Sepak Takraw: the next big thing?

Sepak Takraw is announcing itself onto the sporting stage

James Sproston
8th March 2016
Let's play sepak: there's a new kid on the sports block | Image: James Sproston

Sepak Takraw is Newcastle’s newest and most obscure sports society. Just like volleyball, it involves three players with the aim not letting the ball bounce on your side of the court. However the twist is that instead of using your hands and arms, the players can only use their head, knees and feet, and you use a small wicker ball.

Originating in South East Asia, the sport can be traced back to the 15th century, developing from the Indonesian game ‘Raga’ that was popular with the Malacca Sultanate. The first official rules were drafted in 1829 by the Siam Sports Federation and soon became part of the curriculum in most schools. In the 1940s the game first became known as sepak takraw, and the modern form of the sport was born.

These days it’s Thailand and Malaysia that rule the sepak takraw world, with the highest-ranking European team being Germany in 14th. Only France and Switzerland accompany them in the top 24, and you’ll struggle to find any recognised Great Britain team. However Newcastle’s finest are looking to buck the trend.

After playing takraw when out in Malaysia, society president John Haswell decided to bring it back to the Great North with him. “After picking up the sport out in Malaysia and loving it, I told myself while I was out there it would be a good thing to try and start at uni. So eventually I managed to get the housemates to back it and kick-start the society”.

Once he got the initial support, it was important to get more people involved this year. “When we were first trying to get up and running, I was just trying to get my mates on board. But when we had the chance to really get it going in third year, we got quite a bit of attention at the freshers fair as we had a video of some professionals playing and people couldn’t believe what they were seeing.”

After picking up the sport out in Malaysia and loving it, I told myself while I was out there it would be a good thing to try and start at uni

The Takraw Society now has a growing number of committed members, who turn up regularly on Friday evenings and Sunday mornings. They usually play games with occasional drills; led by Ali and Azni, two Malaysian lads that have added some much needed expertise to the young society.

Having started out never having played the sport before, the players who turn up on a regular basis are now fully-fledged takraw maestros. All their work this year is now being geared towards playing some competitive fixtures in the near future.

Although there are few universities with established takraw societies, President John Haswell has searched far and wide to find teams for Newcastle to play. Instead of sorting a one-off fixture, he’s organised an entire tournament that will be hosted right here in Newcastle.

The University will welcome teams from Germany as well as other parts of the UK as the best of European talent clash in the Toon. There were initially some Belgians interested, but they must’ve pulled out because Newcastle look too damn good.

The players who turn up on a regular basis are now fully-fledged takraw maestros

The tourney starts on Saturday the 16th of April and continues the following day as the knockout rounds get underway. If you come along you’ll definitely see something you’ve never seen before. Some of these guys do backflips and roll spikes just like tennis players hit winners so it’s certainly going to be a spectacle.

Everyone at the society wants as many people as possible to come to the tournament, or even better come down to one of the sessions on at 7pm on Fridays and 11am on Sundays. It’s a growing sport and the more people that get involved, the better. If the tournament persuades more members to join next year then whatever the outcome, it’ll have been a success.

Newcastle Sepak Takraw is also getting involved in some Europe-wide initiatives to grow and develop the sport, as John has been in contact with the organisers of Swiss and German opens, as well as European boot camps, and will hope to get the society involved more next year.

However the most important thing for the takraw society at the moment is to keep encouraging new players to get involved in the sport. As the sport grows bigger in Newcastle and in the UK hopefully that’ll be a stepping-stone to build a great team, and this University should be at the forefront of that.

Newcastle Sepak Takraw is also getting involved in some Europe-wide initiatives to grow and develop the sport

In a sit-down interview, we talked with Jack Cryer, who only started playing takraw in October. Like most who took up takraw this year, he’d never heard of the sport before joining. When asked, he recalled “My housemates and I wanted to get involved in a sport this year. We originally thought about archery, but then we saw the Sepak Takraw stand at the Fresher’s Fair. We decided to go along to the first session to see what it was all about.”

We asked Jack to share his first impressions with us. “At first I thought it was going to be a bit like volleyball, but with your feet. While this kind of sums it up exactly, it’s even more fun than I thought it would be. My housemates and I already play for a very successful and popular 5-a-side football team called Berocca Juniors, and it’s really helped develop our first touch and ball control”

Jack is now a club stalwart and can’t imagine his life without the rattan ball. “From the first session, I was hooked. I think the fact there’s a good mix of people is really helpful. There are a few Malaysian guys who are just incredible, but they really help out those of us who had never even seen a Takraw ball before. It’s always great to see one of the newer guys doing an overhead kick.”

At first I thought it was going to be a bit like volleyball, but with your feet

As a member right at the heart of the society, Jack (like many players) appreciates how much work John has put into making this year as enjoyable as possible, and knows how far the society has come. “I’m really looking forward to this tournament in April that John Haswell has spent a lot of time organising. I think that we’re one of the only University Takraw teams in the country but I hope this isn’t the case next year. Considering that a lot of the team hadn’t even heard of Takraw six months ago, I think it’s pretty amazing how we’ll be competing against people from all over the world.”

Jack’s final remarks were “I don’t know why, but I get the feeling that Takraw is really going to take off in the UK soon and I think it’s really exciting to be so involved in these early stages.”

To echo what Jack said, Newcastle is really part of the worldwide takraw movement. Having spoken to both Jack and John, it’s really refreshing to feel their enthusiasm for the sport, and their desire to make it bigger. At this rate, there’s no reason why Newcastle can’t rule takraw in Britain, and go on to challenge Europe.

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  1. Thanks for all the hard work from everyone who's involved in the club and tournament. Hopefully we will soon see a university league forming and a UK team competing in the ISTAF World Cup.

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