Not that long ago it was tough for kids to get their hands on a football at WA primary schools.
Indeed, you were king of the sports yard if you dared bring along the elder brother’s Burley, Sherrin or even those old Ross Faulkners for kick-to-kick at lunchtime.
A tennis ball was a lot easier to find. They were cheaper and normally bought in packs so there were plenty to go around.
Painted handball courts were often the target for youngsters wanting a bit of exercise and competition.
Spotting a sport called handball on the London 2012 program brought make memories of a generation ago.
Turning up to Olympic Games tournament in Stratford there was the expectation of seeing a stage featuring a square with a footprint similar to a telephone box divided into quarter boxes. Or on reflection, some of the bigger kids at primary school had a bigger area in which to play. But the idea was the same. Basically it was hand tennis. And we all got very good at it.
What was seen at the Olympic handball tournament was a sporting sight to behold. It is an athletic pursuit not familiar back home, although Australia did automatically qualify for the Sydney Games series because of its status as host nation.
Better known as team handball, or in non-playing countries it is called European handball, it is a bit like soccer by fingers with a bit of the ideals of basketball, hockey and rugby thrown in.
And it is exciting.
While the game is rarely seen on our shores it is surprising that it hasn’t been embraced by Australians.
After all, we’re good at the most of the sport’s concepts. Even borrowing from those days of the old schoolyard our kids love to play brandy – throwing a tennis ball at a target (normally a mate), which is the way to score in the game played by 31 million people around the globe.
Let’s face it, Australia’s Olympic medal tally is on the decline so the more sports in which we qualify at Games level can only lift our potential haul.
There is no doubt handball is a crowd favourite in Europe.
The quarterfinal battle between powerhouse France and Spain at the renovated basketball arena featured fan noise that wasn’t anywhere near as loud as what was heard during the hoops tournament. The atmosphere was akin to a major league soccer match with chanting, jeers and lots of criticism for the referees.
The Australian Handball Federation controls the local code and has qualified our national team for next year’s world championships in Spain. Our best player, Bevan Calvert, plays in the German Bundesliga, considered the best competition in the world.
But without a dramatic lift in exposure it is unlikely the game is going to grow too fast in our big brown land.
However, remember that Jamaica once had a Winter Olympics bobsled team.
Maybe we should get the game, which is played by both sexes, introduced into our education systems.
But we’ll need more than just tennis balls.
Aussies in action