As a noughties teen obsessed with sport, I often felt adrift in what felt like a sea of girls who were more interested in ‘inside’ activities. I was the first one on the hockey pitch, the last person to leave the netball courts. I cut up oranges for half time matches, collected bibs from the store cupboard and taped pictures of my favourite football players to the inside of my locker.
Back in the early 2000s, there was no Emma Radacanu, Sky Brown or Simone Biles to look up to – and in the UK, women’s football was far less visible than it is now. Without social media or TV coverage, we had to wait for the Olympics to roll around once every four years to find new sporting heroes – especially women. The message in the UK seemed to be: Girls don’t play sport. They’re not interested in watching it and probably, they don’t understand it. I knew that wasn’t true and treasured every crumb of evidence to prove otherwise. I rented the DVD of Sisterhood the Travelling Pants and watched Bridget fall in love with Eric on the soccer pitch, I went to the cinema three times for Bend it Like Beckham and watched gleefully as girls (!) in London (!) played football (!). Sure, the stars of the film were as interested in their love lives as they were in scoring goals on the pitch and sure, Keira Knightly somehow managed to maintain a post-game glow rather than melt into a ketchup-coloured heap, but seeing young women passionate about sport, learning how to curl free kicks and launch themselves into sliding tackles was inspirational.
But it still felt limiting. The early noughties were crying out for something more for girls. Something that didn’t hinge on romantic peril to make the story work. And then I found Quidditch. I opened Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and discovered that Harry would be joining not just the boys on the Quidditch pitch but would be flying alongside girls who were as quick, agile and strong as any their male teammates. Angelina Johnson was keen to remind Captain of the Gryffindor team, Oliver Wood that it was women as well as men in his pre-match team talk, and then strode out onto the pitch ready to destroy the opposition. The Hogwarts’ flying coach and referee, Madam Hooch was a powerful female leader. She had the fortitude to decide the outcome of a game with one sharp shriek on her whistle and could make or break a house team’s title challenge. Watching her take charge of that first flying lesson showed me that I had finally found a home for my sporty little heart.
Whilst some teams (Slytherin, we’re looking at you) were a less exciting all-male affair in Harry’s first year, Gryffindor showed that having girls on the team wasn’t a compromise. In the first match of the season, Angelina Johnson and Alicia Spinnet brought speed and agility as Chasers. It was up to newcomer Harry to secure the victory over the Slytherin team - but even he had a little help from Hermione, who magically assisted from the stands as Harry’s broom started to behave erratically…
As the stories progressed, so did the girls’ impact on the sport. From Cho Chang to Katie Bell, some of the finest Quidditch players Hogwarts saw were female. Ginny Weasley was the one, however, to prove that Quidditch could be more than a hobby. As a young girl, her older brothers dismissed her ambitions to be a Quidditch player, but Ginny was undeterred and borrowed her brothers’ broomsticks to practice without their knowledge. This paid off once she arrived at Hogwarts and was selected for the Gryffindor team. A star Chaser and Seeker, she went on to become a professional player for the all-female Holyhead Harpies before retiring as the senior Quidditch correspondent for the Daily Prophet. Ginny’s determination, ambition and physicality were the qualities she needed to take her passion to the next level and into professionalism.
As a keen keep-fit person myself, I might never literally leave the ground, but Harry Potter proved to me that with the right attitude and the right environment I could fly as a sportswoman. And so, I strove harder to score goals, win games and take home gold.
But Quidditch was more than just about trophies. The Hogwarts students discovered that friendship, teamwork and loyalty were at the heart of success, not only for the players, but the supporters as well. From Luna’s home-made lion hat to the cheering fans in the rain to McGonagall’s generous rule breaking in allowing Harry to even try out for the team as a lowly first year, the Harry Potter stories made it clear, that excelling at sport was something to be celebrated and encouraged as a community.
This was a message that I took to heart. Even when the support at my hockey matches had dwindled to the janitor and his spaniel, even when I was travelling solo to the outskirts of Uxbridge just to play hockey on a Wednesday night, even when the girls’ football team were relegated to using the netball posts for goals, even when we were losing games into the double digits, I thought of the Gryffindor team flying in every weather and the way that Quidditch bonded them. From then on, I knew it would all be worth it in the long run. Or in the Quidditch players case, the long flight!