If you’re fearful of the prospect of buying a soon-to-be-unused gym pass and feel you need something different to stimulate your get fit derring do in 2017, you could do worse than look to the Netherlands. Alongside clogs and stroopwaffles, the Dutch are responsible for a sport you won’t have heard of before that’s gaining ground in the North East.
Korfball is a Dutch, mixed-gender sport invented at the turn of the 1900s. Teams of eight divide into two groups – attack and defence – of four people each (two men and two women). The goal is to score points by throwing a ball through a netball-like hoop placed on top of an 11.5 feet high pole. The sport is popular in the Netherlands – where more than 100,000 people play indoors and outdoors at nearly 600 clubs across the country.
It’s also building a base in the North East of England, where three teams have laid roots in the past three years. Fran Henzell is secretary of the North East Korfball Association, which oversees three clubs. ‘We have the Tyneside Titans in Jesmond, Northern Storm in Gateshead, and Northumbria University have a team,’ she explains.
Most people come to korfball in university – where the mixed-gender competition and social side of the sport attract participants – but Fran was introduced to it after graduation. ‘My friend set up a club in the area,’ she says. ‘They said to just come along to try it out and make up the numbers, and it escalated from there.’
Now she plays two or three times a week, and is part of the Gateshead-based Northern Storm team. She stuck with the sport for various reasons. ‘It’s the only sport I’ve played where it truly is equal for both genders, which I think is one of the greatest things about it,’ she says.
‘Guys can only mark guys and girls can only mark girls. You don’t have the guys overpowering the girls because they’re stronger, faster and taller,’ she adds. Many of the rules are similar to netball, but include some aspects of basketball. Players can’t move with the ball, like netball, but the rules are more relaxed. ‘Netball you have to stop on your first landing, but with korfball you’ve got two steps before you stop,’ she explains. Shooting takes place while moving, adding an urgency to the sport missing in netball.
Every two goals scored, attackers and defenders switch positions, meaning players have to be jacks of all trades. While the sport can be quick, and the majority of North East teams are replete with people in their 20s and 30s, the teams they encounter feature people well into their 50s and 60s. ‘It’s a sport for all ages,’ explains Fran, ‘which is a good thing.’ The mixed-sex competition makes it a particularly sociable sport – and it’s not a bad workout, either.
‘It’s definitely good for your fitness,’ says Fran, who wasn’t particularly sporty before taking up the game. ‘Now I’ve started korfball, it’s definitely improved my fitness and my health in general.’
There are around 80 teams playing korfball across the United Kingdom, with two new teams added in the North East in recent years thanks to a Sport England grant. Because of a quirk of geography in a still-growing sport, Fran’s team – the Northern Storm – play in a Scottish league, and are coached by a Scottish national team korfball player, but she’s hopeful of establishing a regional league in the near future. ‘It’s a big game around the world, and is becoming one in the UK as well.’
In the long run, she hopes to bring korfball to local schools to embed a love for it at an early age. In other countries across the world, and in the south of Britain, ‘kids korf’ is a popular pastime.
As word spreads about korfball, Fran is confident that the sport will grow in Britain. ‘It’s the sort of sport you try once or twice in a taster session then get hooked on,’ she reckons. ‘That’s what I did, and became obsessed.’
Tyneside Titans train on Tuesdays, 7–9pm, Newcastle High School for Girls Sports Hall, Jesmond NE2 4RU
Northern Storm train on Wednesdays 8–10pm, Kingsmeadow School, Dunston NE11 9NX Northumbria University train on Thursdays 7:30–9:30pm, Sports Central, Newcastle NE1 8QD