In the Harry Potter universe, there are many cases where Quidditch players have to be substituted. In some cases, the replacement player has to be selected at the last moment which affects the performance of the whole team.

For example, in Book 1, Gryffindor might have won the Quidditch Cup if they had had a substitute seeker available when Harry was not able to play his last match.

In Book 5, Ron would have had around 5 years (or less) of practice had he been selected as standby in previous years. Also, they would have fared better when Umbridge imposed a lifetime ban on Harry, Fred, and George.

In Book 6, Harry would not have had to worry about selecting either Ron or McLaggen as keeper; he could have kept one as standby instead. Also, this would have prevented him worrying over Ron's "out of form" performance had McLaggen had enough practice with the team.

So why don't Quidditch teams have standby players? Is there some sort of rule that prevents teams from selecting standby players, or is the Gryffindor team just too naive to consider selecting extra players in their team?

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    Related: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/133445/…
    – Skooba
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 14:00
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    Note that British sports in general have many fewer substitutes than American sports. As a Brit, it is very weird to see the people in play changing all the time in Ice Hockey, Baseball, and American Football. Cricket has essentially no substitutes, and Football used to have only two, and those only for injuries (I think the football rules have changed in the last 30 years). Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 11:59
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    @user76377 If with Football you mean Soccer.. Still only 3 substitutions allowed per game, but you can have many spare players on standby so you can make tactical replacements. (E.g replace an attacking player with an extra defender if you are in the lead and want to keep it that way.) In friendly (out of competition) games any number of substitutions is allowed as agreed before the game by both parties. If you used all 3 substitutions and one of your players has to leave the field because of injury you can't replace him.
    – Tonny
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 16:05
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    @Tonny: Yes, I meant Association Football rather than Rugby. Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 16:12
  • @Tonny, to reinforce that point, to pick a team at random, while Arsenal theoretically only needs 14 players per game at most, their first team has 31: 2 goalkeepers, 9 defenders, 8 midfielders, 4 forwards, and 7 players on loan. Commented Jun 4, 2018 at 15:06

5 Answers 5


Professional teams have standby players. Hogwarts teams also have reserves, but their usage is inconsistent.

Harry's ex-captain, Oliver Wood, gets employed as a reserve.

Oliver Wood, the old captain of Harry's house Quidditch team, who had just left Hogwarts, dragged Harry over to his parents' tent to introduce him, and told him excitedly that he had just been signed to the Puddlemere United reserve team.
(Goblet of Fire, Chapter 7, Bagman and Crouch).

The presence of a reserve team points to a full squad of players with at least two senior teams. Presumably reserve players feature in the first team when there are long-term injuries or absences.

It should be noted that these standby players seem to be backup players which can start a game in place of another player if needed, rather than being in-game substitutes. As others have pointed out, Quidditch Through the Ages says that these substitutes are not permitted, which is backed up by Lynch and Krum carrying on even when badly injured during the Quidditch World Cup.

We do have one instance of a player being used as a reserve at Hogwarts.

"And she's really belting along up there, a neat pass to Alicia Spinnet, a good find of Oliver Wood's, last year only a reserve - back to Johnston...
(Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 11, Quidditch).

However, never see a consistent system of reserve players in place at Hogwarts. Alicia is the only named reserve that I'm aware of. We can only speculate about why Wood appointed a reserve player when that doesn't seem to be at all common at Hogwarts. It could be that Wood was particularly diligent in selecting standby players, more so than the other captains (although we never hear of him using them again). Or, more likely, Wood was simply spoilt for choice when it came to Chasers. Since he had so many good players at his disposal he chose to take the unusual step of naming a reserve player. He didn't have that luxury for the other positions. For instance, Harry states that there was no reserve Seeker.

Speaking quietly so that no one else would hear, Harry told the other two about Snape's sudden, sinister desire to be a Quidditch referee.
"Don't play," said Hermione at once.
"Say you're ill," said Ron.
"Pretend to break your leg," Hermione suggested.
"Really break your leg," said Ron.
"I can't," said Harry. "There isn't a reserve Seeker. If I back out, Gryffindor can't play at all."
(Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 13, Nicolas Flamel).

Why isn't the use of reserves more commonplace at Hogwarts? I would put this down to it being a school-level competition, without access to the resources or the talent pool of professional teams. Teams do replace players when need be but this seems to be done spontaneously and at the discretion of the captain. Dean Thomas was picked in this way.

He kept putting off replacing Katie in the hope that she would return, but their opening match against Slytherin was looming and he finally had to accept that she would not be back in time to play.
Harry did not think he could stand another full-house tryout. With a sinking feeling that had little to do with Quidditch, he cornered Dean Thomas after Transfiguration one day.
(Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 14, Felix Felicis).

As was Cormac McLaggen.

A closer look showed him that it was Cormac McLaggen.
"I've been waiting for you to come back," said McLaggen, disregarding Harry's drawn wand. "Must've fallen asleep. Look, I saw them taking Weasley up to the hospital wing earlier. Didn't look like he'll be fit for next week's match."
It took Harry a few moments to realise what McLaggen was talking about.
"Oh...right...Quidditch," he said, putting his wand back into the belt of his jeans and running a hand wearily through his hair. "Yeah...he might not make it."
"Well, then, I'll be playing Keeper, won't I?" said McLaggen.
"Yeah," said Harry. "Yeah, I suppose so..."
He could not think of an argument against it; after all, McLaggen had certainly performed second best in the trials.
(Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 19, Elf Tails).

As was Harper.

"Conditions look ideal," said Ginny, ignoring Ron. "And guess what? That Slytherin Chaser Vaisey - he took a Bludger in the head yesterday during their practice, and he's too sore to play! And even better than that - Malfoy's gone off sick too!"
"What?" said Harry, wheeling round to stare at her. "He's ill? What's wrong with him?"
"No idea, but it's great for us," said Ginny brightly. "They're playing Harper instead; he's in my year and he's an idiot."
(Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 14, Felix Felicis).

In the case of the game Harry missed Adamant credibly suggests that there wasn't sufficient time to find a replacement.

I think it's just a case of school-level sport being less organised and less regimented than professional sport, which isn't that surprising really.

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    Must be a British thing, then, every American school team is bristling with subs just waiting to be put in the line-up.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 21:44
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    @Freeman Remember too that the Quidditch teams at Hogwarts are coached by the captain, who is one of the players. In Muggle schools, especially ones where sport is very popular and there is competition for places, there is a teacher or even a professional coach who manages the team. This isn't true at Hogwarts. Extra players means extra workload and responsibility, which isn't going to be welcome for a teenager who's dealing with academic pressure as well. Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 23:32
  • yeah, that was intended to be a bit snarky. I realize it didn't come through all that well. Your point about coaxing is quite valid, though.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 0:11
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    Also Hogwarts is a very small school. Finding someone who plays the specific position you're looking for without simply being a detriment could be hard
    – bendl
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 17:12
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    At my British school, boys not on the house team still got made to play the seasonal sport (rugby in the winter, cricket in the summer) on games afternoon. If I'd been the 16th-best rugby player in my year, I'd have played a few games for the house (we had 8 houses), but I'd have been in reasonable game shape from playing every week at a lower level. Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 21:05

Its very interesting to see that this question brought out a plothole in HP. As Skooba mentions in his answer, Quidditch through the Ages mentions:

In the case of injury, no substitution of players will take place. The Team will play on without the injured player.

And I quite agreed to it until I came across something in the first HP book.

To contradict this very statement from Quidditch through the ages, a quote from Harry Potter and The Philosopher's stone is right here. When Oliver Wood explains Quidditch to Harry and is teaching him the rules:

"This," said Wood, "is the Golden Snitch, and it's the most important ball of the lot. It's very hard to catch because it's so fast and difficult to see. It's the Seeker's job to catch it. You've got to weave in and out of the Chasers, Beaters, Bludgers, and Quaffle to get it before the other team's Seeker, because whichever Seeker catches the Snitch wins his team an extra hundred and fifty points, so they nearly always win. That's why Seekers get fouled so much. A game of Quidditch only ends when the Snitch is caught, so it can go on for ages -- I think the record is three months, they had to keep bringing on substitutes so the players could get some sleep. "Well, that's it -- any questions?"

Note that Wood does mention that there are substitutions taking place in Quidditch.

So well, I cannot say how many, but Quidditch does seem to have reserve stand-by players.

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    QttA deals specifically with injuries; allowing players to get some sleep doesn’t quite fall under that category. Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 15:11
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    @JanusBahsJacquet yeah true. Maybe the fictional author of QttA never thought that a game would last so long creating the need to substitute players for sleep :p however, my money's on the plothole theory ;)
    – Shreedhar
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 15:14
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    It’s not like the rules laid out in QttA are in any way comprehensive, of course. The actual rules may state that substitutes are used in umpteen different contexts, but are not used with injuries. Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 15:20
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    Could the record have been set before the rule banning subs was introduced?
    – muru
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 15:51
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    @bubbajake00 that would be changing player roles not substituting. still, lets say what you said is right. then how would any of the players get some sleep?
    – Shreedhar
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 8:47

In Quidditch Through The Ages the rules state:

In the case of injury, no substitution of players will take place. The Team will play on without the injured player.

So in effect, substitutes are worthless to train and keep on the team.

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    In game substitution and a pre-game squad are two completely different concepts.
    – Jontia
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 14:25
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    This is only in the case of injury. There are other reasons why you could substitute a player.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 14:52
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    When magic is able to repair near any malady in 24 hours or less (they regrew the bones in Harry's arm in a single night), you don't need a depth chart since no one will be out for more than the current match. Heck, maybe they can even heal the player and put them back in within the same game.
    – Xantec
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 15:16
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    @Xantec: There are more reasons then just injury that could cause someone to miss a game.
    – Ellesedil
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 20:37
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    @Ellesedil no way, how could anything be so important to stop a player from taking his part in a Quidditch game?? Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 22:43

There are standby players in Quidditch. When Oliver Wood explains the longest Quidditch match to Harry, which was 3 months long, he says:

"[...] they substituted players regularly so that others could sleep."

I think it is different for school teams. They only play 3 matchs in a season, so they don't need a substitution squad. Also their player selection pool is rather small, if something happens to Ron, McLaggen knows he is playing because there is literally no other option.

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    You got the second part right. But it was Oliver Wood who mentions it to Harry and not Ron.
    – Shreedhar
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 14:52
  • @Shreedhar fixed. I should have remembered that Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 14:56

In terms of the narrative of the books - especially the first - Quidditch is constructed so that Harry Potter (the protagonist) is Very Important. The most obvious example of this is the 150 points for the Snitch, which pretty much renders the rest of the game redundant.

The lack of a replacement seeker is similar. This reinforces that Harry is The Most Important Character, and has Harry have some responsibility for Gryffindor apparently losing the House Cup. This adds extra weight to the final scene in the Great Hall where Dumbledore adds all those last-minute points.

  • I'm not sure this addresses the lack of replacement keeper that occurs in books 5 and 6, as noted in the OP.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 12:11
  • Well, that's the reason why 7 books were written and 8 movies we made. Focusing on Harry.
    – Shreedhar
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 12:43
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    I'm pretty sure the questioner was looking for an in-universe explanation, not an out-of-universe one based on Rowling's motivations. Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 12:43
  • +1 yes, and then JKR had to be consistent and apply the 'no replacement' rule to all the players in the team.
    – user68762
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 12:44

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