York College A Level student Freya Murty competes for Team GB in European handball tournament
York College A Level student Freya Murty helped Team GB to two victories at the Under-17 European IHF Handball Trophy event in Kosovo.
Freya, 16, played at left back in victories over Albania and Azerbaijan during an encouraging showing from the national team, who are often at a disadvantage when competing against fellow European nations whose participation and funding levels in the sport are higher.
Defeats against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Georgia ultimately meant progress was not made to the Inter-Continental phase of the competition but Freya, who has already been playing for the side for three years, still harbours dreams of one day representing her country at the biggest sporting event of them all.
Standards are improving, though, with the U19 team winning their competition in Kosovo and Freya is also benefitting from the advice and training support she receives from her Dad – ex-Premier League footballer, Scotland international and Glasgow Rangers manager Graeme Murty, who started his playing career at York City.
Freya is currently studying PE, Law, Biology and Chemistry and is considering a future career in physiotherapy or sports law, although she might pursue opportunities to become a professional handball player overseas too.
The sport is played by teams of seven, including six outfield players and a goalkeeper, on a 40m x 20m court.
Games consist of two 30-minute periods and players use their hands to pass the ball and score by throwing it into the opposition’s goal.
Freya took up the sport aged nine at her school in Scotland after a trip to London 2012 had inspired the teachers to set up a team and she has loved playing and competing ever since.
“It’s a really fast-flowing, creative game and something is always happening,” she said. “It’s physical, and strength plays a huge part, but speed also plays a huge part so, if you get someone that’s stronger than you, you have to find a way to be smarter and faster.
“I like that because I’m not particularly strong so I have to use my brain and think, ‘OK, how can I stop them’ or, if I see that they might be slow in defence, I can look to use my speed to get around them. I really like that problem-solving aspect.
“I’ve also got quite a strong arm for throwing, so finding a way that I can get a shot off, whether that’s over the top or around the side of people, is something I find fun, too.”
Freya has moved to York for her Further Education studies after her dad got a new job as Sunderland Football Club’s Head of Professional Development.
He once scored a goal at the age of 21 to help York City beat Premier League Everton and is now supporting his daughter in her quest to fulfil her sporting potential.
“Whenever I’m doing analysis and don’t understanding something, he is able to help me,” Freya points out. “Even though he’s not involved in handball, it all sort of crosses over with stuff he does in football.
“If I’ve not got training and want to do something, he’s there to help me or coach me, whether that’s with footwork or passing drills. My passing has got a lot harder, because I was throwing it at him and he can take the catches and throw it a lot harder back at me than other people can.
“Whenever he can, he’s also at my games. My family couldn’t be at Kosovo, but watched all the games on live streams and, whatever I do, my parents really support me with it, so they take me to Scotland and all over the country when we have our monthly weekend training camps with Team GB.”
Freya also appreciated the support she received from her tutors to ensure she did not fall behind with her studies while representing her country in Kosovo.
Earlier this year, College gained TASS (Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme) Dual Career Accredited Site status in recognition of our provision of additional, bespoke learning support for any student who is a high-performing sporting athlete.
“My teachers were really good about it all and gave me some of the work in advance or put stuff up on (Microsoft) Teams for me while we were out there,” Freya explained. “I had two hours a day from 8am to 9.30pm to do my work when I wasn’t in analysis, training or playing games, so I couldn’t get through all of it but, when I came back, I was given extended deadlines and time to catch up.”
If she wanted to pursue a professional career in the sport, however, Freya would need to move overseas and her A Levels have been chosen with alternative vocational paths in mind.
“I’m interested in physiotherapy, sports law or pursuing a handball career in Sweden or somewhere like that,” she said. “I’ve been on trips over there and seen their professional set-ups and they’re so good.
“They have so many different leagues and the Champions League, where they play against all the top teams in other countries. They also have specific handball stadiums whereas, in the UK, it’s very much a case of finding an available hall in a leisure centre and making sure it’s the right size and has the right markings.
“There are more people playing it here now and it is being introduced in PE at GCSE level, so it’s one of the sports you can do for coursework. When you look at handball in countries like Norway, Denmark and France, though, all the main football clubs have a handball team as well, so they get the funding and younger people look at it knowing they can actually make a living out of a sport they want to play, which encourages them to play more.
“In the UK, you might be able to play it at school but there’s nothing there in terms of making a career out of it. It’s very much only for fun, which makes it harder to make commitments to the sport.”
Despite handball’s struggles for greater recognition in this country, Freya remains hopeful that her Olympic aspirations can be realised one day.
“We played some good teams in Kosovo and managed to beat two of them,” she reasoned. “The teams we have got now in the men’s and women’s ages are getting better and progressing up. They are qualifying for tournaments they’ve not been in before.”