Spearheaded by two close friends, Edinburgh Handball Club’s future is driven by a continental flair.
Not only has the club inherited a multinational squad of players, Frenchmen Mounir Iddir and Damien Roux are drawing on their own illustrious backgrounds to raise the profile of the sport across the city.
Progressing as semi-professional players in their native France in the midst of their teenage years, both men embarked on a new life in Scotland after setting up a communications business based in Loanhead. However, their devotion to continue playing a sport which once saw the pair compete in the French national championships, remains just as fierce on UK shores.
The club’s male and female squads recently won their respective competitions in a Scottish/North-East event in Newcastle, a success that surpassed their runners-up positions in the Scottish Handball Association’s national leagues.
However, with only seven clubs competing within the national setup, and costs and availability of pitch hire often hindering participation, the contrast of the sport here, compared to its standing on the European mainland is striking. Iddir, who studied at Napier University, said: “We want to bring a better approach here in Scotland. The best professional leagues for handball are in France, Germany and Spain where the top player is earning about £500,000 per year.
“There isn’t much money involved in handball here though, so we hire a court for the weekend in Blackburn (West Lothian) and all the teams from the league meet there. This is the cheapest way we have found because some courts in Edinburgh are costing £120 per hour to hire.
“We had a great time down in Newcastle but also went there to win. Winning has shown we can compete outwith Scotland and do well. Playing against new teams was great as handball is not a big sport in the UK so this was an opportunity to play more games. Last year the girls went down and won it so it was great to make it a double success this year.”
Roux, meanwhile, who joined Iddir seven years later in Edinburgh in 2009, is optimistic the club can remain competitive and enhance its credentials both on-and-off the court. The club, which was founded in 2002 and has previously played under the name of the Edinburgh Eagles and Gracemount Handball Club, has benefited from the sport’s exposure at London Olympics and membership rates have doubled in the past 12 months.
Roux said: “This is what we are trying to give to handball in Edinburgh. There wasn’t a good structure two or three years ago so we want to bring a fresh approach. We have managed to get lottery funding and some sponsors and everyone paid their fees so we have enough money to prepare for next season. We now have more stability, setting up a website, Facebook page, so it is moving in the right direction.
“It’s difficult to attract Scottish players, especially when the sport is up against football or rugby. The Olympics last year were a huge boost for us as we had about 30 players in both the men and women’s teams, but this season that figure doubled to about 60.
“We have a mix of students and working professionals in our sides. We just want to make this great sport that bit more famous here.”
Iddir added: “We want to have a dedicated home in the future where people come to play and watch handball in Edinburgh. We recently had a team from Germany fly over to play a friendly so that was great to come up against guys from such a good level. It keeps you really fit and you have to be smart and quick on the court.”
Edinburgh Handball Club are looking for new players and sponsorship for next season. Please visit www.edinburghhandball.com or email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.