The Polish football winter break is long and hard, with the only sustenance being repetitive transfer talk and watching club football from other countries. While this break drags on, my attention has been drawn to another sport, one that, to the British observer is entirely foreign – handball. This is primarily due the European Handball Championships which are currently being in Poland. The media coverage of the event has been impressive and, from someone who knew practically nothing about the sport several weeks ago, I’ve become fascinated by it.
Sport at its best is an exhilerating experience – and there is nothing better than starting to understand a sport where before there were only stereotypes and miscomprehension. I remember when I taught English while living in Slovakia in 2002-3, there my best friend was Canadian and his excitement and passion for Ice Hockey drew me in. And this experience was heightened by Slovakia’s victory in the 2002 World Championships – I witnessed thousands of people gleefully celebrating on Bratislava’s SNP Square. Horns honked, flags waved, it was all rather wonderful. In January 2016 Poland is currently awash with enthusiasm with the exploits of the national handball side, and it’s been very difficult not to be caught up in it.
It is rather pleasing to approach a sport as a ‘blank cheque’ – where knowledge is to be filled – especially with the sheer weight of useless information I possess about football. In search of adventure last week I went to my first ever live handball game – and it was a very interesting experience. My ticket enabled me to watch two games – France vs Serbia and then Poland vs Macedonia. During the first game my focus strayed, a similar situation to most of the crowd I think – they were plainly waiting to support Poland later on in the evening. I was however impressed by the athleticism of the French players as they eased to a win.
During the Polish game the crowd woke up, and I had the opportunity to sit next to someone who explained the game to me. Suddenly, things which had been confusing became clear and I realised that handball can be a thrilling, tense and exciting sport to watch.
In the week that has followed my first live game I have been hooked by the tournament. I have regularly watched at least one game a night with the France vs Poland match last Tuesday being the pick of the lot. That night Poland managed to beat the reigning world and European and World Champions France with an exhilerating display of physical force and strength. But I was particularly entranced by France’s winger Luc Abalo who scored an incredible goal and after the match I spent hours watching Abalo’s goals on Youtube – his goals being scored from all manners of angles, with a range of crazy spins on the ball. Abalo had become my first handball sporting hero.
The tournament is still ongoing, at the moment in the second stage groups there is a tough tussle to determine who will make the semi-finals. I’ll definitely be tuning in to find out what happens next, and handball this January has won itself a fan.