Manchester Handball Club overcome Durham in tense encounter

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Sunday 27th November saw Durham Men’s A Handball battle it out against Manchester Handball Club in what was originally a National Cup fixture. However, the visitors were made to forfeit the match due to excessive injuries and so a back-and-forth friendly match ensued instead, ending in a 30-26 win for Manchester.

Their 2nd team – who were the original team Durham were up against in the first round – had sustained “a couple of injuries in the last few days” according to the Manchester manager. They therefore were not able to play and so had to forfeit, meaning Durham were already through to the next round. Unsurprisingly, the visitors’ manager described the situation as “really annoying”, although I’m not sure Durham would have the same take.

Nevertheless, a friendly game was played as their 2’s were able to nab some of their 1’s players. Hence, I found myself sitting courtside, ready to watch my first ever handball game, while ABBA’s ‘Voulez-Vous’ was blaring from the speakers during the warm-up.

It was a lively start as Durham University’s captain, Neo Yeung, crashed an effort against the crossbar – resulting in gasps and groans from those watching on. Manchester dealt the first blow, but Martin Lam sent a quick response by scoring on the other end for DU. A familiar pattern emerged, with goals being traded back and forth in the early minutes.

Manchester’s number 3, playing on the left, was undoubtedly their danger man, towering above the Durham players while engaging his bullet arm. A pick of these early goals, however, came from Durham’s number 15 – Will Strevens – who managed to nutmeg the opposition goalkeeper. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Strevens ended up as Durham’s Player of the Match.

The atmosphere inside the sports hall turned up a notch as Durham’s supporters erupted in applause after Jonny Gregory’s two shots made it 8-8, midway through the first half. Although the tension wasn’t unbearable; perhaps because an array of songs accompanied the game in the background, including several Dua Lipa ones. This all made for an exciting but enjoyable atmosphere as the end of the first half neared.

After a couple of timeouts, Manchester built a 4-goal cushion thanks to their number 3 slicing through the air and scoring a couple of screamers. Saves from both DU goalkeepers – George Goddard and Sam Bollard – kept Durham in the game, as did their enthusiastic supporters; chants of “DU handball”, followed by five claps, filled the sports hall.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that Strevens ended up as Durham’s Player of the Match.

A couple of goals from Yeung (including a penalty) meant Manchester’s lead was only five after the first 30 minutes, with the score reading 12-17 and Major Lazer & DJ Snake’s tune ‘Lean On’ ringing out.

The beginning of the second half was accompanied by cries of “Come on Durham” and a lion’s roar emitted from Goddard as he made an excellent save, tipping a shot onto the crossbar. He backed this up with several other blocks which prime Manuel Neuer would have been proud of.

Durham’s comeback was further aided by some silky moves – most notably a behind-the-back assist from Nil Orts Bosch. With just over 15 minutes to play, the score stood at 19-21 to Manchester, forcing their manager to call a timeout, who was looking somewhat anxious.

The tension was further built by a lack of background music in the second half, much to my disappointment.

Lam then cut the deficit to one goal with 10 minutes left, but after a Durham timeout, Manchester kicked on – with their number 10 scoring several gems. He then proceeded to stare at the Durham supporters with daggers in his eyes, silencing the “DU handball” chants. The deficit rose to five, but this was cut short to three; the score being 24-27 with 2:30 to play. However, Manchester were able to hang on thanks to goals in quick succession, handing DU a 26-30 defeat.

Despite the loss, the Durham Handball team can take great pride in the fact that they were up against a mix of players from Manchester 1’s and those from the 2’s. Manchester 1’s compete at the very highest level – in the Men’s Premier North handball league – while their 2’s compete in the North Regional League. Meanwhile, Durham isn’t in either and yet still managed to push their opponents to the very last minute and cause them problems.

Considering DU handball is one of the university’s youngest teams – having only been formed in 2014 – there is certainly evidence of a bright and promising future. I highly recommend going along to support the handball teams in the future as it makes for a great watch, especially if you are an ABBA fan.

Image: Tom Ewart-Smith

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