Harry Potter fans may know quidditch as a make-believe sport created by JK Rowling for the world’s favourite wizard.
Hogwarts students fly around on broomsticks, throwing a ball through one of three hoops while trying to avoid being hit by a bludger.
More than 20 years – and one name change – later, quadball is now played globally. There are seven players per team where the aim is to throw a volleyball through one of three hoops – think elements of netball, handball and dodgeball rolled into one.
And among those hoping to exhibit their own kind of magic this weekend is the Manchester Universities Quadball Club, who will travel to northeastern France to compete in the European Quadball Cup.
The EQC is the most prestigious European competition within Quadball, featuring 56 sides from 15 countries across two divisions.
Manchester, which pools players from all universities in the city, will compete in the second tier for their debut appearance – and many within the team are still pinching themselves.
Fiona Sawyer, the club’s president, said: “I am so proud of the whole team. I’ve known a lot of them since they began and I’ve just watched them grow and flourish while they’ve played.
“The experience of playing an international tournament will just be amazing, and not many students can say that.”
Manchester will open its campaign against Vienna, before group games versus Brno and Cologne. The side are in Group E with the other British team Warwick Quadball Club in Group D.
Anton Simpson, Manchester’s head coach, said: “It’s the best we’ve ever done. It’s just a really amazing opportunity and something I never expected.
“It’s an incredible experience to get this far and something we can look back on for years to come.”
In total there are six groups and each group winner, plus the two best second-placed sides, will progress to the quarter-finals. Medals are ultimately given to the top three teams, but Manchester recognise it would take a gulp of Potter’s liquid luck to progress that far.
“There’s over 20 teams, all the best in Europe, so if we win I’ll be so happy,” added Sawyer.
“But I think we’re just there to improve, grow and have a good time. I’m not going to be too fussed if we don’t win.”
Some of the Manchester players have even represented England at the European Games – despite being novices to the sport when they started university.
Quadball is proud of its inclusiveness where different personalities are invited to join regardless of their sporting history – or gender and sexuality.
“I was a fresher at university and I wanted to join a society for a sport where it wouldn’t matter if people hadn’t done it before,” said Sawyer.
“A place to meet like-minded people, and a place to meet other queer people. I thought this ticked all the boxes, then I came down and enjoyed it.”
Those boxes also included a more relaxed atmosphere, where players saw it as more of a social gathering than competition.
Charlie Smith, player for Manchester, said: “I used to play American Football last year which was quite intense.
“Then someone asked if I wanted to play quidditch and I thought why not? It became a lot more fun, a lot more chilled, everybody is really nice and it just seemed exciting.”
It is evidently so easy to join a club if of interest, and quadball isn’t just available to university students.
Currently, there are 33 teams across Great Britain split into three divisions: University League Northern, University League Southern, and Community League.
Once somebody starts playing, Sawyer believes they will instantly become addicted as she already has plans to continue after university. So according to the club president, what is there to lose by joining a team?
“Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone,” she said. “Even if you won’t know what’s going on at first.
“But everyone is really friendly, willing to help, and it doesn’t matter if you haven’t tried it before because everybody was in the same situation.
“I’m in my final year and I’ve already got plans to go and join a non-university team in the community leagues when I graduate.”
At the time of writing, quadball is the only full-contact, mixed gender sport in the world, where liking Harry Potter is not even a requirement.
“Sure, Harry Potter is why I’d heard of quidditch,” added Smith. “But nobody really talks about it.”