As many of you will know, I love the UCL Dodgeball Society; the sport itself is great fun, the vibe both relaxed and gently competitive, and the people (eventually) made me feel socially relevant, being only one of two large groups of friends to really do that last year. But I’d never actually played competitive dodgeball due to a combination of poor organisation on my part, and just being a bit crap at the sport; but today a tournament was held, taking place after all of last year’s first team had graduated but before any athletic freshers could replace them, giving me a rare opportunity to strut my dodgeballing stuff in the pale blue livery of UCL. And I buggered it up for the most part, but had a fantastic day in the process.
The tournament was a single-day affair, a round-robin group stage followed by knockout rounds that we failed to reach because we were drawn in a group of a team a league higher than us, a yea, two leagues higher than us, and a conglomerate of international-standard players who only seem to meet and train in summer, like the dodgeballing equivalent of a musical supergroup that only tour in a three-week span in July for no apparent reason. Our results were better than we hoped – a draw, a whitewash and a gutting defeat that cost us a quarter-final place – but looking back I felt so much regret for what we did, and what we nearly accomplished; pushing our first opponents just a little harder to secure the win, rather than the draw, would have put us in a much stronger position, and actually seems rather plausible considering the relative quality of the two sides we lost to. I also made a single kill, and recorded a single catch that managed to lose us the game; I stepped out of bounds just before I secured the ball, so instead of being the last player heroically bringing a team-mate in to launch a valiant comeback, I was just the last man standing, who happened to walk off the court instead of actually be hit by an opponent.
But it was the vibe of the day that was the most awesome. It’s been years since I played a sport competitively like this, punctuating long periods of sideline speculation and stretching with frenzied moments of ball-tossing, apart from the increasingly toxic world of watching Tottenham play. This was a thing I was involved in, not as a spectator or a critic, but as someone who was making things happen, albeit in a small way.
When the Minotaurs and Eagles came close to fists at a few close line calls, or when my teammates made spectacular catch after spectacular catch to keep our flagging, doomed place in the competition alive for another few throws, there was a rush you simply don’t get from writing eloquent essays or reading even the finest poetry.
I also learned a Hell of a lot about competitive dodgeball – namely that I need to keep my sodding feet inside the lines – and saw high-level dodgeball being played for the first time in my life, which is this insane mixture of machine-like cannon-fire and acrobatic ball-sweeping, layered over a surprisingly sophisticated tactical framework. It was fast, and brutal, but it all made sense and fitted into broader assessments of team styles, or individual talents.
I hope that we’re able to scrape a second team together to play in leagues, or even non-league cups, this year; because I love training sessions, and needlessly-costumed Sports Nights with the team, but this was a qualitatively different experience that I’m not going to let fade into a single memory.
Also, if you want a more minute-by-minute report of the day, head on to @ucludodgeball, where I was Tweeting merrily about the whole thing.