Roller Derby started in the US. Born at a grass-roots level, it went away for a bit and was resurrected sometime in the mid-2000s. It’s now back, big time.
Based on a girls-together ethic of doing it all themselves – although boys still seem to get in on the decision making – there’s an emphasis on showmanship, teamwork and fun.
We noted an obvious punk/vintage vibe about the whole thing, especially in terms of the aesthetic; at any given match you’ll see tutus, stocking-and-suspender combos and Slipknot-style makeup, so those turning up for a spot of titillation could be disappointed, depending on tastes.
Evidently the focus is certainly just as much on humour and showmanship as on the sport itself. According to member Sissy Breakneck “they come for the short skirts but they stay for the sport!” That seems reasonable.
So, what is Roller Derby and how do you do it? Two opposing teams (packs) simultaneously skate round a track, followed by a scorer (jammer) from each team. The aim of the game is to block the opposing team’s jammer from getting through the pack and helping your jammer through at the same time.
You do this using good old-fashioned aggression. The girls are shunted straight off the track, but elbowing, kicking and tripping are strictly verboten, a spoilsport told us.
The game seems to be characterised by pomp, ceremony and drama. Each girl glides one-by-one onto the track to ACDC’s Back in Black, brandishing their team flag and turning up their alter-egos to eleven to get the fans going. Time to prepare for a numb pair of buttocks, sports fans – this signals the start of a long day.
The warm-up bout consists of the Roller Birds’ B-team. It seems like quite a polite game, with a notable lack of trash-talking or arguing with the ref, as suggested by the Drew Barrymore film Whip It.
The crowd don’t seem to mind this, as evidenced by their enthusiasm. Then follows a brief intermission to get chips and beer before the main draw of the day; The Thrilla Blacks versus The Yellow Shovemarines.
If we thought the warm-up bout was exciting, with girls falling over each other in a domino-effect or skidding across the floor like human hockey pucks, we were in for a treat in the main match.
It’s far more bombastic – not to mention aggressive. The opposition seems huge and focused, adding to the tension all the more.
As the night wears on and stamina wanes, so the girls seem to do a lot more falling over – much to our delight. The jammers tend to be agile but tiny, nestled among a pack of bruisers meaning any shunts are rather like a collision between a moped and a Volvo.
It’s a hard game to follow for the uninitiated; trying to pick out the action in a scrum as it satellites around the floor isn’t easy, though a PA commentator helpfully points out the correct moments to cheer.
I got the impression that the game’s more about entertainment and the visceral thrill of watching people getting hurt, rather than who wins or loses. Good news for me as I had to leave before the end.
The question was how to evacuate when I was practically sat on the track. I literally had about ten seconds to sprint to the door before being clothes-lined by fourteen bloodthirsty mamas.
This aside, I could definitely see myself as a star player in this game. I’ve got all the credentials: I can skate, I’ve got that necessary sociopathic streak – ask my netball buddies – and perhaps most importantly, I’m a bit of an exhibitionist. Alas, I don’t own any stripey tights or subscribe to the Twilight films, but we can work on that….
The Roller Birds have some fund-raising nights planned at Mojo-details will emerge on their Facebook page. If you happen to be a lady and you’d think you’d like a to have a go, a new intake is planned in January/February.
Training usually takes place in Garston Urban Village Hall and they welcome gals of all shapes, sizes and abilities with open arms.