“The first thing I tell people is that you’ve got to get real comfy with having a piece of plastic piping jammed between your legs,” my new teammate says, dragging me round the field by my ‘broom’—a half-metre length of plumbing apparatus—in an attempt to make me fall over.
I’m at the Fantasy Quidditch Tournament: an event that brings together challengers from as far as Calgary and Seattle to compete the ‘muggle’ version of the game—a sport that, in the wizarding world of the Harry Potter, involves “broken jaws,” “cracked skulls,” and all the removal of every bone from a player’s arm.
It turns out the non-magic variant isn’t too far off.
Quidditch throws elite athletes and super-geeks onto a soccer field to catch, toss, and wrestle each other to the floor in a full-contact heap. Within five minutes of standing on the sideline I’ve been asked if I’ve got Pokemon Go, and witnessed a very sporty competitor take an awkward fall that leaves him in serious pain.
“That’s quidditch,” a new buddy says with a laugh as we clap the injured player off the field. “We have a real mix of athletic prowess.”
I’m starting to feel nervous, but it’s too late to back down as the six (yes, six) referees begin to gather for my game. And besides—I’ve nearly completed my five minutes of training.
“Don’t worry,” a teammate says as he jogs to join the starting lineup. “You’ll probably get first-time syndrome. But it won’t be a problem.”
“What’s first-time syndrome?” I yelled from the sideline at his retreating back.
The head ref blows his whistle, and his reply is lost in the carnage.
The game has three balls: a deflated volleyball as the quaffle, and two coloured dodgeballs named bludgers. At any one time, there are two keepers, six chasers, four beaters, and, after 17 minutes, two seekers and a snitch on the field. The chasers pass the quaffle between them with the aim of throwing it through one of three hoops at the end of the field for 10 points. The keeper defends those hoops. The beaters throw dodgeballs at opposing players, and the seeker attempts to catch the snitch, which is, bizarrely, a man dressed from head-to-toe in gold with a tennis ball in a sock hanging out the back of his pants. A snitch-catch gives the team 30 points, and automatically ends the game.
It’s a little overwhelming.
“You’re a chaser,” the person next to me on the sidelines says kindly. “Just focus on watching the quaffle.”
Easier said than done. Two minutes in and our keeper is dump-tackled to the ground with several opposing team members attempt to rip the quaffle from his fingers. He’s doing a great job holding on until he’s hit hard by a bludger, which forces him to drop the quaffle, dismount from his broom, and run all the way back to tag our own hoops.
And when I sub onto the field three minutes later, it’s apparent quidditch is even more complicated than it looks.
The obligatory coloured headbands are a problem. Full disclosure—despite being a normal-sized adult, I still have a child-sized head. Like, a really, really small head. At the moment I line myself up for a perfect pass at the goal hoops, the headband slips over my eyes and the quaffle whistles past my ear. Disaster, I think, as my teammates give me a friendly thumbs up.
But even more complicated are the brooms. I’ve got the running down pat, but as soon as the quaffle comes my way and I jump to deflect it, the broom drops out from between my legs. Or if I stretch for a two-handed catch, the broom drops out from between my legs. Or if I dodge a bludger, the brooms drop out from between my legs. Or the broom just drops out from between my legs.
“That’s first-time syndrome,” my team says, slapping me an undeserved high-five as I pant on the bench. “But your positioning was great.”
And then the snitch comes on.
With the score tied, both seekers start throwing themselves at the man in gold. Diving and rolling, the best athletes on the field snatch at the sock dangling out the back of the snitch’s pants, which looks a lot like a low-hanging ball sack. And given that it’s very legal to grab the prize from between the snitch’s legs, you can bet there have been more than a few scenarios where the seeker has got their hands on the wrong one.
Forty minutes of amateur wrestling later, the opposing team holds up the ball-in-a-sock. The opposite sideline erupts into cheers, and people flood onto the pitch to jump around. Gracious in defeat, my team high-five their friends as they’re knocked out of the tournament.
Despite having nothing to show for their efforts but a whole lot of thigh chafage, my captain assures me the team will be back next year.
“That’s quidditch,” he says. “Expect the unexpected.”
Think you can do better? Get on your broom, or watch a game.