18th June 2018

The rise of Stroud as a handball superpower

Stroud Handball Club has produced eye-catching results in junior handball competitions, while the club's close links with local schools has borne fruit. On top of this three players have made it into a GB age group squad.

In the recent National Schools Finals, Stroud High School won their way through to the final of the Under 15 girls’ competition, where they lost to Sale Grammar School. It was the second time in three years that the school team has got to the final. Two other schools took home silver medals, with Pate’s Grammar School runners-up in the boys’ Under 13 competition, and Marling School doing the same in the boys’ Under 15 tournament.

Most of these juniors also play for Stroud Handball Club, and in their club colours they won the Under 16 national title and were runners-up in the Under 19 event. In the latter the girls lost an agonisingly close final against Olympia Cannock, who scored in the last 30 seconds of the game.

The club also has representatives on the GB pathway. Ellie Thompson was part of the GB Under-18s that played in the IHF/EHF Trophy in Bosnia last month, and her team-mates Alex Neilson and Ellie Weeks were both in the training squad. Stroud also has athletes in the regional age-group academy, meaning the pipeline to national representation is firmly established.

What’s the reason behind Stroud’s stunning success at age-group level? It’s the work done to introduce schools to the sport, says Stroud Handball Club head coach and South West Regional Academy Coach Matt Durber - who is a driving force behind the success of the Gloucestershire town. “Initially there were a few schools that had contacted the County Sports Partnership, Active Gloucestershire, so they were actively looking to start handball. Because we were – and still are – the only club around, the CSP put us in touch with the schools and we started from there.

“We get requests all the time now, from secondary schools and primary schools asking us to go in and do things, so we never have to go out and sell ourselves. It’s usually schools coming to us.”

Durber says the changing PE curriculum has played in handball’s favour. Once handball is established in a school, it’s an instant hit. “I think in a lot of the secondary schools it’s down to the GCSE specification – a lot of team sports have been cut, a lot of schools are looking at handball as their second team sport for a lot of students.

“It works well in our favour, because there are a lot of schools now looking to do handball. And then when we go in and deliver handball, they see what an amazing sport it is and how fun it is.”

As well as the changing curriculum, handball is successful because of its low requirement for equipment and facilities. Durber added: “The schools and the teachers love that, and the kids, once they start playing it, get really into it. Then they look to start doing more outside the school session so we’re putting on the junior sessions – and we’re going to have to look to put on more sessions to cover the demand for next year.”

Durber’s next ambition is to create a group of young leaders, who can deliver handball to primary schools and cope with the demand coming in to him from Gloucestershire schools. “We’ve got some of our Under-19s for whom we’re running a Level-1 course this weekend, so they’ll be able to start going into schools and coaching the younger ones – going into primary schools and trying to introduce handball in primary schools, and run some competitions there. [Coaching] gives them more skills and looks good on their CVs.”

With such success at junior level, it’s surely only a matter of time until we see Stroud start climbing the senior leagues. Both senior men and women play in the Regional League South West but the rest of the country should watch out: Stroud is on the move.

[The photo shows Stroud Handball Club Under 16 girls team, National Champions 2018]

Posted in Youth Development, Women and Girls, GB, Under-19 Competition, Under-16 Competition, South West