Interview: Robert Brignull

Photo: Ajantha Abey

This article first appeared in The Oxford Student on 22 April 2016. I’m rather pleased with this one – Robert was an absolute gent, and the editors at the OxStu were really helpful in writing my first Sports article. You can find out more about Oxford University Quidditch Club here.

Robert Brignull is an unconventional athlete. President of the Oxford University Quidditch Club (OUQC), as well as keeper for the Radcliffe Chimeras, he and his team secured an Oxford victory in the British Quidditch Cup in March, and placed sixth in the European Cup in Italy earlier this month. He met with me to discuss his experiences with the team, as well as the unique challenges of this young sport.

You just got back from the European Quidditch Cup. What was that like?

We did pretty well, it was a very fun tournament – the Chimeras unfortunately did not win, but we came sixth overall, out of forty teams that were there. It’s the biggest tournament that has ever happened in the EU, definitely the biggest I’ve ever been to. There were teams from all over the place – the UK sent eight teams, and, interesting statistic, all but one of the UK teams got into the upper half, which was good going by us. We had a great time, as you can imagine – we went there the Wednesday of the week before, spent a few days lounging around in Italian sunshine, which was great.

And of course you also won the British Quidditch Cup in March. Could you tell us a bit about that?

That took place in the town of Rugeley, in Staffordshire. That had thirty-two teams, from all over the UK. That obviously went very well for us. It was quite tough, so everybody tried their hardest to make that one, so that we had our best shot at winning it again. There are quite a few people leaving the club this year because they’re graduating, so it made it a nice sort of farewell thing for them, that we are now British Champions for the year.

What is Quidditch like to play?

It’s a sport that demands a lot of you in various different ways, depending on which position you’re playing. So if you’re playing the chasing or keeping positions then you’re running around, you’re tackling people, full contact, though not quite as rough as rugby. That requires a high level of physical fitness, you’re sprinting basically all the time, and you sub off every two or three minutes, five maximum. If you’re playing part of the beating game then it’s much more tactical. You need to work well with your partner, there’s a lot of synergy there. If you play quidditch a certain way, it doesn’t really matter how big you are, or strong – you need to be intelligent more than anything. The addition of the broom, the fact you only have one arm free, makes it a lot easier to take down people much bigger or smaller than yourself. It’s very good for those who are maybe less sporty.

Quidditch is deliberately designed for mixed-gender teams (including non-binary players). Is that sense of inclusively important to the sport?

I think it is quite important – I’m struggling to think of any other sports that are mixed gender by default. It means you don’t get this kind of laddish attitude; it’s a very welcoming community, everybody is friendly. It’s only just getting big enough that you don’t know every single person, almost. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a game, but there’s a lot of hugging afterwards; it’s a very sportsmanlike sport.

According to your website you’re the “most successful sports club in Oxford”. How is that measured?

I’d forgotten we did that. Two years ago, when we wrote that, the Chimeras were both British and European champions, so you can look at it that way. This year we’ve retained British, if not European. You can certainly say we’re the most successful British quidditch team. Although most successful Oxford sports team might be pushing it.

What is the secret to that success?

I think it’s entirely down to the people we have here. The club is only about four years old, so those people who started it up are just in the process of leaving now. This is kind of the point where the club will either fly higher or fall apart, though it’s my job to make sure that doesn’t happen. So we had a strong base to start with, and it’s drawn in more and more people who have just helped the club to become what it is by organising fantastic tournaments, playing amazing quidditch, and just being really friendly. All the tournaments we’ve run have been hugely successful, people say they’re very well-organised. 

 How much interest is there from students?

People are very interested whenever they see it happening. When we practice in University Parks, you always get a bunch of people coming up and asking “what are you doing?” Once you’ve played one game, you’re basically hooked, so we hold a lot of taster sessions every Michaelmas, which draw in lots of people. Unfortunately not a lot of people stay, which is a problem we’re working on, but that’s the same with all sports.

How would you persuade someone to give quidditch a go?

I would say that quidditch is really the sport for everyone. Whether you want to go out and be physical, whether you want to meet wonderful people, whether you’re not too into sport generally but want to try it, it can be all of those things for you, and there’s a role for you in a team. Just give it a go, just try and do this stupid sport, and I promise you’ll be hooked.

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