I am crouched at the edge of a field, a long plastic pipe clutched tightly between my legs.
The air is heavy with anticipation. Beside me are my teammates, also riding pipes: these represent our brooms. Our eyes are all fixated on four balls in the middle of the field; one white, three blue. Behind us are our goalposts: three hula hoops attached to poles and bases.
The referee steps onto the field. “Brooms up!” he yells, and we all rise and run. There is yelling as we clash with members of the opposing team, all of us eager to score.
This is Muggle Quidditch. ‘Muggle’ is a Harry Potter term to describe a non-magical person. ‘Quidditch’ is an adaptation of the fictitious sport played in the same canon of books by JK Rowling.
And it is amazing.
A history of the game
Muggle Quidditch started in 2005, after students at Middlebury College in Vermont, bored with playing bocce, decided to create a new sport. Student Xander Manshel worked out the rules, and together with his friend Alex Benepe, recruited people and formed the first Quidditch team.
The game swiftly grew in popularity, and soon made its mark on popular culture. Now, the International Quidditch Association helps organise roughly 1000 Quidditch teams worldwide, and holds a World Cup at the end of every season. Last year saw the first international Quidditch tournament in the 2012 Summer Games at Oxford, England, with teams from the USA, Canada, France, UK and Australia taking part. The sport has also been featured in the recent Owen Wilson film The Internship.
The International Quidditch Association helps organise roughly 1000 Quidditch teams worldwide.
This version of Quidditch, of course, is slightly different from how it is played in the Harry Potter books, where the game takes place in mid-air, on broomsticks. In the books, the Snitch is a golden winged ball. In real life, it is a flesh-and-blood player with a sock tucked into the waistband of his or her shorts. I kid you not.
The rules of Muggle Quidditch are such: players called ‘Chasers’ throw a white ball call the Quaffle through hoops guarded by ‘Keepers’, while ‘Beaters’ throw balls called ‘Bludgers’ to take them out. Meanwhile, ‘Seekers’ wait to catch a neutral player called the ‘Snitch’ to win extra points and win the game.
Another way to describe it is as a whimsical combination of lacrosse, rugby and dodgeball, where all participants ride “brooms”.
A Demented bunch
I was privileged to participate in a Quidditch match held recently, as part of a Community Get-together organized by local team The Damansara Dementors and community site Culturerun. Being a huge Harry Potter fan, I jumped at the chance, and was sorted into the makeshift Culturerun Quafflepunchers team.
Damansara Dementors co-founder Andrew Mervyn Kasimir said he had been inspired to form a team after his experiences playing Quidditch in Australia.
“I was scrolling through my university classifieds on Facebook last year, and I saw an advertisement for the Murdoch Mandrakes team. And I thought, hey, this looks interesting. I wanted to try something new, so I thought I’d give it a go,” Kasimir said.
Kasimir later ended up joining the Perth Phoenixes, his state’s Quidditch team, and ended up participating in the interstate Inaugural Australian Quidditch Midwinter Cup 2012.
His team emerged champions.
“It was very surprising. I didn’t expect to win, we were such a new team, and the other teams had been playing for years already,” he said.
Upon coming back to Malaysia, Kasimir found himself missing Quidditch. With the help of his girlfriend, co-founder Charmaine Goh, the two created the Damansara Dementors, roping their friends together to play.
The team, which comprises about 14 active members, plays almost every week, usually in Damansara Utama.
“It’s all about bludger control”
Asked what skills it took to be a good Quidditch player, Kasimir, a Chaser, replied stamina and hand-eye coordination were important.
“For Chasers, there’s a lot of running involved. It’s not the most important role, but you get to score, and change the outcome of the game. It’s hands-on,” Kasimir said regarding his position.
Goh, on the other hand, enjoyed playing a Beater due to its strategic element.
“There’s a lot of thinking involved, since there are only three Bludgers on the field, and four Beaters. You have to ‘Beat’ the right person at the right time, so you don’t waste the opportunity. It’s all about bludger control,” she said.
Damansara Dementor member Gifford Chee, who also plays as a Beater, said the game was a lot of fun and he hoped to continue playing it.
“The fact that it came from a fictional book is partly what intrigues me. It’s very out of the box, not as mundane as other sports like football or basketball. I think it could be big,” he said.
Kasimir said one of the biggest strengths of Quidditch was its accessibility.
“It’s a co-ed sport, so everyone can play together. And it’s a good way to attract ‘nerds’ who don’t like to exercise, because of the fantasy elements. Quidditch players tend to be very friendly, they welcome everyone,” he joked.
He added he hoped the sport would catch on more here.
“I hope the Damansara Dementors expands, and hopefully can enter a competition somewhere. I also hope there will be more Malaysian teams, and maybe have a tournament one day,” Kasimir said.
“It’d be great if Malaysia could have a Quidditch Association too,” Goh said.
The game is afoot
The action in muggle Quidditch is frenetic and furious. Keepers stand on guard against speedy Chasers throwing Quaffles, while eagle-eyed Seekers offer support, hovering around until they are needed.
Running with a stick between my legs is slightly awkward. I end up dropping my stick several times, which is a foul (the Muggle equivalent of “falling off your broom”) and have to race back to my goalpost from the middle of the field and start again.
Fortunately, I am eventually able to master “broom-running”: I do this by clenching my legs so tightly together the nuns in my church would be proud.
I play a Beater, perhaps not the most natural position for me: I am the most apologetic man in Kuala Lumpur, the type of person who apologises to lampposts when he accidentally walks into them. Initially, my battle cry upon hitting someone with a Bludger is “I’m so sorry!”
Once I get the hang of things, however, the experience is a lot of fun, if exhausting. All the running, catching and throwing soon leaves me out of breath, and I am glad when the (long overdue) Snitch finally appears. Both Seekers soon engage in a mad dash after him, resulting in a crazy bout of tackling.
Eventually, our Seeker grabs the sock from the Snitch’s waistband and holds it in the air triumphantly. I do not think I have laughed harder this month.
They say there is no magic in Muggle Quidditch. And to an extent it is true: there is no Apparation or Transfiguration, no shouts of Accio, Stupefy, or Protego! But the laughter and the thrills, the camaraderie of people coming together to play a quirky sport that previously only existed in a writer’s imagination… if that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.
Find out more about the Damansara Dementors here.