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14th November 2016

A student life: the quidditch player

We spoke to Livi Dickinson about being a quidditch player at university

Livi Dickinson is an avid quidditch player. And yet, despite being someone who spends their free time running around a park with a fake broom between her legs, she is completely self-aware, down to earth and friendly. She is aware of quidditch’s eccentricities, but speaks with passion and enthusiasm both for the sport itself and the wider community that comes with it.

I started by asking perhaps the most obvious question – how does quidditch work in the real world? “First thing, we don’t fly, but we do have brooms, which are just kind of tube plastic things we run around with at all times,” Livi replied, somewhat disappointingly, “it’s a mix between rugby and dodgeball. It’s a full contact sport, and it’s based off Harry Potter, so you have the positions of chaser, you have beaters, you have keeper and you have a seeker, but the bludgers are dodgeballs instead, so they get thrown at you and if you get hit you have to dismount and run back to your hoops… and the chaser game is kind of the rugby aspect, you’ve got quaffles and you’ve got to try to run up to the other hoops.”

The weirdest part of the sport, however, is that of the snitch. Instead of a flying golden ball you have “a person, a neutral party who has basically a sock with a tennis ball in velcroed to the back of their shorts and they don’t have a broom, and the seekers have to try and grab the snitch without full contacting them, but the snitch can tackle them,” Livi grinned, clearly aware of how silly it sounds.

The sport ends up being a surprisingly solid interpretation of its fantastical inspiration: “It’s very like quidditch, we get recognised a lot in the park when we’re practicing,” Livi laughed.

Despite being perhaps a bit strange, and the Harry Potter series having finished both books and films, quidditch is growing at a remarkable rate, “there are nearly 40 teams across the country. They are all university based, it started in America so it’s very big there, but here it’s pretty big and there’s quite a good community here. This year’s British cup there are going to be 32 teams.”

Livi seems relatively hopeful of UoM’s chances this year too: “We’re quite a new team but we’re not as new as other teams, we’ve got a really good group this year.”

I asked Livi what made her get involved in quidditch in the first place. “I guess it’s because I’m a Harry Potter nerd?” she replied, “that was my first reason, and I wanted something to do for exercise but I’d never really done sport, so I thought this would be a good place to start, because a lot of people who do start playing quidditch have never played sport before, because it is that kind of welcoming community.”

This sense of community seems to be hugely important to Livi: “I stuck because it’s a really fun game and the whole community is really lovely,” she told me. “Everyone’s really nice to each other, I mean you get friendly rivalries… but everyone wants to support each other and you don’t feel cut out from the wider community at all.”

The community spirit even extends to the rules. Quidditch is a mixed gender sport, and so the rules are written specifically to be encouraging and inclusive to everybody. “The rules are gender inclusive specifically. The seeker comes on about twenty minutes in, before that you have six people on the pitch… and you can’t have more than four of one gender on the pitch at one time, so it makes sure that it doesn’t become a boys’ club, because it is quite physical, so it makes sure it’s not dominated by one group of people. And non-binary people are recognised as independent. Basically it just makes sure anyone can play if they want to play it, and I think it’s a really lovely thing that you don’t see in a lot of sports, that it’s encouraging people to play it and anyone can play it.”

So really, whilst it initially sounds slightly ridiculous, quidditch seems to provide a way for people to hang out and keep fit by doing something a bit silly, whilst getting to belong to an inclusive and caring community. Who can ask for more than that? Well, apart from the flying.

Course: Religion and Theology (3rd Year)

From: Norfolk

How do you manage university life with quidditch? “I think it works quite well, we have two sessions a week so we do about two and a half hours on Saturday and we do one to two hours on Wednesdays and that’s like, it works because it’s kind of downtime in a sense, it’s a release because it’s doing exercise. I think because I only really do quidditch that the balance works out quite well in terms of how much time it takes up because there are dedicated bits where it’s like I have to schedule that time for quidditch, and I really enjoy it so it’s not too much of a hardship.”

Best Bit: “I would say the best bit, well I just love the whole thing, it’s something I enjoy, and you also get the health benefits of it, and you get to meet great people and just get a whole new group of friends.”

Worst Bit: “It kind of sucks sometimes with the weather, because we practice outside, and when it gets to the winter and you having to practice for two hours in the cold and the rain and the mud, that’s one thing I wish we could control a bit more.”

Where do you see yourself in 15 years time? “Ooh I don’t know, well after I graduate I want to do a law conversion, so hopefully practising law. But if I can have it [quidditch] it’s not something I want to say goodbye to when I finish uni. I hope quidditch develops as well, because at the moment it is quite university based, but I hope we all graduate we keep playing as well, because it isn’t something I want to let go of.”

How do you get involved? “We have a Facebook page! It’s Manchester University Quidditch Club, and most Saturdays we are in Whitworth Park at one until about three, three-thirty, and on Wednesday afternoons we have a games session where we just run around and play capture the flag and stuff. We’re really welcoming and we’re always looking for new people!”

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