Ça change. It’s fair to say that France came a little late to the Euro derby party, and whilst the country is a major force in the (overall late-to-the-party and much mutated) men’s game – second only to England in Europe, by all reasonable metrics – in proper/traditional/women’s derby the French have long been playing catch up at club level to nations like England, Sweden, Finland, Scotland, Belgium, Wales, Denmark… until now, at least. This past weekend in Gent, at the closest thing to a ‘top ten’ tournament that Europe currently stages, the Paris Rollergirls – the most underrated, most exhilarating and mostly sheerly joyous to watch roller derby team this writer has ever seen – took the trophy. Paris went into that tournament ranked 8th out of 10, had to play one more game than everyone they met, and… they shredded, with the liveliest jammers, the best positional blocking, the smartest tactics displayed by anyone in the tournie. “This is Paris RG coming of age,” many tear-filled viewers of the live stream posted. Maybe more than that. Maybe that was French roller derby coming of age.
The sport has permeated almost every corner of the Gallic land these days. Indeed, the team that the mighty Brighton Rockers travel across – or under – La Manche to face on Saturday are one of several in Lille, the country’s fourth (or fifth, depending on who you believe) biggest city. The Switchblade RollerGrrrls, part of Roller Derby Lille, are the region’s oldest club, and have ambitions to take on some of the best sides in Europe, starting with the Rockers. Brighton aren’t sending over a full All Stars (A-team) roster for this match, which is probably wise in terms of making a contest of it. The flattrackstats predictor gives the Rockers a 99% chance of winning such a game, with an expected scoreline in the region of 250-60. Even the mixed level Brighton side travelling over should be clear favourites, but all indications are that Switchblade are well up for this contest, and the Rockers squad should expect to have to fight hard for every point.
As for Lille itself, many only ‘know’ it from travelling through, Eurostarred en route to Paris or Brussels, and imagine the uninviting modern shopping centre visage around Lille Europe station is representative of all the city contains. We were lucky enough to spend a few days here a couple of years ago (for a Leonard Cohen gig, yeah) and consider it one of the friendliest and most picturesque places we’ve visited. Whilst that Euralille shopping centre has its purposes – load up on cheap booze and tobacco in the Carrefour within – the old town to the North West of the train stations is a beautiful mess of red bricks, cobbles and squares. The Northern edge of the centre is canal-ringed and home to the iconic Citadel army base, together with a zoo that we were expecting to be rubbish, given that it’s free entry, but which actually includes – rather than a few rabbits in boxes like we expected – large swathes of natural habitat with all zebras and that in, should the whole idea of a zoo not be anathema to you.
The game is taking place in the Halle De Glisse, to the south of the city, close to several Metro and bus stops. Doors open at 7pm with first whistle at 8. Tickets are 5 Euro online in advance, or 6 on the door. The after party is at Peekaboo, back in the centre of town. Please see the end of this piece for links kindly provided by Switchblade for everything from the venue and party locations, to the best weather and tourist information sites. Travel-wise, for anyone making a last minute decision to attend, Eurostar returns from London to Lille seem to start at around £140. (Sometimes Standard Premier is only £5 or £10 more each way than normal fare, and if so we recommend it – free food, beer, wine, etc, let alone better seats!) Lille is very close to the Belgian border, and nearer to Brussels than Paris in outlook, thus much better served for non-lager beerheads than most French cities. There are several brewpubs. We recommend Les Trois Brasseurs opposite Lille Flandres station – this is the original branch of what has become a France/Canada-wide chain, with six or seven beers brewed in-house, and a sweet and savoury pancake menu with several veggie options. The fact that there’s an affordable hotel (Balladins) right above it is a drunken bonus. We’ll leave you with a few words from the Switchblade RollerGrrrls, followed by a Rockers eye view from Mistress, who is making her return to action on Saturday after a long injury lay-off…
GABRIHELL & SPETS NAT – SWITCHBLADE ROLLERGRRRLS
(additional input in italics from referee Nellie R’Oleson)
Hi. For anyone who doesn’t know Switchblade RollerGrrrls, can you tell us a little about your history so far?
Our league was created in 2010 by Witch Wolf with a few friends and became a non-profit organization called The Switchblade RollerGrrrls in early 2011. The first 28 Fresh Meat joined us that summer, and our league hasn’t stopped growing ever since. There are 63 of us today: 50 players, four coaches, and nine referees/NSOs. In January 2013, we played our first official game, at home to La Boucherie de Paris. Following that, we have covered a lot of ground, both geographically and in terms of level – we’ve played as far as Nantes in France and Namur in Belgium. This autumn we’ll be breaking new ground by taking our team into Germany. In 2014 we changed our league’s name to Roller Derby Lille, as the Switchblade RollerGrrrls became the A-team. Our B-team was recently created, les Baronnes Von Schlass, and we can’t wait to see them play games on their own! (Like many clubs, SRG started from scratch, with much enthusiasm and nothing much more, as roller derby was almost unknown in France then. Work, dedication, luck – and the internet! – helped Switchblade get roller derby fundamentals like learning how to skate, how to play, coach and ref roller derby, getting a practice venue, and so on. From that the club grew into what it is now.)
Are there any Switchblade players/tricks that people should look out for?
At the slightest occasion we like to dance the conga… and we prefer to let you discover the idiosyncrasies of each player during the match 🙂
Do you know much about the Brighton Rockers? What are you expecting from the game?
Some of us saw them play at Gent in Belgium many months ago. They are the first British team we’ll meet on the track. We do follow a lot of the best-known teams such as Tiger Bay Brawlers and London Rollergirls (four of our players went to ‘Anarchy In The UK’ a few weeks ago). Roller derby has developed much faster in Britain than in France, and we are just as much interested in making this event a cultural exchange as a sporting exchange. The game is an enormous challenge for us, but it will be a great experience. We’re sure to be able to learn a lot from it, and of course we’ll do our best to win!
What can you tell us about your venue? Is there a bar? Also, what kind of after party can people expect?
Our venue is a sports complex dedicated to rollerskating, skateboarding, BMX riding, etc. There are no permanent seated places but we will arrange for seating for about 150 people. We tend to be quite thirsty in Lille, so of course there will be a bar, what kind of question is that? 😉 (The venue is a skate park, and our skating rink is mainly built for hockey. SRG provide a bar and sell food, including vegan products.) The after party will take place at a bar called the Peek-a-Boo, who are one of our sponsors. It’s small but there will be great drinks – beer, cocktails, soft drinks, etc – with nice music. (As ‘leaked’ on the Internet, Switchblade are known for their love of dancing, especially in conga lines with every player available.)
Finally, for anyone staying over for the weekend, what is there to see and do in Lille?
La Grand Place, Rue Neuve and Rue de Béthune are good for High Street shopping, and the Vieux Lille, which runs from Grand Place to Place de la Treille, is the super cute historic centre, with lots of wine bars and posh boutiques.For some fresh air, go for a walk or lie down in the park around ‘la Citadelle’, a fortress built by Vauban. There’s even a free zoo in there! You can always seek some more information, and souvenirs, at the tourist information centre, which is located on Place Rihour. (It depends on what people want to do – and how long the conga line was at the after party. Lille is rather lively, though a little less so on Sundays, with many music venues, museums, parks, bars and markets. Personally, for an after-bout Sunday, I would recommend the Gare St Sauveur, a former train station converted into a cultural venue, where you can visit an expo, eat nice stuff, drink local beers, and get to meet people.)
MISTRESS VON ÜBER VIXEN – BRIGHTON ROCKERS
Hi. We understand the team travelling over to Lille is going to be a very different kind of line-up to what we’re used to. Are there many All Stars involved? Anyone making their debut?
Yes, this is going to be a very mixed team. The likes of Racey, Emma the Condemner and Anti-Gravetty will be playing, and it will be my first game back since returning from injury. We currently don’t have a full B-team, so we have chosen the roster with a mix of some experience and some relative newcomers. Obliviator and Banger will be making their debuts as Rockers, and Irish Mist will be skating in her first ever bout!
What’s the thinking behind putting out a mixed team like this? Are more games featuring this type of line-up planned?
We want to be able to offer bouting opportunities for our up-and-coming skaters. All Stars games are high level, high pressure events with the focus on presenting the most skilled team we have to offer. We have several games scheduled this year that will include a mixed level roster, for our newer skaters to be able to play and have fun in a less pressurised atmosphere.
Does more organisation go into playing games outside the UK? What are Rockers road trips like?
We have an excellent travel committee that organises our transport and accommodation. Other than making sure everyone remembers their passports, it’s very similar to playing those away games within the UK that require us to travel significant distances. We have made several road trips as a team and they can be pretty epic!
Do you know much about the Switchblade RollerGrrrls? What are your expectations going into the game?
I personally don’t know much about them, but we have watched some footage of their games. They’re an up-and-coming team and we’re very much looking forward to playing them.
The game starts quite late (8pm). Are there any fitness/logistical issues that come with that?
It is unusual for us to be playing an evening game, and we will be travelling there that day, so our preparations will be slightly different than what we are used to. Mostly, we will just ensure that all of us are well fed, hydrated and have the time to stretch our legs after being on the road for so long before the game.
Finally, will there be many more home games in 2014? Any of these likely to feature a mixed level Rockers line-up like the game in Lille?
We have several home games planned for the rest of 2014, with the next one being the All Stars against Croydon on July 26th. We do have some mixed level games on the schedule. You’ll just have to wait and see!
BUY TICKETS: http://670d9c25394b.fikket.fr/event/fish-and-whips-the-switchblade-rollergrrrls-vs-brighton-rockers-roller-derby–2
FB EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/1420136498262702/
BRIGHTON ROCKERS: http://www.brightonrockers.com/
AFTER PARTY: http://www.peekaboocafe.com/
TOURIST INFO: http://www.lilletourism.com/
Please note: We may not be able to provide a report for this game. Check out the Rockers and Switchblade on Facebook and Twitter for scores and more.
[Photos by Rebecca Cornford and the Switchblade RollerGrrrls]