‘Knotsbal' is the rage in Wageningen. The number of teams in this sport has increased from 8 to 63 in six years. A bewildering growth. In quality as well as quantity. Wageningen teams will compete in the national competition on 9 April and hope to bring home the trophy for the fifth time in a row. A class of its own.
For those who see knotsbal being played for the first time, the speed of the game is perhaps its biggest surprise. The word ‘knots' (‘club' in English) in fact conjures up an image of slow and steady rather than fast and furious. The practice match in Wageningen, however, makes it clear that the game is fast and it's fierce. Quite often, a club is knocked down during the battle.
Wageningen is a big name in knotsbal, a world strikingly small. In the past four years, Wageningen teams had stood on the highest position of the victory podium in the national student championship, considered by knotsbal players as the world championship. This year, too, Wageningen is the hot favourite, all the more so as the tournament will be held in Wageningen.
The rise of knotsbal in Wageningen is something of a mystery. In 2005, there were just eight teams; now, there are 63. This means that the number of teams has doubled every two years since 2005. The players themselves cannot offer any conclusive explanation for this rise. Tim Mohlmann began to play knotsbal six years ago for ‘De Strijdvlegels', one of the favourite teams in the national student championship. He thinks that the low threshold character of the game is one of its major success factors. ‘You don't have to be a member of any club and the game is quite simple. Everyone can therefore join in. People get acquainted with the sport after having stood in just once for someone in a team.'
Mohlmann also points out that sports foundation SWI Thymos gives the knotsballers a lot of leeway when planning the schedule in the sports courts. Yet another reason for its popularity is its being a mixed sport with males and females playing together in one team, although the players themselves do not find this reason very relevant. Above all, it is unclear why all these reasons are valid specifically in Wageningen, as knotsbal is still a fairly insignificant niche sport in most other university towns.
In any case, popularity is not a guarantee for success, says Geert Mulders. He is the captain of De Strijdvlegels, but realizes very clearly that being the reigning champion is not the end of the race. ‘The other cities have strong teams too. Enschede even has a knotsbal association, while we don't have that in Wageningen.'
Twenty teams from eight cities will take part in the national student championship on 9 April. In the first round, the teams will play in randomly allocated groups. From this round, a winners' group and a losers' group will emerge. Those in the winners' group will compete for the title. The champion will take home the Golden Club.