Meet the real-life Harry Potter ‘wizards’ flying high at St Andrews University

© DC Thomson
St Andrews Quidditch Club

Quidditch, the ‘sport of warlocks’, is the premier pastime  of the fictional Harry Potter wizarding world. But it’s also caught on amongst broom stick riding  students at St Andrews University, discovers Michael Alexander.

In the fantasy world of the Harry Potter novels and movies, Quidditch is a magical competitive sport involving flying contestants riding broomsticks.

It’s a fiercely competitive world of quaffle, bludgers and a golden snitch where wizards and witches compete to get one of four balls into six pole-topped, ring-shaped goals.

But now the game has been adopted in the real world where players run with broom handles between their legs instead of flying, and where the basic rules of the movie version are the same.

The transition has been led by the fervent fan following of the Harry Potter franchise, as a generation who grew up with the books and films come of age.

Sam Bunce, captain of St Andrews Quidditch club the St Andrews Snidgets© DC Thomson
Sam Bunce, captain of St Andrews Quidditch club the St Andrews Snidgets

Yet at St Andrews University, where Quidditch club the St Andrews Snidgets has been running for just over four years, current captain Sam Bunce, 21, admits he was not a fan growing up.

“To be honest I’m not the biggest fan of Harry Potter,” explains the third year computer science student from Southampton during a Quidditch training session at St Andrews University’s North Haugh.

“I read the books and saw the films when I was a kid.

“Now that I’m older I’m quite cynical about the whole Harry Potter thing.

“But definitely when I was growing up the main thing that stuck out in my mind from the books was the incredibly weird stuff like Quidditch. I thought it would be really cool and incredible to play in real life.”

St Andrews Quidditch train at the North Haugh© DC Thomson
St Andrews Snidgets train at the North Haugh

As a world renowned seat of learning with its ancient spires and cobbled streets, St Andrews might feel a bit like the fictional Hogwarts at times.

Yet St Andrews Snidgets are one of around 50 clubs registered mostly around universities in the UK, with the embryonic game increasingly catching on at a national and international level.

Sam, who initially thought the sport looked “silly”, took it up a few months into first year after becoming “jealous” of stories he heard from fellow student players in Andrew Melville Hall.

He’s never looked back and compares the high energy sport to a mix of rugby, handball, dodge ball and basketball where the whole team is offensive and defensive and where the keeper is the most offensive player on the pitch.

St Andrews Snidgets in action during a training session at North Haugh© DC Thomson
St Andrews Snidgets in action during a training session at North Haugh

He adds: “There’s an interesting cross-over between people that loved the books but aren’t very athletic and people that are very athletic and enjoy the sport but can’t stand the books.

“If you want intense high level competition it’s definitely not the first choice – although it’s getting to the point now where some of the big tournaments are scary with some nasty injuries!”

St Andrews Snidgets members© DC Thomson
St Andrews Snidgets have a good balance of male and female members

For the most part, however, at the St Andrews level at least, it’s a lot of fun – and incredibly inclusive.

Sam adds: “Especially because the sport is in its infancy, there’s not an immediate requirement to be a high level sportsman – it certainly wasn’t when I started.

“But one of the coolest things about Quidditch is that it’s very inclusive and entirely mixed gender.

“It’s very popular with the LGBT community, with nerds, with weirdos – people who wouldn’t normally get involved with organised competitive sport, and it’s really good for that.

“A lot of people laugh the first time they mention it – and generally people make fun of it. But I’ve had a few people come along and gone ‘I thought it would be really silly but it’s quite exciting, interesting’. The main thing is people are keeping fit and having fun.”