Northern Ireland

'Muggle Quidditch': Students swap books for broomsticks

queens team practicing Image copyright Charlie McAuley
Image caption Members of the Queens University Belfast Quidditch team in training

Northern Ireland may be better known for its backdrop to Game of Thrones than the magic of Harry Potter.

But students from Queen's University in Belfast have taken inspiration from J.K Rowling's literary series by setting up a novel sports society.

They play Quidditch - a magical sport played on flying broomsticks in the book and film series.

It was first adapted for muggles (or non-wizards) in 2005 by students at a university in Vermont, but has exploded in popularity over the last five years.

Thousands now play it across the world, with official rule books and international championships.

Queen's University's team was founded in September by Conor Ardill, a politics student.

Image copyright Joe Gallagher
Image caption Club president Conor Ardill (right) coaches a Quidditch training session

He first tried the sport during his time as an undergraduate at the University of Manchester but, surprisingly, he isn't much of a Harry Potter fan.

"I actually first started playing because I lost a bet with somebody who was on the team, and resisted turning up for a year," he said.

"Lots of people who play really love Harry Potter, but I just really enjoy the sport."

The sport itself is best described as a hybrid of rugby and dodgeball.

It can appear chaotic to the casual observer but is governed by simple rules.

Aside from the obvious lack of flying, it remains quite true to the fictitious game - players even run with broomsticks between their legs.

Image copyright Charlie McAuley
Image caption A seeker scoring a goal through opposition hoop

It is a full-contact sport with seven players on each team - a keeper, three chasers (who score through the hoops to win 10 points), two beaters (who aim to hit opposite chasers with 'bludger' balls), and the seeker (responsible for chasing the 'golden snitch').

In the books the 'snitch' is described as a gold sphere with wings. But in the muggle version it is a runner dressed in yellow with a velcro tail attached to their shorts.

They enter the game in the 18th minute and try to evade capture. If a seeker grabs their tail they win 30 bonus points for their team.

Confused? Well its the quirkiness of the sport which is the appeal for many of the competitors.

Muggle Quidditch has taken off across the UK and about 50 universities now have a team.

There is even a national premier league as the sport establishes itself in its own right.

Image copyright Ana Cañizares Bejarano
Image caption Members of the new Northern Ireland and Dublin teams who now regularly play friendly games

Queen's University Belfast Quidditch Club (QUBQC) are now ready to head to Manchester with members of the Dublin Draiochta Dragons (DDD) for their first tournament at the weekend.

Players will be trying out for the all-Ireland team in April, hoping to represent them at the International Quidditch Association's European Games in Oslo in July.

Club President Conor said Quidditch is designed to be accessible to all.

"With university sports such as GAA or rugby, if you haven't played at school level it's really hard to get involved," he said.

"It's a mixed gender sport with strict rules so every team has a combination of players from all different backgrounds.

"This evens the odds up, so you can't have six foot ex-rugby players playing against five foot newcomers."

The nature of the sport means substitutions are continual and players rotate, so players at all fitness levels can get involved.

Literature student Rachel Ireland had never considered playing university sports before: "I hate going to the gym or running for the sake of it.

Image copyright Ana Cañizares Bejarano
Image caption English literature student Rachel Ireland was a newcomer to sports

"It's great to be able to play a team sport that is just as much fun as it is a serious competition. It has everything in one.

"I only turned up at first to be polite, but got hooked on the sport in week one. I was a wreck after the first session but it was such a buzz."

The physical nature of the game means players can expect to leave the pitch with bruises from tackles.

But they insist it worth it for the friends they make for across the quidditch community.

Image copyright Joe Gallagher
Image caption The sport involves tackling, but is mixed-gender with players having different experience backgrounds

Physics student Aaron Morrison said: "It's not just the game - a huge part of it is about meeting other teams and players.

"Everybody involved in it is as quirky as the sport itself. We haven't found a person yet who hasn't turned up and found something they loved and enjoyed."

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