Where did Wallball originate?
While there have been similar games in many shapes and forms across the globe throughout the centuries, Wallball actually comes from a pastime that’s been played in England and Ireland for years. The Irish had their alley-handball games, and in England the doubles game of Eton Fives was first played in 1877 with the court modelled off Eton College’s Chapel. This wasn’t totally new, however. It was itself a formalized version of hand tennis that would take place between the buttress of churches.
Although the game of Fives became incredibly popular around the country, especially at some of England’s most prestigious schools, it was in New York City during the Great Depression that what we now know as Wallball started to really take shape. The Irish immigrants couldn’t build their giant handball alleys, so they began to adapt the game, building a single wall only. This became known as 1-Wall Handball. Today we call the sport ‘Wallball’ or 1-Wall for short. The game spread around the country in both urban and beach environments. When you visit modern-day New York, you’ll now see over 2500 courts, and if you go to LA you’ll see courts on Venice Beach and nearby parks.
So how has it shaped up back here in the United Kingdom? Originally the sport was called Handball. However, after a drive for the Olympics a decade ago the world organisations were told that a name change was required on account of ‘Team Handball’ which is already an Olympic sport. Hence the name ‘Wallball’ was born. UK Wallball, the National Governing Body for the sport, was set up by Daniel Grant in 2011. He and his team went back to basics. What are the two most important objects required to play? A wall and a ball.
Championing the accessibility and inclusivity of simply hitting a ball against a wall the sport has grown considerably over the past few years. The Any Ball, Any Wall, Any Time mentality has seen schools and clubs start immediately with just chalk or masking tape, before eventually moving on to full size courts later. The sport also leads the way in the field of Urban Sport as it takes full advantage of new buildings and new grey space. Those walls = perfect for Wallball!
Their partnership with the Jack Petchy Foundation, means that secondary schools and community centres across London and Essex can have fully funded launches. (If you’re a leader or PE teacher and want to get it going - get in touch with UK Wallball through their website). The organisation also have a variety of starter packs to get going at any school, leisure centre or community park around the country. Equipment can also be purchased directly at Decathlon.
UK Wallball also opened up training possibilities too. It offers free Activator Training online through their website which you can find here online. The barriers to entry really are minimal.
Wallball on the Global Scene
As the sport continues to develop across the country, UK Wallball has been able to form a GB Team that is captained by the European No. 1 Wallballer, Luke Thomson.
Each year it hosts the UK Open, which is part of the European 1-Wall Tour. Hundreds of people from all around the world come to play. Beginners and pros are welcomed and often play side by side, with the finals being broadcast live. The community and family feel at these events is palpable.
The GB Team also competes at these events, which are designed for maximal gender equality. Each team event involves singles, doubles and mixed-doubles meaning there is a 50/50 gender split right at the top level. Over the last few years, there have been regular matches against Belgium, Holland, Italy and Spain, as well as growing relationships with American and South American teams. There is also a Junior Team GB, who in December 2019 travelled to Holland for the U17s European Wallball Championships and will go to Holland again this October for the next event.