Notes from a handball novice

Olympics Day 10 - Handball

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.


7 thoughts on “Notes from a handball novice

  1. Even if it was always relatively popular in Poland, I was similar handball virgin when I watched Poland’s first tournament game against Serbia in pub full of supporters just ten days ago. It was December when I decided to go to Cracow for final round of second group stage (this Wednesday, including France v Norway and Poland v Croatia) but I only planned to watch a couple of Poland’s games to get basic knowledge about the team. As tournament continued, I started to watch more non-Polish games too and now I have pretty good recognition in current situation in both groups.

    Of course my knowledge of tables and schedules in both groups can’t change the fact that after lifetime of not watching handball I know less than anyone who watches games with me. At least some reputation of loyal football fan protects me from being laughing stock among other fans, as I simply belong to much wider group of one sport viewers, which is popular among Polish football fans I guess.

    Up to some point this experience reminds me the atmosphere of watching Italia 90 as eleven years old with my grandparents – before that World Cup I could hardly name more football players than Maradona, Gullit and van Basten and suddenly the miraclous world I didn’t know opened for me, full of interesting creatures: Valderramas, Linekers, Roger Millas, Gascoignes, Buchwalds, Goicocheas, Caniggias, Stojkovics etc. What is widely recognised one of poorest World Cup in history, has a special place in my memory. It was pure and the fact that I didn’t know many footballers didn’t make me feel somehow guilty – like during many football tournaments after that.

    Having said that I don’t think I’m going to watch club handball regularly after this Euros. Probably I will become more of a “picnic” handball fan, waiting for Euros, World Cups and Olympic Games. But who knows? During one of handball evenings, I swapped channels for Copa Del Rey game and after twenty minutes of watching I couldn’t resist overwhelming feeling that I’ve been watching nothing happening on the football pitch.

    • 🙂 I have the same feeling 🙂 Starting to get a feel for the best players and how they play the game. Very fun 🙂 Have to say the French side is the most exciting for me, Karabatic and Abalo. You’ve got a couple of cracking games to watch there in Kraków. Should be fun!

  2. Only now I realized half joking half seriously there is often some neurotic “blame” in me, something making me feel guilty and killing the pure joy of watching a football game when I realise I don’t know a football player in strong club (which I feel I should now) or I can’t remember where someone played previously before his transfer or who won Africa Cup of Nations. And handball is so fast you don’t even have time to think about these stories anyway! And I’m going to Kraków with middle level handball viewers (who are definitely less engaged than we are in football but for example watch Kielce and Płock in Champions League) so I hope they will also help me with some questions during the game.

    • There was some kind of stereotype among “football only” kind of fans that handball is primitive and the main tactic is to throw a ball as fast as possible in direction of GK face so he will automatically move to save face but when I watch games I find it as irrational as belief that in football you should shoot from all positions and angles because more shots guarantees more goals ‘per se’.

  3. Also, it made me wonder why USA are so poor in handball. Ofc they have a lot of other team sports and maybe handball simply didn’t find a place, but with high tempo and constantly changing scoreline it looks like a game Americans could love. And if they loved it they would probably become a power.

  4. My missus was an Oxford Blue in this sport. Played a few games and think I wore the kit from that season to the Friendship once.

    It’s a great game, surprisingly tough.

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