A sadly-obsessed Harry Potter fan since the age of six, I had high expectations for Muggle Quidditch and nursed a hope that it would be everything I had ever dreamed. A small part of me fantasized that I’d be nimbly sailing through the skies like Oliver Wood on a Nimbus 2000. I had heard rumours that the sport had, inevitably, been adopted by Oxford and was fascinated to see what it would actually entail. How could a game that relied so heavily on the possibility that children as young as 11 could fly around on pieces of wood in the air pelting each other with dangerous bludgers work in the real world?
Arriving at University Parks to the fourth meeting of the Oxford Quidditch society and excited to be the Angelina Johnson of Oxford, I could see that it wasn’t exactly as I’d pictured it. To replicate the Quidditch experience on land, players must run around a small pitch with a ‘broomstick’ (usually a mop) wedged between their legs at all times, an entirely redundant practice that seems to just get in the way of any smooth athletic manoeuvrings. I was put into Ravenclaw team and assigned the role of the keeper, and Will a Hufflepuff chaser. I was feeling confident: Hufflepuff are traditionally known more for being “really nice” than their mean Quidditch prowess. I had a chance of victory and finally making my name in the Quidditch world.
The rules were thus: the ‘quaffle’ and two ‘bludgers’ are placed in the middle of the field. The chasers try to score by throwing the quaffle into one of three goal hoops. Each goal is worth 10 points. Beaters try to ‘peg’ players with their bludger. If a player is ‘pegged’, they have to stop what they’re doing and pay a penalty: run back to the goal post or sit down. Keepers guard the goal posts at each end and attempt to block chasers’ attempts at scoring. Seekers try to tackle the snitch (a player dressed in yellow running around the pitch) by grabbing a sock attached to their trackies. When the snitch is ‘caught’, the game ends.
I quickly came to realize that being a Quidditch ‘keeper’ wasn’t exactly my calling. I let in about three goals in the first twenty minutes and there was a bitter consensus among my teammates that I wasn’t taking Muggle Quidditch seriously enough. Soon the score was heavily in Hufflepuff’s favour: 80 points to our pitiful 30. Eventually, the “Snitch” was released into the game. The boy dressed in yellow ran valiantly and was, eventually, caught by the Hufflepuff seeker. The game was over. The score? 180 to 30. My Quidditch career, it seemed, was over, and wouldn’t even qualify for a sentence on my future Wikipedia page.
I was wrong not to take the sport seriously though. Quidditch is a growing phenomenon. The first intercollegiate Quidditch World Cup was held in 2007 at Middlebury College in Vermont. In 2011, the Quidditch World Cup was held in New York City. Described by Fox News as like ‘a cross between the Superbowl and a Medieval Festival’, TIME Magazine put it best in their coverage of the 2010 World Cup: ‘Quidditch is a sport striving for legitimacy. It has a rule book, a governing body (the International Quidditch Association, a nonprofit) and its own live streaming webcasts. Its players move with the grace and ferocity of top athletes; the best of them look like lacrosse players and hit like linebackers. All told, 46 teams from the U.S. and Canada vie for the Cup, and hundreds more franchises are just getting started. For a five-year-old sport, it’s a remarkable ascension.’
‘Leave the book at home, this sport is real,’ confidently proclaims the website. Yet, as a sport in its own right, I’m not so sure. Without knowledge of Harry Potter and the ingenious world JK Rowling created, I’m not certain the game would exist successfully. But as a way to escape our early adulthood and Oxford life, Muggle Quidditch is wizard. I’d recommend it to anyone as the perfect way to meet like-minded people, indulge nostalgia, and grow up on your own terms.
Quidditch is the newest sport on the block, and I fancied my chances at it. I knew that Matilda just did not have what it took for our game of Muggle Quidditch. My eye for the snitch, my instinctive rapport with the broom, my canny awareness when it came to knowing the position of the beaters would edge it over her self-imposed decision to be a keeper (a somewhat cowardly position of course). I was Hufflepuff (surely the sporty house) and felt reassured as we screamed the name into the air before both teams charged at each other.
Quidditch is serious; it’s violent. As you run down the pitch broomed men are chasing after you, hunting you eagerly with their quaffles. A quaffle to the head is not unusual and a fall off the broomstick brutal (if only for the chaser’s bruised dignity). The chasers are as vigorous in their tackling as the finest rugby blue; they have eyes only for the quaffle and want it there and then. A lean, mean Quidditch veteran explains it to me: ‘People think Quidditch is geeky. But they change their minds when they see it is fucking violent’. I worry about what I have got myself in for, while resenting Matilda keenly for the cop-out of keeper status.
Quidditch has already had as many controversies as some of the longest established sports in the University. The Harry Potter Society had tried to rein in and control Quidditch Society, their younger offshoot. They thought control should rest with the Harry Potterites, and that the Quiddites were too liberal in their understanding of the rules. The idea of a quarter blue being awarded in the first Varsity match this coming year is sure to upset some people. It seems any sport, no matter how magical, is always dragged into scandal.
On the Quidditch pitch I take a while to get to grips with the game. The beaters seem to be very content to mutually bludgeon themselves to destruction, while the chasers continue with the game. This functions like a game of rugby but without the brutality (despite what I had been warned). Boys and girls play together in a harmonious game of running to each end of the pitch. Serious competition is absent and there is the chance of playing sport together in a quaint and amusing way. There is also a lot of laughter and the ever-present Harry Potter jokes (if only we had our wands, I need a firewhiskey, S.O.S. Mudbloodism).
Yet my competitive side had come out in full. Matilda had been a confused keeper; she conceded easy goals and seemed ill at ease on the broom. My own team keeper loudly heckled her: ‘What is that keep DOING?’ she bellowed. But my own play had been ineffectual. I had been bludgeoned and had a pass intercepted. I needed to step up my game.
Flying to the side of the pitch I screamed for the quaffle. I caught it one handed keeping my broom snugly in place and then sprinted up the side of the pitch. I dodged and darted niftily between attempts from enemy beaters and the crowd and team roared me on. As I approached the goal it was just me against the keeper and the three hoops attached to the tree. I sidestepped the keeper, I was one on one, but at the very last moment my throw faltered and the ball missed the hoop. There was a collective groan from all of Hufflepuff, I was belatedly bludgeoned, and I trod back to my side in shame and disgrace. I had failed myself, I had been worse than Matilda, and even worse than all that, I had let Hufflepuff down. If it had not been for the snitch being caught, Hufflepuff might not have won so resoundingly.
Despite my poor performance, Quidditch perfectly fills the niche of enjoyable and amusing sport that is not (too) serious. I laughed more than is perhaps healthy for such high octane sport. It is a shoo-in (broom joke). Quidditch happens every Saturday in the University Parks at 12. Brooms are provided and a good time is guaranteed.