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26.10.2019, 12:42
The London beach club finding players a home
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FEATURE: British Champions London GD are creating something special. A team almost completely made-up of players from overseas are using beach handball to help those in one of the world’s busiest cities find a sense of belonging.
 

THE LONDON BEACH CLUB FINDING PLAYERS A HOME

When you first move to a new city miles away from home it can be easy to be lost. When that city is London, with its nine million inhabitants, missing friends and family can be particularly tough.

Yet in this city of hustle and bustle, there is a small, sandy sanctuary that is helping new arrivals feel at home.

On this tiny, hidden patch of sand in the heart of London near London Bridge, the British beach handball team London GD train.

It is here, with the British capital’s concrete jungle oblivious, that the squad here at the Champions Cup in Catania have been training three times a week in preparation for this end-of-season spectacular. It has brought together a squad of 10 players from all corners of the globe. Only one player, Alysha Martin, hails from Britain.

The girls celebrate winning a period against Hannover in their Group C match on Thursday

The team on duty in Sicily consists of two Germans, one Italian, one Cypriot, one Spaniard, one Swede, one Dutchwoman, one Portuguese and one New Zealander.

Together, the London GD beach community is welcoming players from around the world with open arms. As Italian Tania Corti says: “We might not all speak English but we have one common language: handball.”

The team is led by Cypriot beach handball international Maria Marselli, who came to London six years ago to study law. After three years at the University of Bristol she moved to London, helped set up the beach team and has never looked back. They competed at the Champions Cup in 2017 and regularly play in ebt events across Europe.

“London is not an easy city to live in and playing beach handball is just as tough,” says Maria, who represented Cyprus at the Beach Euro this summer. “It was hard in the beginning but slowly we are finding our feet and the group of players we have is something really special.”

Corti, who is back on Italian sand this week after arriving in Britain three years ago, agrees. “What’s interesting about our team is that we all come from different nationalities, different cultures and different ways of thinking,” she says. “Sometimes it can be hard but we get along so well it helps.

“When you move to somewhere like London and you are alone, having a community like this is important and it becomes your family. This gives me enthusiasm and friendship that you need in a city like this because you’re family are not there. There’s a lot of comfort to take from it.”

That is exactly the reason why Francesca Graham signed up for the team having touched down in London from New Zealand 18 months ago.

An avid player of a multitude of sports, Graham played touch rugby, volleyball and netball back home before taking up handball and then beach handball prior to arriving in the British Isles.

“I fell in love with the sport when I was still living New Zealand, I thought it was awesome,” says the Kiwi, who has been London’s top scorer in Catania this week. “When I moved to the UK, I wanted to find a club to keep playing and to meet like-minded people. I think I arrived on the Tuesday and joined my first training session on the Thursday!

“As a club we pride ourselves in being inclusive and friendly, and we are like a family. That’s especially important when you’re living so far away from home.”

The London GD team all smiles in Sicily

Life in the British capital can take its toll on even the most hardened Londoner. But with sand between their toes and views of the London Eye and the Shard from their secret sandy practise court, the girls all feel a sense of belonging – all thanks to beach handball.

“It can be hard. Where do you expect to find the time when you leave for work at seven in the morning and train in the evenings twice a week and at the weekend?” asks Tania. “But we are in the middle of London, it’s a cool location and a great place to escape everything around us. The noise, the people, work, stress. We can forget about all of that when we play here.”

It is certainly unique. And it is a point not lost on Marselli. “The thing is we are playing beach handball in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world,” she says, wide-eyed. “In a small patch of sand in London. You wonder what other great things are also happening that people do not know about around the world.

“What we have created and what we are developing is special.”

While it might sound like a dream, playing beach handball around at exotic locations, it is not all fun in the sun for the team, who have to fund all of their trips abroad themselves.

However, there is a determination among the squad to keep improving – not easy with a high turnover of players who start playing with the team only to return home after a year.

“The good thing for us is that we are influencing the sport in the UK now – we are getting a little bit more exposure,” says Maria. “We are all sacrificing a lot of time and money to play improve awareness of it, but we love it and that’s why we keep doing it. Of course we have to self-fund our trips but we hope beach handball can be awarded Olympic status, which could bring some potential funding.”

While the team failed in their quest to reach the Champions Cup quarter-finals in Sicily, the squad remained in high spirits. A first win in the competition came in a shootout success against Hannover in the Consolation Round on Saturday morning to spark wild celebrations.

Striving for success and having fun are precisely the motives why these three girls and their teammates are committed to London GD.

“Honestly, this team is one of the reasons I stay in London – because of the girls,” adds Marselli. “I could go back to Cyprus and I could play there, but we live in London and play beach handball – it is what makes it unique. It’s just not the same anywhere else. I just don’t get the same emotions playing this sport back home as I do playing in the UK. That is not usual.”

So if you are a handball player lost in London looking for a club – you know who to find.

There is a beach handball family awaiting to take you in and, who knows, maybe we will see you at the Champions Cup next year and gracing the international stage.


TEXT: EHF/ab
 
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