Volleyball in Bristol: The Story Behind the Club


It’s been a while since we did a club spotlight, and we’re back with an absolute cracker: the story behind the club that plays on Queen’s Square over the summer in Bristol. Lots of the Bristolians that play on the grass are committed players across the Southwest, in Croyde and Cardiff, and it was fascinating to find out where the club started and how it runs. Here’s my Q & A with club organiser Anthony Balson:

Please introduce your club: where is it, and what do you do?

Volleyball in Bristol is a group of around 60 regular players (mostly NVL 2) from Bristol. It is organised via Facebook (more details below) and meets over the spring, summer and autumn to play grass volleyball on Queen Square in Bristol.

Club Organiser, Anthony Balson on Queen’s Square, Bristol

Will you tell me the club’s story?

If you have a spare 5 minutes this is the story of Queen Square and her young Prince. 

The seed was planted in Maceio, North-East Brazil, in 2003; this seed waited 6 years to be watered, and, in the Bristol summer of 2012, one of its finest fruits, ‘Volleyball in Bristol’ started, and is going strong after 8 years of year on year change and development. 

My initial interest, and first time watching volleyball was in Brazil (2003), but football was still the only sport back then and I didn’t think about volleyball again for 6 years! Then in 2009 I spent a summer playing beach volleyball over a rope in Hope Cove, Devon; there was this one Polish guy there who was Michael Jordan on a volleyball court and since that holiday I wanted to play volleyball and play like him (hope I haven’t let you down Artur?). I joined a club and loved this new sport that had hid from me for 36 years. Two years later we bought a net (me, Michal and Chris) and started our own thing as and when the weather was good and Bristol was bathing in sun.

The first few summers included me, you, Ken down the road and the dog next door – a priest, two policemen and woman and every drunk who was around and saw the ball as big as a Bristol balloon but was often bereft of any controlled coordination! We even played a game against a hen party from Wales who, by chance ‘played volleyball‘ (amazing what a few beers can do). It was hectic at times; it worked and we moved on each summer with the passing of 100s of ‘players!(?)’ and the chilled air of music festivals, comedy shows and the bloke on the corner playing the same tune for 3 hours!

Over the years we have developed into a group of around 60 who attend regularly; a few of us help with the running of sessions and now I can even take a back seat. People come and go still but I now request that first timers are experienced players. We now play games with positions and switching but on the whole everyone has a go at every position. Sessions have lasted 12 hours but generally only around 5-8 hours; we play 2-5 times per week, depending on the weather. We even play on a basketball court during the winter which has fed the appetite of a few hardy players.

Describe Queen’s Square-why is it a great place for what you do?

Queen Square is the best volleyball court in the world: the Wimbledon of volleyball with its own ball boys/girls/grown adults and passing wannabes, and it’s own wind break – 4 walls of Georgian Housing creating a stillness and near perfect volleyball conditions. 100 foot trees surround us; we can play under them in the rain or use them as shade during the week of hot weather. Sunbathers and children (among others) save our legs and throw the ball back… (every time!) Music and mellow smells with the yearly August wafting-by of a 100 balloons; that’s a king of courts, that’s Queen Square!

Queen Square volleyball in action during the annual Bristol Hot Air Balloon Show

What does a typical year look like?

Every year’s different; they are always coloured with the skills and laughs of various groups and individuals! This year was Uni of Bristol year, 2019 was UWE, 2018 was playing for 4 weeks against and with an Italian team. We now play with people from every club in Bristol. We have developed a few players from scratch, acted as a catalyst to further participation and have seen many friendships made.

This year has been one of the best: following years of coaching people and trying to blend beginners I have managed to make the level of volleyball in Queen Square very good. We now have (in Bristol) continued  development of (20-30 players each session) during the summer period; I will try to continue this theme of improving players (in 2021) by using a designated 2-3s net and the promotion of beach volleyball and its skills that can improve an indoor player. Every session will still have 6v6 at its core and we will explore and use ‘full’ switching during sessions (as long as it doesn’t detriment the enjoyment!?).

If someone wants to come and play with you guys, how can they do that?

If you are an experienced player who wants to improve through (summer) playing and would like to join us then please join the Volleyball in Bristol group on Facebook, or message Anthony Balson.

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