THE first difficulty in trying to explain to people what korfball is, seems to be getting them to understand what you’re actually saying.

It’s not course ball, Corfe ball (presumably coming from Corfe Castle) or cough ball.

And it doesn’t get that much easier from there.

In short, korfball is a mixed sex game a little like a cross between netball and basketball, where the aim is to score baskets.

Women can only defend women, men can only defend men and you have to stay in your own half of the court, either defending or attacking.

Each team consists of eight players, four of each sex.

The sport has been played in the UK for 60 years, and is popular north of London, but until recently had barely been heard of in the south.

But that is all changing.

The South West Korfball Association is one of the fastest growing in the whole of Europe, having grown by 60 per cent in the last year.

And Southampton’s korfball club, Southampton Spartans, is celebrating its first birthday.

Talking to members of the club, it’s clear that the culture around the sport is as important as what happens on the court.

“You meet loads of new people,” says Katharina Leak, a 22-year-old teacher who lives in Southampton.

“Because it’s mixed sex it has a really relaxed atmosphere. It’s a lot friendlier than other sports.”

David Creed, who set up the Southampton club with Kate Fraser-Smith, agrees, adding that while the sport is very competitive on the court, it’s very friendly off it.

“The fact that it’s mixed sex means there are lots of tactics involved,” says the 22-year-old.

“Some people think it can’t be competitive because it’s mixed sex but it’s the ultimate competitive sport because you’ve got to work together to win.”

“If you lose you lose, whereas if you lose in a game like netball, everyone gets really cross!” adds Chloe Watts, a student.

Everyone seems to agree that korfball attracts a different crowd to other sports.

“The weirder the sport, the nicer the people!” jokes Chloe.

“I only care because it’s korfball – I wouldn’t have played anything else, I would have just gone to the gym,” says Kate, a 32-yearold oil response trainer from Southampton.

“Lots of people play because they want something different and they want to meet people.”

A number of firm friendships have already been made in the club.

As well as training and competing together, the members also take part in social activities such as pub quizzes.

“It’s nice, because when you are new to a city and a bit older, how do you meet people other than at work?” says Katharina.

“It’s a really good way to meet a diverse range of people – students, doctors, dentists, teachers,” says James Hart, a 36-year-old engineer who joined the club shortly after moving to Southampton last year.

The club also attracts a wide age range, with current members ranging from students to a 48-year-old, and other clubs have people playing into their 70s and 80s.

David adds: “A lot of people here have become really good friends. For me, if you compare it to the other options, like joining a rugby, football or cricket team, that can be quite a pressurised environment to go into, especially being male.

“I started playing korfball at university because I wanted to replace football. I’d had enough of it.

I have probably fallen in love with korfball.”

And it’s not only the sport that people fall in love with.

Thanks to being a mixedsex sport, it is known for creating korfball couples – and korfball babies.

The Southampton team is about to have its first korfball baby, born to a couple who met playing the sport a number of years ago.

Katharina grew up playing korfball in Norfolk, where the sport is very popular.

“Where there are more clubs, there are loads of korfball couples and babies and kids who also play,” she says.

“There’s the possibility of finding romance because it’s a mixed sport, but so far we’ve just made some really good friends.” Korfball was created in the Netherlands in 1902 by teacher Nico Broekhuysen with both adults and children in mind, specifically designed to be played by boys and girls together.

“Part of the attraction is breaking down gender barriers, especially in school,” says Katharina.

“It’s good having to work together as a team. I think it’s a really good skill for children to learn.

“I think it helps them to take each other more seriously, too. If you play sport together you have to work together to win.

“It creates mutual respect,” adds David, a trainee teacher.

Georgie Booth, an 18- year-old student, adds: “When I was at school, girls were pushed towards netball and boys towards football.

“Because I wanted to play football I had to play it with the boys, so I think it’s nice to have a sport that you can all play together rather than being separated out.”

Katie Spires, a 24-year-old PhD student, says: “It’s a different dynamic to other sports. There’s no sense that either sex is better than the other.”

Whatever its appeal is down to, korfball is certainly proving popular.

The Southampton club – which consists of a student and non-student team – has grown from its two founding members to 50 within its first year.

As well as hoping that it will carry on growing, the members are also keen for other clubs to set up in the area.

“We want more teams to play,” says David, “And to beat!”

  •  For more information visit the website or find the Southampton Spartan’s page on Facebook.