Quidditch – the curious sport taking Sheffield by storm

Quidditch is a game of three bludgers, one quaffle and rather a lot of broomsticks. It may sound fantastical, but J.K. Rowling’s famous wizard sport is quickly catching on in the muggle world too, not least at the University of Sheffield.

Today JUS News spoke with Sam Birkitt, a second-year physics student who plays ‘beater’ for Sheffield Quidditch Club. By day, Sam ruminates on questions of general relativity and ever-expanding space-time, but once out of the classroom, Sam likes to head on down to the quidditch pitch, where his high-powered ‘bludger’ flinging is among the team’s deadliest weapons.

Sam has played beater for the club for just over a year, and he describes his position as a mixture of control, pressing and defensive responsibilities.

“I’ve got a dodgeball,” says Sam, referring to the real-life version of the bludger, “and if I hit a member of the opposing team, they have to run back to their starting position and tag back in before they can re-enter the game.

“A good beater needs to have quite a tactical view of things, so they don’t get too distracted and blinded-sided by the game.

“They’ve got to keep an eye on where the quaffle is and where the other team is, so that they can help create the best opportunities for our players to score and get the points from the quaffle.”

A full quidditch team has 21 players, although only seven – three chasers, two beaters, one keeper and one seeker – are in play at any one time. Rolling substitutions are allowed, however, so everyone on the team gets a good run-out by the end of the match.

“Quidditch is a very welcoming sport, and it’s also very physical,” says Sam.

“We’re constantly running up and down, so you’ve got to put in 100% all the time, and because of the rolling subs, quidditch allows you to do that.”

Sam Birkitt, Sheffield Quidditch Club

Quidditch is also striking in that it doesn’t discriminate between genders. Teams are mixed: boys and girls play together and can often be seen rugby tackling each other at full force anywhere between the shoulders and the hip. This manoeuvre is, amazingly, legal in the game of quidditch, as long as it’s to block an opposing player or steal the quaffle or rob the bludger.

In his beater career thus far, Sam says he has witnessed a groundswell of interest in quidditch in Sheffield, and has seen his club evolve into one the largest and most successful quidditch teams in the UK.

“For a club that only started two and a half years ago, we can now field three full teams, which I believe is more than any other uni or any other club throughout the UK,” says Sam. “It’s been very successful.”

Asked what kind of people are joining up to play quidditch, Sam says the sport is attracting not just students but a diverse range of working people and professionals.

“We also have people from outside uni. We’ve got some game designers playing for us at the moment, and some people who work in photography,” says Sam.

“Quidditch is a sport for everyone, and it’s been well received throughout Sheffield.”

With a busy year of beating and quaffling ahead, Sam is looking forward to representing Sheffield in upcoming regional and national quidditch tournaments.

And for those who doubt whether quidditch qualifies as a real sport, Sam has a message for you all: “Come along and try it for yourself. Even if you just come and watch you can see that it’s a real sport.

“It’s fast-paced and it can be physical at times, but if you don’t want to do the contact side of things, you can always just step out of the way of tackles.” (If only it was that simple.)

Asked whether spells such as Wingardium Leviosa feature in the muggle version of the sport, Sam assures me that “There are no spells.

“In the initial version of the game,” he says, “instead of red and yellow cards, we had wands for punishments. But we’re trying to distance ourselves from the fantasy universe of Harry Potter and make quidditch into more of a real sport.

“So, there’s no spells or capes, no pointy hats or anything like that,” says Sam.

There are broomsticks, however, though sadly they don’t fly.