The London Olympics’ impact on sport in the UK was inevitably going to be significant and since the Games, participation in sports of a wider range has been on the up.
Cycling, netball, sailing, swimming are amongst those who have recorded positive trends in their popularity. Alongside these is an indoor sport known as team handball, Olympic handball, Borden ball, even European Handball, but to us, simply handball.
Brunel University, in particular, have been taking part in the ever-growing involvement of the sport, and I caught up with the chair of Brunel University Handball Club, Josephine Brough, about just what was happening this year.
Mehdi: First thing’s first, how are you? Had a good summer?
Josephine: Yeah it was awesome! We came back this week from the British Beach Handball Championships; it was the second year we’ve been and it’s always good fun!
M: Nice! Tell me a bit more about the Championships, what did you get up to? And is there a plan to go next year too?
J: So it's held in Bournemouth; this year there were fourteen men’s teams, one of which was ours, and twelve women's teams. We had a tough group, with the national English champions Great Dane Handball Club from London in our group, and Oxford University Handball Club, who are university champions, but we did well finishing seventh overall with only three members on the team having played beach handball before. It's definitely on the cards to go back next year, it's always awesome fun, and it’s a totally different style of handball and is brilliant on a social level.
M: Awesome, you mentioned the men’s teams competing in the Championships; does Brunel have a women’s team?
J: We have a women's team who, last year, finished thirteenth overall in the country. We have a lot of international girls who had gone home over the summer so unfortunately we couldn't enter a women's team into the beach handball champs this year which was a shame.
M: Ah okay, good to hear, and definitely a shame. So, about Brunel handball in general, tell us a little bit about it, and about your role as chair of the BUHC.
J: Brunel handball was founded in 2012, after the Olympics, by Gilbert Lewis who worked tirelessly to establish both men's and women's teams, as well as national and London-based competition. As a result he was nominated as student volunteer of the year in the British university and college sport awards. The club has always aimed to cater for everyone, and unlike many other clubs we have always be open and welcoming. I've now taken over as chair, having been the media officer since the founding of the club, and want to drive forward the women's team. I also want to continue Gilbert's efforts in establishing regular competition for clubs around London and nationally, through my role as a director on the association of British university handball clubs committee, and ensure our men's teams continue to go from strength to strength.
M: Did the Olympics prove to be an inspiration for the establishment of the teams?
J: Definitely! Handball is massive in Europe! However, in the UK it's relatively unknown. Most of our players didn't know handball existed until they came to a taster session after seeing it at the Olympics. One of our guys, Oli Barton, now plays for Britain Under-20's side and we have had other players, girls and boys, represent Great Britain at university level. It's amazing that in such a short space of time, a club that was small and unknown can yield such results!
M: How exactly do you intend to advance the university's teams? Is it a case of simply ensuring regular competition or is there more involved?
J: Regular competition is a big thing, yes. We finally have the markings going down in the netball hall which means we can play games at home, and the women and men are both entered into the London league for the upcoming year. The national league structure run by me and four other university students in the form of the association of British University Handball Clubs is another important development to note. This year, rather than a yearly one-off tournament, we are implementing a national league structure which will give teams all over the country a chance to play more regularly and develop. Aside from this we want to offer more for our members - we have won the membership engagement award for two years in a row now at the Union Sports Federation Awards and we have always listened to what our members wanted. As a result this year we will be focusing more on coaches and training programmes to support players at all levels while not neglecting our diverse social calendar.
M: Brilliant! Now, I understand you and BUHC have been nominated for an award?
J: We were nominated back in July for the NUS sports club of the year award, recognising both our developments and growth as a new club but also recognising Gilbert and mine’s involvement in developing handball at a variety of university levels.
M: Very nice, it must mean a lot to you to see your hard work acknowledged.
J: Yeah, it really did! And taking over from Gilbert I know I've got massive shoes to fill but we worked together to get the club where it is today and we want to keep building on our strengths and focusing on developing our weakness to eventually become a more recognisable sport within university but also nationally.
M: Okay, so what are the aims for next year, in terms of performance and development?
J: We would like our men's team to reach the national university finals, and to maintain and grow the foundations of our women's team next year. We also have a massive RAG event planned which people should look out for.
M: Can you give us any more details about the RAG event?
J: It's all under wraps at the moment, but it's going to be awesome!
M: Looking forward to it! Finally, a message to any fresher’s thinking of joining the handball club this year?
J: Come and give handball a go! We have lots to offer all abilities and have amazing progression and development opportunities. This year we have more coaching and conditioning sessions, social and competitive play sessions, we really have something for everyone, so make sure you look out for us in Fresher’s Fayre, come to our taster sessions and give us a go!
BUHC’s first fixtures are on the 25th of October, with the Men playing University College London at home and the Women playing Roehampton University away. The fixtures for both teams are available on the British Universities & Colleges Sport website. Follow Brunel Handball on twitter at @BrunelHandball for more.