Korfball! The world’s greatest mixed team sport, and if you haven’t tried it yet, we hope you will. But when and how did it start in Milton Keynes, and what has happened in between?
Although small amounts of korfball had been previously briefly played in a few local schools, the main launch happened in 2004, with the start of MK Bucks Korfball Club. Players Katie Ellis (then Metters), Nov Novakovic, Simon Roberts, Kim Wakefield and Pete Bezant came together to found a club since the nearest other options were Oxford, Cambridge and Tottenham, all of which were an hour away, with previous teams in Bedford having ceased many years ago. The first session was held on 16th September 2004 at the old Bletchley Leisure Centre (the one with the pyramid) and, following some very successful publicity, had over 20 attend, most of whom had never played before. The Oxfordshire league was deemed more suitable to enter than Cambridgeshire due to a slightly shorter distance (much less dual carriageway on the A421 in those days) and matches being all held at weekends, and the team, already containing several experienced players, soon proved too strong for Division 2. When Oxford Brookes University withdrew from the league, the opportunity to enter an additional team mid-season in Division 1 was too good to pass up, so MK went from strength to strength, both in terms of already having two teams, and also with the first team winning two trophies that season, both pipping overall champions Oxford City on goal difference to win the “Spring League” half-season trophy, and knocking them out of the OKA Cup to then go on and beat MK second team in an all-MK final. The success even brought mentions on Horizon FM (remember that?). This first season was the springboard to several more seasons of success, including four more OKA Cups up to 2009 and also the overall league title in most, if not all, of those seasons too, with other experienced players joining along the way, such as John and Ali Timman in the second season, and more players being developed internally too.
The main disadvantage of the OKA league was that matches were played at a central venue in Oxford rather than home and away, and although some Oxfordshire teams played away in MK out of goodwill, this still meant over half the matches being played away. Therefore, the following season, with the club now boasting three teams worth of players able to play home games, an additional intra-club league “League MK” was launched. Around this time in early 2006, former Bedford player Darren Gray restarted korfball and raised the idea of starting a second MK club in order to increase the number of more local games. This came to fruition as MK City in September 2006 on Mondays initially in the second hall at Woughton Leisure Centre (i.e. Sir Frank Markham school), and was soon followed by MK Roos in April 2007, launched as a sports course in conjunction with local sports development and named by Australian coach Andrew Speck, but run by the same management committee as MK City, leading to the start of a structure where multiple “sub-clubs” were part of the same organisation. MK City and MK Roos only played in the “League MK”, while MK Bucks continued to play in both the fast-expanding local league and the Oxfordshire league, often successful in both. In addition, Milton Keynes hosted the national Inter-Area competition in 2006, and the first local “Korfstock” tournament in summer 2007.
More rapid expansion followed between 2008-2011, with the MK City umbrella spawning an additional adult club Walton Rogues and a junior section MKX and entering a combined team from all “City” clubs into the Oxfordshire league, with the team from the original Monday session renamed Colossus. Grant funding enabled the creation of a permanent job to promote youth and schools development, which was held at various points by Michael Blatherwick (who, while in this job, ran this previous blog about Korfball in MK), Nick Bokhnecht and Loes Versteegh, and numerous schools started playing. The local league grew with new entrants from Luton and Northampton and a teachers team “Mighty Oaks” from Oakgrove School. An annual beginner-level inter-company tournament grew and grew and even had 17 teams in 2009. Then, in 2010, a restructure of England Korfball, in order to create a regional tier in between local and national leagues, left the prospect, if the MK clubs remained primarily affiliated to Oxfordshire, of having to travel as far as the South West and Wales for regional games, and at around the same time, some (not all) of those in Oxfordshire felt that Korfball in MK was now sufficiently developed to no longer require home matches “out of goodwill” in the Oxfordshire league. Therefore, the South Midlands Korfball Association was founded, to cover the local league and to group with Cambridgeshire and Norfolk for regional competition (although this ended up including Kent too, but that’s still closer than Wales). MK Bucks played in the new South East Regional League. There was also a bid to host the European Korfball U23 championships at the new arena:mk at MK Dons ground, but unfortunately, although this was initially accepted by the International Korfball Federation, it later fell through due to the delays in constructing the arena.
Korfball in MK was booming, and the South Midlands Korfball League then attracted entries from Birmingham (who stayed for a couple of years before being advised by England Korfball to set up their own local league) and Harrow (Harrow Vultrix, who are still important members of the SMKA now), but unfortunately the number of local teams began to stretch beyond the financial means of the clubs – the final new local team under the “MK City” umbrella being Bletchley Bears, formed to give a team to the new Bletchley Leisure Centre, who played for just one season, the Luton and Northampton clubs folded, the Oakgrove team also dropped out of the league and the impending London 2012 Olympics made schools more interested in trying Olympic sports. The “MK City” group of teams was therefore completely restructured in 2013 into a single club under the new name “MK Lakers” and the local league dropped to one division. MK Bucks started to have their own problems too, dropping out of regional competition at the end of the 2013/14 season and then having to relaunch almost from scratch in 2014 due to a large number of players stopping korfball. MK Lakers became the dominant team in local korfball for the next few years, joining the South East regional league in 2015 and playing at that level for three seasons. Lakers then unfortunately suffered a large loss of players and, after one season playing locally with a very small squad, relaunched themselves in 2019. The local youth korfball scene did keep going through this period, with the MK primary schools league and out-of-school youth sessions (which returned to the “MKX” name after a few years as Lakers Academy) running every season, and Bradwell Village School representing MK at the first National Schools Championships in 2018 and competing at London’s Copper Box Arena. The Korfstock tournament has also continued to be a successful annual event, drawing teams from all over the country, and companies/workplace tournaments have resumed with an event (sometimes 4-a-side) being held most years, raising money for charity. The South Midlands Korfball League has continued, with teams from Bucks, Lakers, Harrow and Buckingham Royals.
After the 2019/20 season was stopped early due to the coronavirus pandemic, korfball in MK sessions got going again as soon as this was allowed, with Bucks and Lakers running combined outdoor training sessions for the 2020/21 season with the aim of splitting back properly into two clubs for next season, but for now, just to get everyone playing korfball again. Junior sessions are also about to start again too. So why not come and give it a try – it’s the best sport you’ve never played!