Women’s international handball took over Liverpool’s Echo Arena for a night, bringing 2,000 fans, 47 goals, two nations and one very confused journalist to the dockside venue.
I was that confused journalist, attending the event on a last minute impulse to watch Great Britain take on Finland in a decisive match to see who would progress to the qualifying rounds of the 2010 European Championships. Having applied for press accreditation less than two days before the whistle blew to signal the start of the match, I had, however, failed to take into account the fact that I knew practically nothing about handball.
After an evening of watching grainy YouTube videos of previous matches and attempting to understand the very longwinded official International Handball Federation Rules of the game, I had only succeeded in further confusing myself as to what was going to happen.
So, sitting in the press area looking down on the court, there was little doubt in my mind that for the next hour I would be completely lost and unable to turn the action in front of me into even a half decent match review for my sports journalism module portfolio.
However, as that whistle blew and the game got underway, my confusion soon transformed into a mixture of awe, excitement and that buzz of energy that can only be generated by a live sporting event and the atmosphere it induces.
The match was none-stop action from the first whistle to the last, and in a nail-biting finish that saw team GB win by a single goal, 24-23, the British women ensured they became the first ever British Handball team to reach a qualifying tournament.
Despite empty seats outnumbering those filled, the surprisingly large crowd created a bigger atmosphere than many of the sporting events to have been held within the confines of the Echo Arena. This was made especially clear when, with GB leading 11-5 shortly before the half, a very ambitious but nonetheless moving rendition of ‘You’re not singing anymore’ was started by a section of the British supporters who, it can only be presumed, were singing more to the numerous empty beer glasses that littered their foot wells than at the entirely British audience.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have no idea what constitutes a foul in this game. After an hour of witnessing a slight shove receive a yellow card and what can only be described as a wrestling-influenced body slam being shrugged off by the ref, some of this game's finer points are lost on me. However, with close competition and an atmosphere that could challenge that of most mainstream sports, I can only hope top level handball makes a return to Liverpool in the not too distant future.
By Luke Johnson, Sports Editor
Team GB's Holly Lam-Moores with a flying shot; Great Britain celebrate with Liverpool's Lord Mayor