The second period has barely started. With a little under 27 minutes left on the clock Glasgow lead 164-73, having dominated from the outset. We’re currently at the start of what will turn out to be a lengthy pause in the on-track action. Brighton’s Shambolic, usually a gap-finding ninja jamming machine – today neutered like the rest of the Rockers jammer rotation by a solid wall of yellow and black – has spun out and into the second corner suicide seats. She’s clearly hurt.
The refs and NSOs form a human chain to shield her from the crowd while she’s being treated, as is the derby way. The guy behind us solemnly informs his credulous wife that – as with marshals surrounding a downed horse at the Grand National – this is because she’s about to be shot. (Hey, he’s a mate of Sham’s brother, he can probably get away with saying something like that – we wouldn’t dare.)
She’s not being shot, of course. Nor is she being shot up. Despite repeated offers she will turn down all painkillers, whether here on the track in the 20 minute delay quite skilfully blagged through by GRD’s announcers, in the ambulance or during the two hour wait to be seen at A&E. She’s refusing the painkillers because she wants to get drunk at the afterparty she and her torn knee ligament will resurface at. Not just tough. Derby tough.
Just as Sham didn’t want any painkillers, nor would the Rockers in general, which is why this report won’t contain any. We’ll forego the tramadol of “several in the Rockers squad were poorly going into the bout” and sidestep the codeine of “Brighton have deliberately picked tougher opponents this year and Glasgow are higher in the rankings”. Most of all, we’ll swerve the morphine of “the bout was much closer than the scoreline suggests” – that mewlingly obvious white lie the Rockers themselves have prescribed in bout reports where they’ve been on the other end of results such as this.
No, we’ll shun such literary analgesics because they would do justice to neither team nor accurately reflect what happened here in this university sports hall. What happened was that Brighton weren’t just defeated – no, the Rockers were destroyed. They were demolished, dismantled, dismembered and some other words beginning with D we’ll have thought of in a few paragraphs’ time.
Often when watching a derby bout there’s one particular player on the other team who makes you slightly anxious, fearful even, when you see it’s them lining up for the next jam in the star panty. Not today. Today there wasn’t one individual like that. Today it was everyone wearing the star for Glasgow – be it Lawless, Prawn, Hazard or whoever – we feared. From ten minutes in and 50 points down, it was clear to the Rockers’ travelling support that there would be no let-up in the relentless waves of scoring passes from the women in black and gold.
As for the GRD pack, whilst perhaps lacking on paper the more obvious physical presence of some derby leagues, the truism “it doesn’t matter if you’re only 120 pounds if 115 of them are pure muscle” swiftly became apparent. Even the Rockers’ England international The Mighty Mighty Bash, whose physicality has swept opposing blockers aside so often in the past, was – one late first half power jam (Brighton’s only glimmer of hope) aside – largely nullified. For the rest of the Rockers rotation, the Glasgow wall might as well have been made of granite.
The Scottish pack wasn’t just about defence though. Time and again, one of their blockers would run at the back of the Brighton pack a split second before the Glasgow jammer arrived, not just disrupting the Rockers pack physically, but mentally too – the blocker run false flagging itself as the jammer, pulling the Brighton defence to the wrong part of the track, creating the space. There’s a certain arrogance in a Lead Jammer not calling it even when their opposite number has started making scoring passes (that whole “yeah, I’ll let you get a few points because I know how strong my pack is and I’ll get round twice for every once you do” thing), and whilst we’ve seen this at past Rockers bouts, it’s usually been from Brighton themselves. Not this time.
The final score was 309-111, but when you start talking differentials like that the actual numbers don’t really matter to anyone except those who compile the rankings. The harsh fact is Brighton were destroyed, demolished, disrupted, dismantled, dismembered, discombobulated, devoured, decimated and… and…
And you know what… good.
Around a year ago we closed a bout report for a local listings magazine thus: “The Brighton Rockers have learned a lot in the two years since roller derby first washed up on the Sussex shoreline. The only thing they’ve yet to learn is how to lose.” Whilst that first loss was recorded a few months later, the nature of it – behind closed doors by a three point margin against one of the top teams in Europe – meant it didn’t quite feel like one. This weekend’s very public very heavy defeat certainly feels like one. Yep, the Rockers have learned how to lose (it largely involves Jägermeister, apparently). Why is that a good thing? Because a fear of failing is worse than failing itself, a fear of falling is worse than falling itself. It’s done, they got beat, it’s happened, it’s out of the way, now they can move on.
All those other derby leagues out there (tough teams from the uppermost reaches of the UKRDA rankings) who are due to face Brighton in the remainder of this year should look at this result. They should look at it and be filled not with confidence but with fear. Because the cage has been rattled, the rock turned over and the scorpion has its tail up. Today the Brighton Rockers learned how to lose. Tomorrow they remember how to win.
[Photograph by Dave McAleavy of boutday.com]