Friday, 31 August 2012

The Hull Handball League (Part 3) The first ever GB team

Hull was not only the location of the first handball league in Britain; it was also where the first ever Great Britain representative team played. The status of this representation is not clear; on the one hand there was no official Handball Association but on the other hand the Hull league was recognized by the IHF. It is reported by the Hull Daily Mail that Great Britain played Holland on Sunday 28 June 1959 at the Costello Stadium in West Hull.

Syd Cowan, who played in the game, explained that the Dutch were much better but that the score was kept down by the brilliant goalkeeping of Billy Bly. Cowan said "I played in this game and have one of the commemorative plaques. The Dutch players handled the ball and moved it quicker than us and ran into open spaces. When they shot at goal they took the ball on the move and leaped and hurled the ball down from about nine feet high - no wonder Billy looked a bit downcast towards the end".

One of the officials on the day, Ron Lister, explained that a further international took place, this time against Germany in 1960 and Cowan adds that the team also traveled to Germany to play a team from Freiburg. The team which played Freiburg are lined up in the poor quality photograph below which, was published in the Hull Daily Mail. The photograph, dated August 1960, is almost certainly the oldest in existence of a handball team in Britain.

A page from the programme of the international in 1959 (shown below) confirms that the game played in Hull 50 years ago was in fact the 11-a-side version of handball. There is not much footage of this version of handball but this short clip shows a game between East Germany and Austria from the same period.

A page from the 1959 Great Britain - Holland programme


  1. Hi,I have the photo above and also the photo of the GB team that played Germany as I was the goalkeeper in the crawford team and the GB team and I am now 81 years old and my name is George Nesfield

    1. Hi George, thank you so much for the comment. Would you have the time to write about your memories of playing for Crawford and the GB team? You could write about your memories by simply writing more replies here. Also, if your copies of the photos are better than the ones here could you post them?