Sisters of evolution: how a handball team was born

From nothing to the 2012 Olympics, Robin Scott-Elliot charts the amazing rise of Britain’s side

This is a story of cash crises, job losses and the familiar struggle to makes ends meet, but what bars it from becoming a morose inclusion in the zeitgeist is that those involved could not be happier with their lot.

Yesterday afternoon when a former winner of Scandinavian Big Brother flung home a penalty to seal victory for Britain’s fledgling handball side over opponents preparing for the world championship, it cued abundant celebrations for her and her team-mates. It was one up for the optimists.

“Today makes it all seem worthwhile,” said Kathryn Fudge, scorer of four goals against Angola in a warm-up event for the 2012 Olympics designed to test team and venue, and barer of a name that will not take much remembering for next year. Fudge, a tall left-back from Bury, scored her first inside the opening minute and only a post denied her a four-minute hat-trick.

If an audience consisting for the large part of noisy schoolchildren did not need persuading that an afternoon off was something to shout about, a ferocious performance by a British team in a sport that is fast and physical – players departed the arena sporting bruises and black eyes – suggested that a wider audience will be easily won over come 2012.

In Sydney, handball became the cult hit of the 2000 Games, attracting large audiences and in Beijing three years ago it was one of the best attended events. “The Copper Box”, as the 6,500-arena has been branded – its outside is clad in copper – is not one of the Olympic Park’s more striking venues but, intimate and noisy, it will challenge any for atmosphere. Those with tickets – it is sold out – for a sport that registers with few Britons, are sitting on an improbable winner if yesterday’s contest, a 22-20 victory for Britain over Africa’s best side is anything to go by.

That Britain will have a team involved is perhaps even more improbable. As hosts they are entitled to a place but when London was awarded the Olympics in 2005 there was no such thing as a British handball team.

An early attempt, in 2007, to raise the 16 women needed to make up the squad gleaned a total of three players. Through talent searches – Fudge is one of three to have come through a UK Sport campaign fronted by Sir Steve Redgrave – and a Jack Charlton-esque ancestorial trawl around Europe’s leagues, they now have a playing group that has made remarkable progress. As yesterday’s result – part of the six-team London Handball Cup – demonstrated, they are fast closing the gap. “We have progressed so much,” said Britt Goodwin.

It was Goodwin who scored the last-minute penalty. She is one of the team’s most experienced players and, having grown up in Norway ,one of those who has a true grounding in the sport.

Her father, Steve, was a footballer for Norwich and Southend before moving to Norway, where the family settled. In 2005, the year London won the Games, Goodwin won the first Sweden/Norway Big Brother and a prize of £100,000 that has helped fund her journey back to her father’s home.

It has not been a smooth ride. When she first joined the squad there were moments of genuine despair. “The lowest of the low,” was how she recently described the standard of the early days. “We have been working so hard and to finally be here we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said yesterday. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs and we’re very proud to be here.”

In the crowd, Jan Jukes was proudly wearing a British handball T-shirt. “No 1 fan” it said on the sleeve. Her daughter Louise was a junior England hockey player when she caught Redgrave’s appeal on the BBC News channel. Soon she was leaving her job, her boyfriend and her family to move to Denmark to try and make it at a sport she had never heard of. “I was happy for her to chase her dream,” said Jan.

It has not come easily. The T-shirt was designed by her daughter who also sorted the printing and manufacture and she and the rest of her team-mates sell them to try and raise much-needed funds.

The women’s squad are now based at Crystal Palace and share flats and houses around the area. They train twice a day, six times a week ,and regularity has led to dramatic improvement.

At full-time, having come from three goals down midway through the second half, the British players leapt and hugged each other and danced around the court.

“If you look back four, five years you would never have imagined that at all,” said Fudge. “There were a few of us that choked up during the anthems… but it’s the Olympic dream, isn’t it?”

Know the sport: Handball

Britain will be entering handball teams in the Olympics for the first time, but the men’s sport has been a fixture since Munich in 1972 and women were included four years later in Montreal. France (men) and Norway (women) are the current champions. The sport’s heartland is Scandinavia and eastern Europe, although China is a rising force.

The seven-a-side matches, on a 40m x 20m court, are played with what looks like a shrunken football – big hands are an advantage. Players dribble and pass while shots reach 100kmh. Games comprise two 30-minute halves and usually see 40 to 50 goals. “It’s very physical,” said Louise Jukes, one of the British squad. “That’s what I love about it, a bit rough and tumble yet still elegant and skilful.”

Watch, learn and play with “The Games and Beyond”

The Games and Beyond, a Sport-England-led initiative which aims to turn Olympic and Paralympic spectators into sporting participants, launched last week.

Next summer hundreds of the world’s best athletes will descend on London for the greatest sporting show on earth, and The Games and Beyond will help ticketholders prepare for this marvellous spectacle.

Over one million Olympic and Paralympic ticketholders are being given the opportunity to discover the stories behind the sports on show and also find out how they can play the sports themselves.

Anyone who has purchased a ticket for London 2012 will receive a series of newsletters signposting them to www.thegamesandbeyond.coma website that is open to everyone and packed full of need-to-know information, exciting Games news and guides to help people take part in each sport.

The Games and Beyond is part of Sport England’s London 2012 legacy programme which aims to build on the excitement of a home Olympic and Paralympic Games to increase sporting participation across the country.

Jennie Price, Sport England’s Chief Executive, said: “London 2012 will offer over a million people the opportunity to enjoy the drama of watching live competition, learn more about the events and be inspired to go out and play sport. 

“With the help of The Games and Beyond, every Olympic and Paralympic spectator will be able to become a participant and discover a sport that they enjoy playing, ensuring that the excitement of London 2012 is sustained to create a lasting legacy.”

The Games and Beyond has been developed by Sport England in partnership with all of the national governing bodies of Olympic and Paralympic sports and is supported by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG).

Chris Townsend, Commercial Director at LOCOG, said: “We have had an unprecedented level of interest in tickets for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, it shows that the British public want to be part of London 2012. We hope that The Games and Beyond will not only help people understand the sports that they are going to watch but also try out the sports for themselves.”

Even if you do not have tickets to the Games you can still view the website and find out how you can take up an Olympic or Paralympic sport, just visit

Train your way into 2012 with the Flames!

Train your way into 2012 with Newham Flames Handball Club.  Free Handball try out sessions are being offered by the Newham Flames Handball Club, one of the highest achieving Youth Handball Clubs in the country.

Taking place at Newham Leisure Centre E13 8SD Newham Flames are offering 12 weeks of Handball coaching leading to competitions and festivals.  Full details of the sessions can be found at or by contacting Newham Handball club officials through their website at

Professional coaches will run high quality sessions that cater for all ages, ability and gender so why not throw yourself into 2012 with Handball, one of the fastest growing Olympic sports in the UK.

Entries in final days to EHA U13 and U15 Handball National Schools Cup Competitions

Entries to the England Handball Association (EHA) National Schools Cup competitions close this week.  Some difficulties have been experienced by schools submitting entries in the South of England.  To make sure your entry is received please ensure you use the following email address for South of England competition organiser Aranka Bekker:

EHA organise National cup competitions for U13 and U15 girls and boys school teams with teams competing on a local basis first.

The National Finals of this year’s competition will take place on 23rd June 2012 at the new Olympic Handball Training venue in Barking, Essex. South of England Finals will take place on 16th March 2012.

To enter this year’s competition please be sure to email your entry form to Aranka Bekker by 15th December 2011. The cost is £10 per school and entry forms can be found on the England Handball Association website by clicking here.

London 2012 Olympic Handball test event hailed as major success

The London Handball Cup, the official London 2012 Olympic test event, has been hailed as a major success by organisers, athletes and spectators alike after five days of competition culminated in a gold medal for Austria today.

Six women’s teams battled it out in the new Handball Arena in the Olympic Park in Stratford, with Austria defeating Poland 23-22 in a closely fought final.

Angola, who were unlucky not to claim a final place after losing 26-25 to Poland in the semi-final, took the bronze medal with a 29-24 win over China, while hosts Britain missed out on the semi-finals after losing to Austria in their final group match.

Over 10,000 tickets for the event were given out by London 2012 organisers to local schools, colleges and residents to create a fantastic atmosphere here.

The test event was used to test vital operations by London 2012 including testing of competition equipment, scoreboards, results, workforce and officials.

“It is great to see competitive action in the Handball Arena,” said London 2012 head of sport competition David Luckes.

“The test event has run very smoothly and the atmosphere generated by the local crowd has been electric.

“Not only have we been able to test our operations, this has also been a great chance to showcase handball to a wider audience.

“We have been testing our scoring systems and timing technology as well as our workforce.

“The ability to integrate within a team to deliver a competitive event has been an invaluable experience for our staff and volunteers and will stand us in good stead for next summer.”

Peter Sichelschmidt, a senior member of the International Handball Federation (IHF) Competition and Organising Commission, was also full of praise for the competition.

“We are delighted with the event,” he said

“It has been well organised with a fantastic atmosphere.

“There have been no major issues, just a few small things, but that is why we have a test event.

“It was vital to run this event prior to the Olympic Games next year, and with the knowledge we will take from this event, I am confident that Handball will be a real success at London 2012.”

But the biggest praise came from Herbert Müller, the coach of the winning Austrian team.

“It was a great honour to play at this tournament and I really like the Olympic Handball Arena, especially the multi-coloured seats,” he said.

“The organisation was perfect and the whole Austrian team really enjoyed it.”

The Handball Arena was the third Olympic Park venue to be completed in May 2011 and will seat up to 6,500 spectators at Games time.

After the Games, capacity will be increased to accommodate up to 7,500 spectators as it becomes a multiuse venue for community use, athletic training and events.

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