Quidditch Cup.”

Glasgow Grim Reapers emblem. Image: The Glasgow Grim Reapers

According to the Quidditch Premier League (QPL) the sport is the only full-contact, mixed gender sport in the world. Their website says:

“A quidditch team consists of 18 athletes with 7 players per team on the field at any one time. Each player must be mounted on a broom when in play. The four maximum rule of quidditch states that at most there can be four players of the same gender on pitch at one time. This ensures that the game is mixed gender and inclusive to all.”

Players on a team. Infographic: Calam Pengilly

I was always more of a football/basketball kind of guy myself, but I can see the attraction of the sport. It’s a complicated game that demands many different aspects of a player’s physical and cognitive capacities. With various different facets of the game to watch out for and be aware of, it’s perhaps more intricate than any other sport I’ve played.

The Reapers were keen to stress this point to me and want it to be seen for what it is: a physically demanding and complex sport.

The quidditch field. Infographic: Calam Pengilly

It’s easy to brush it aside as a nerdy activity on a par with the likes of LARPing and geocaching, but unlike those activities, it is developing a large following and player numbers are increasing all the time.

The QPL says that the sport is played by over 25,000 people in 40 different countries.

Whether the sport will continue to grow after the players who grew up with Pottermania remains to be seen. You can’t help but feel that if it doesn’t make it as internationally recognised sport in the next decade or so then it doesn’t stand much chance and will be consigned to the annals of niche sporting history.

But there is traction within the game, evidenced by the sheer number of competitions popping up all over the globe, not least the International Quidditch Association World Cup which has been held bi-annually since 2012.

There is also the semi-professional Quidditch Premier League, founded in 2016, which contains 17 teams from five nations, including the UK, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

Personally, I hope the sport continues to grow in popularity and that more people are taken in by the magic of the game. For too long we’ve been stuck with the same old boring sports that were invented centuries ago, it’s time we showed some imagination and curiosity about other modes of having fun, because that’s what sport is supposed to be, right?

I challenge you all to search for your local quidditch club and join in on a training session. If they’re anything like the Glasgow Grim Reapers they’ll offer you a warmer welcome than you’d be likely to receive from your local football or rugby club. Ignore the strange looks you’re likely to receive from baffled members of the public, or better yet ask them to get involved too. Go on, what are you waiting for, get out on your broom, you’re a wizard [insert your name here.]

You can follow the Reaper’s exploits at both the BQC and the EQC on their Facebook page here.

If you’d like to support our very own witches and wizards on their journey to Belgium for the EQC 11-12 April then you can do so by contributing towards their travel costs at their gofundme page here.

Video: Calam Pengilly

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