Manchester Roller Derby v Brighton Rockers report

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It used to be all fields around here. Still is, if one Rocker’s Sat Nav is to be believed, taking her as it does upon a grand tour of various green spaces where the team’s hotel is supposed to be. The Brighton league have sent up a small squad – a mixture of A-teamers, recent arrivals and upcoming rookies – to take on Manchester Roller Derby this weekend. Much of the trip will be spent expeditioning to and from said hotel, for it is only nominally in the City of Manchester, the same way that Luton and Stansted Airports don’t really merit their London prefixes. We could have warned them of the amount of commuting their choice of accommodation would entail, as it happens, since we’ve been doing some work for a television company in this very suburb – Didsbury – and soon cottoned on that Stockport rather than anything with Manchester in its name was the closest large train station. (Feel free to check out some of said TV work by clicking HERE to watch a script about roller skating we writ for three year olds. The BRATS beer fund is boosted by 0.002p in royalties for every online view. But we digress…)

The venue for today’s game is itself in one of Mancunia’s distantest suburbs. The evocatively named Urmston is home to the George H Carnall, a small but perfectly formed leisure centre attached to a school. Few Rockers make it across the plains of Stretford in time to catch the start of the men’s game that precedes their own. The Manchester league is home to several flavours of derby (women’s, men’s, co-ed) and their geezers A-team New Wheeled Order are taking on Team Boy Division here. The latter is a team assembled from members of various other (mostly Northern) men’s leagues. As one would expect, the Manchester side are better organised than their mixed league opposition, although Boy Div have a lot of very strong individuals in their ranks. The visitors are playing with a very small jammer rotation here (3-4) with some players you might have expected to star up, such as Southern Discomfort’s Shrooms and Inhuman Leaguer Doug Hisgrave, sticking to defensive duties. The pyjamas-legged Jim Jams and Lt Damn are among the home team’s most dangerous jammers. Though NWO are on top for much of the first half, their lead at the break is fairly slender (91-59).

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The Brighton players have spent much of the multi-car journey up here trying to guess what music was playing in the other vehicles based on their occupants’ dancing. Now it’s time to get serious, celebrating the relative novelty of a derby venue having lockers, before finding out if the skating surface is as slippery as advance warnings have suggested. With their practice laps complete, the Rockers entourage take to the bleachers for the second half of the men’s game. Just ten skaters here for Brighton, along with bench coach Mistress and line-up manager Racey. The latter caused something of a fluster in UK derby’s counter-clockwise circles earlier this year with a blog post that suggested (not unreasonably) that not every single advanced boot camp should be purely co-ed. Some people took this post to mean that she wanted all male derby players to be castrated, before being thrown onto a bonfire that she would personally dance around, laughing maniacally whilst reciting feminist poetry. Security are understandably keeping an eye on her, but Racey somehow resists the temptation to Emily Davison herself under the NWO pack, and has an alibi for the incident that sees Lt Damn spend several seconds face down on the track. The Manchester men take the win 165-102.

The last (and only previous) time Brighton took a small mixed level squad to an open door away game, in Lille earlier this year, they were beaten fairly convincingly. The rankings would suggest that something similar is on the cards here today. Manchester are only five places behind Brighton’s All-Stars in the European table, suggesting that even the full Rockers A-team would be in for a very tough battle here. It’s not that Brighton are underestimating their opponents, just that at this time of year, with many players taking breaks from skating or otherwise occupied, these are the only game-ready travelable players the Sussex league have at their disposal. There would have been eleven here, as it happens, but a slight knock caused the late withdrawal of a temporary transfer from French Canadia. With just ten in the squad, two distinct line-ups of five is the obvious way to go. One of these contains Enyo Face, Kapow, summer transfer Swann, highly rated rookie Obliviator, and a recent transfer from Finland, Harriet Hotter. The other features Rose Bleed, Chaka Carnage, Emma the Condemner and Irish Mist, along with Gin Atomic, here making her Rockers debut after recently joining from near neighbours Croydon.

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There’s something of a North-South divide in English roller derby, one that is particularly felt if you’re based as far South as the Rockers are. You get to know players from other leagues through taking part in scrims and watching other games, and for Brighton’s players that ‘circuit’ barely extends to Birmingham, let alone further up the country. Consequently, all that the majority of the Rockers know about Manchester Roller Derby can be summed up in three words: Vic Tori Bee. The England training squad member and Queens Of The Sin Bin sponsored skater is one of the rising stars of UK derby and, as expected, will prove to be Brighton’s tormentor-in-chief here today. Tori is part of a small MRD jamming roster, alongside GoGo Chanel and Smack Mamba. Even though Brighton only have ten skaters, they’ll stick with a typically large starhead rotation: Obliviator, Kapow and Enyo for one line-up; Gin, Emma and Rose for the other. Indeed, all ten Sussex skaters will get at least one outing in the star, although in some cases not for long – Irish Mist passes the star over the pack straight from the whistle when it’s her turn!

Brighton are going into this game with fairly low expectations, having had very few opportunities to practice these line-ups in advance. Indeed Gin, who only joined the Rockers a couple of weeks ago, has only skated alongside Rose once prior to today, and that was at England tryouts. We’re not sure whether this explains the debutant picking up five penalties in the first half, though, but a clean second sees her stay in the game. The Sussex side are a good match for the hosts in the early running. Although Manchester are first to put points on the board, high scoring jams from Enyo and Gin see Brighton leading 45-40 five jams in. Sadly it’s not to last – the small rotation and long journey (most of the team have been up around 12 hours now) will take a toll, as will the all round strength of the MRD Checkerbroads. Obliviator is putting in a strong and determined performance. She looks a little bewildered by the jammer-on-jammer hits Tori Bee throws her away – not something she’s encountered before – but holds up well. During the warm ups, the Rockers had identified the imposing Psycho Sis as an opponent to beware of, and the powerful blocker metes out hard hits to meet those expectations. With Emma off for a track cut, Tori puts in a 20-point jam and the hosts go into half time 110-69 up.

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While the skaters take a break, the infield is given over to some bizarre Northern pastime that involves rubber ducks. It’s best we don’t explain further. Quite a partisan home crowd here, as one would expect, and the Checkerbroads have them cheering further as they win all but one of the second period’s first nine jams. A knock to Enyo sees her having to sit out three jams, temporarily reducing Brighton to a single digit squad. Manchester varying their rotation a little, giving Iko and Sirenide a turn in the star. Rockers putting Swann into jam more now, with Chaka and Harriet also getting star-clad cameos. The latter’s debut in the Brighton star doesn’t quite go according to plan, as she manages to pick up four jammer penalties in a single outing – Sirenide clocking in 22 points in the process – but the game has long since drifted out of the Rockers’ reach. GoGo has been a particular menace to the Sussex side, whilst the blocking of Psycho and captain Price has kept Brighton’s starheads at bay. The captain picks up the Best Blocker award, with Jammer going to Vic Tori Bee and MVP to Smack Mamba. Best take out (the hitting kind not the food kind) goes to Kate Push for spectacularly upending Gin at high speed. For the Rockers, Kapow picks up Best Jammer, Swann takes the Blocker award and Gin picks up MVP on her Brighton debut. Rose wins best take out, despite insisting she’s never taken anyone out ever. Final score: Manchester Checkerbroads 243 – Brighton Rockers (mixed level) 115.

The Rockers will miss much of the after party as they have to go back to their hotel first. As we’ve already established their hotel is so far out from the centre it’s practically in Wales. Whilst waiting for taxis to the party, they toast their defeat with Prosecco served in teacups. Stay classy, Brighton. Despite the result, it’s been a productive trip, giving a lot of newer players a chance to line up with established stars in a competitive match. With the numerically limited Sussex league having to put together a tournament roster of 20 for next year’s Championships, some players from outside of the Rockers’ traditional A-team fourteen will be getting a chance to shine. General consensus is that Obliviator in particular is a potential star in the making – a few days after the Manchester trip she will pick up the league’s Skater of the Month award. For now, she joins the rest of the Northern expedition in the Courtyard, a crowded student sports bar in Central Manchester. The long day catches up with the Sussex squad, who bow out of the noisy pub early for the relative sanctuary of a nearby Nando’s. The next day sees a sauna and swim before the journey back South, although a serious problem with Rose’s car means a somewhat longer vacation in the fields of Didsbury for some of the Brighton crew.

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The Rockers round off 2014 with a mixed scrimmage in Hove, featuring a lot of skaters from the Croydon and Eastbourne leagues alongside Rockers and others. It’s a real nailbiter and goes to an overtime jam – a steward’s inquiry will later reveal some creative score tracking at work to make the scores level at full time. So onto 2015 then. What’s happening next year? What’s happening is the first ever British Championships, that’s what. A whopping 72 women’s teams in thirteen divisions (plus three men’s divisions) forming probably the biggest league programme in world derby. The lowest tier features six divisions of five teams each. Above that four divisions of six teams. Then the top two tiers, which are for UKRDA member leagues only. The top division features powerhouses Glasgow Roller Derby, Auld Reekie (Edinburgh), Tiger Bay (Cardiff), Middlesbrough, Rainy City (Manchester) and Central City (Birmingham). Brighton wouldn’t look out of place in such a division, having beaten two of those teams, lost to three and never met Tiger Bay. For now the Rockers start, as do Manchester, just below in one of the two tier two divisions. Manchester are the lowest placed team (22nd in the UKRDA rankings) in a very strong National North division, where they are up against Leeds (6th), the other Leeds league Hot Wheel (7th), Newcastle (12th), Nottingham’s Hellfire Harlots (14th) and Hull (20th).

Such is the strength of Northern leagues – note that there’s no Southern sides in the very top division at all – that the National South division looks marginally weaker by comparison. Brighton are actually the highest ranked side in the division (9th) and will be facing Royal Windsor (10th), London Rockin’ Rollers (13th), Portsmouth (15th), Southend’s Seaside Sirens (19th) and Bristol (25th). Brighton have the upper hand in games v LRR, Portsmouth and the Sirens, have won one and lost one v Bristol, and have surprisingly never met Windsor. The 2015 Rockers roster is going to be fairly different from that which has brought the league to their current position in the rankings, so it should be an interesting tournament. All game days are double headers apart from the final day which is a triple header. This means (we think) that Brighton will play one home game and four neutral/away. There will be other non-Champs games next year too, although we suspect the Rockers might try to avoid playing potential Champs opponents in these (they could face the National North sides in play-offs). Overseas opposition seems quite likely. The Rockers ‘owe’ Gent a rematch in the UK and are similarly due a trip over to Paris – neither of these would surprise us. Who else? Hmmm… Whilst we consult the rankings sites to guess potential opposition, grab yourself a mince pie and a pint of brandy – or whatever people are supposed to drink at Christmas – and we’ll see you in the New Year. Merry festives one and all.

[Photos by Shirlaine Forrest. Thanks to the Rockers who spoke to us for this report.]

LINKS
BRIGHTON ROCKERS: http://www.brightonrockers.com/
MANCHESTER ROLLER DERBY: http://manchesterrollerderby.com/
BRITISH CHAMPS FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/BritishRollerDerbyChamps
BRITISH CHAMPS WEBSITE: http://www.britishchamps.com/

Roller Derby World Cup 2014 preview

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It might be a world of cold here on the Sussex coast, but things are hotting up over in Dallas, Texas. This weekend sees the second ever Blood & Thunder Roller Derby World Cup. There’s a whopping THIRTY national sides taking part in the 2014 tournament, quite a jump from the thirteen that took part in Toronto in 2011. The action kicks off at 9am Texas time (3pm GMT) tomorrow (Thursday 4th Dec) and runs until around 8pm on Sunday, ie 2am Monday over here. If you don’t happen to be near enough to Dallas to pop down and watch it in the flesh, weekend passes for the online stream cost about £30 ($45). That might sound spendy, but it does include over 70 tournament games – albeit with three taking place at once until the final day – along with four exhibition matches (Vagine Regime, USA v USA, Juniors and WC All-Stars). Failing that, you can follow the scores on Twitter.

LOCAL INTEREST
As in 2011, the Rockers are one of the few highly ranked UK leagues with no players taking part in the World Cup. The Mighty Mighty Bash was part of England’s team in the previous tournament, but not as a Brighton player. [Incidentally, Bash’s mum was part of Team New Zealand in 2011 – unfortunately the two nations didn’t play each other.] Although she had being coaching the Rockers for nearly two years at the time of the World Cup, Bash didn’t transfer to Brighton as a player until a couple of weeks after the tournament, so officially took part in the WC as a London Rockin’ Roller. She was one of three Rockers who made it to the 60 skater ‘longlist’ for England’s 2014 squad – along with Shambolic and Chariot Sophia – but surprisingly none of them made the final cut. Which can only suggest that the twenty who did are BEYOND EPIC. As far as we know, no-one from Brighton tried out for any of the other national sides, whilst a few English leagues (with much bigger rosters than the Rockers) have players representing six or seven different countries.
    That’s not to say there’s no Sussex folks involved in Dallas. There are – just not on wheels. John Hesse is one of the busiest photographers in derby these days. As well as being the official tog for all three leagues (women’s, men’s, junior) in his hometown Eastbourne, he also does the honours for the Rockers, both in terms of the awesome action shots you’ll find on Facebook after most home bouts, as well as official player portraits. Almost half the photos we ourselves use, on this website and in our fanzine, are John’s, so he’s kinda the official BRATS photographer too. This weekend though, he’ll be donning a pass in Texas as official shutter clicker for the largely UK based Team West Indies. Having documented the young national team’s build up to the tournament, he’ll be capturing the on and off track Dallas adventures of a side many derby fans worldwide have already adopted as their ‘second team’ for the tournament.
    There’s local representation amidst the ranks of the NSOs too. Pettichoke cut her officiating teeth with the Brighton Rockers. You can still catch her (clipboard in hand) at derby bouts in Sussex, but she’s become increasingly in demand for NSO duties further afield. One of a handful of UK officials with a Level 2 WFTDA Certification, Pettichoke recently acted as Division Head NSO for the South West in the Heartland Series, the tournament that is giving birth to next year’s British Championships. This weekend she’ll be in Texas as part of one of the six NSO crews keeping the World Cup on track. Bombshells and sometime Rockers ref Danger Russ, who head reffed Heartlands South West, is also present on a different NSOing crew, and we believe some members of the announcing team – such as Seaside Siren Mother Mercy – are no strangers to Haywards Heath either.

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OPPONENTS ON TRACK
Whilst none of Brighton’s small roster of players are taking part in this weekend’s tournament, some of the skaters who are will be familiar to fans as players the Rockers have faced on track in recent years. Of the thirty teams taking part, 17 are European and the majority of these will contain at least one person to have played against Brighton. Further afield, the same is true of Team West Indies, although the fact that most of their squad is UK based/born might be a factor there! Indeed, Bash’s alma mater and close friend league of Brighton, the London Rockin’ Rollers play a major role in TWI, with Jack Attack benching and Inside Line editor Rammit captaining the side alongside a further three LRR players. The West Indies player to have met the Rockers most recently on track is Croydon’s Polly Filla, who took part in July’s epic derby derby at the Dolphin.
    So which World Cup team features the most people who have played against the Rockers in open door competition? The logic of geography would suggest England, but we’re pretty sure that’s not the case. A whopping 70% of England’s twenty woman squad come from a single league, the fearsome London Rollergirls. Although Brighton have faced LRG’s B- and C-teams on track, most of their England contingent were already ensconced in the A-team at the time. Half of England’s non-LRG players have played the Rockers in Haywards Heath this year [Middlesbrough duo Terri Sudron and Ellie Storey plus Rainy City’s Fay Roberts], but we’re still only looking at five or six players in total from the national squad. There’s a similar number in the French squad, with many of the small roster that Paris Rollergirls brought to Sussex in March present in Team France – including diminutive jammer Hooligan, probably our favourite opposition starhead of 2014. Belgium could have been in with a shout too, but a planned Rockers’ rematch with the country’s top side Go-Go Gent is yet to take place, and very few of Gent’s sizable WC contingent took part in the previous (March 2012) game.
    As far as we can tell, none of the Welsh squad have played against Brighton. We think the same is true of Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with only Bristol’s The Blizzard keeping Finland from a similar tally. The Rockers have previously said that several Scandinavian leagues are on their wishlist of future opponents, so these sides could be worth keeping an eye on. Elsewhere, the Dublin Rollergirls are one of only two teams [Cambridge Rollerbillies being the other] that Brighton have met both home and away. With five of the players they faced in the Ireland squad, alongside other opponents from Leeds, Central City and Glasgow, a grand total of eight of the Irish twenty have gone up against the Rockers. The Emerald Islanders will have to settle for second place in this contest, though. Brighton players probably don’t want reminding of their two trips north of the border last year, but the strength of the two teams they faced – UKRDA ranked #1 Auld Reekie and #2 Glasgow – is clear from the fact that a whopping fifteen of Scotland’s WC twenty come from those two sides. At least ten of these played against the Rockers, as has LRG’s Sarah Oates. With more than half of their squad having met Brighton on track, we therefore declare Scotland as the WC team the Rockers (kinda) know best. Whether this means you should support the Tartan Army, or indeed the exact opposite, we’ll leave up to you…

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GROUP ONE (New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Wales)
We expect that at least one well known Rocker will be cheering for NZ in this group. The Kiwis finished 8th in 2011 and the other three sides are all World Cup newcomers. South Africa are the most unknown quantity here. Roller derby is less well developed in Norway than in some nations, with only a couple of teams of note, but the national side have also drawn on players from the likes of LRG and Texas here. A lot of people in the Welsh derby community were surprised Wales couldn’t get a team together for 2011, so they’ll certainly be chomping at the bit in their first appearance on the world stage.

GROUP TWO (France, Switzerland, Brazil, Portugal)

Paris Rollergirls spend much of their time playing leagues in European powerhouse nations England and Germany, with somewhat variable results – thumping victories one minute, last jam losses the next. With PRG players forming the backbone of Team France, the national side will be looking for more consistency if they are to improve on their 7th place finish at the last World Cup. They shouldn’t have a problem making in through the group stage – only Brazil have previous WC experience, finishing 12th in 2011. The presence of two Portuguese speaking nations should prove for interesting rivalry and on track banter.

GROUP THREE (Sweden, West Indies, Japan, Chile)
By far the most interesting group geographically. Will the differing cultures these teams represent lend themselves to differing styles of derby? Sweden finished 6th in 2011 and are hoping to better that here. A lot of people are wondering if Team Japan can win the hearts and minds of the crowd the way their men’s team did earlier this year. They’ll have competition in the crowd favourites’ stakes from the West Indies. The Caribbean islands are largely represented here by skaters from the London Rockin’ Rollers and Birmingham Blitz Dames – the latter’s home venue hosted this year’s inaugural Men’s Derby WC, and one wonders if that will give them any advantage in dealing with the atmosphere and energy of such a global tournament.

GROUP FOUR (Finland, Scotland, Colombia, Mexico)

The Finns finished 5th last time out and will be hoping to continue their record as the top Scandinavian side. [Actually Finland isn’t technically part of Scandinavia, but you know what we mean.] The Rockers-bashing Scots are coming into this tournament on a wave of confidence. At league level, Glasgow Roller Derby and Edinburgh’s Auld Reekie have a strong hold the top two spots in the UK derby table, with only LRG and Stockholm above them in the Euro rankings, and the national side have had a lot of strong wins recently. They’ll be looking to improve on their 11th place from 2011, but neither Colombia or Mexico will be anyone’s pushovers.

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GROUP FIVE (Australia, Italy, Belgium, Greece)
The Aussies took 4th place at the last World Cup and should be confident of a similar finish this time around. Melbourne’s Victorian Roller Derby are one of only two non-North American leagues to have penetrated Division 1 of WFTDA. They were narrowly edged out by LRG in the Championship quarter finals, although they have since overtaken the Londoners in the rankings, With VRDL’s bench coach and a cluster of their players in this Australia squad, they certainly have top level experience in their ranks. Amongst those cheering the Aussies on from a sofa in Sussex will be Rockers star Racey. The three European sides here are fairly unknown quantities, although Belgium has the stronger local leagues.

GROUP SIX (England, Germany, Ireland, Spain)

This is the only all-European group and features three sides that finished in the Top Ten in 2011. England took third then and will be looking to go one better this time. Many had tipped Germany to take the third place going into the tournament, based on the strong European showing of leagues like Bear City and Stuttgart, but they had to settle for 9th. That was just one place above Ireland, which suggests the battle for the second qualifying place in this group could be amongst the most intense in the tournament. A fair few Rockers hail from Ireland, so we can expect the likes of Maidenderry and Irish Mist to be cheering on their countrywomen. Our fanzine advertiser Mr Séamus will too – especially as we’ve promised him his next ad for half price if Ireland qualify for the knockout stages.

GROUP SEVEN (Canada, Argentina, Denmark)
The two top seeds have the benefit of one less opponent in the group stages. Canada finished second in 2011, but lost quite heavily to England in France in February – a match that England star Missy Rascal missed her league Rainy City’s away game v Brighton to take part in. They should walk this group stage, however. Argentina finished last out of the thirteen teams in the previous World Cup, but their men’s team were the breakout stars of this year’s Men’s WC and the women will be hoping to emulate that. Denmark, largely built around players from Copenhagen Roller Derby, won’t be making things easy for them though.

GROUP EIGHT (USA, Puerto Rico, Netherlands)
We’re not saying it’s inevitable that the USA will win all their WC games by 300+ points, but it would be a big surprise if they didn’t. The world’s top derby nation by quite some way (home to almost 90% of WFTDA’s Division One leagues) are locked on to repeat their 2011 tournament victory. The other two sides are new to the World Cup. The Netherlands isn’t as strong a derby nation as some would expect – its top ranked side Amsterdam place well below a couple of leagues from neighbouring Belgium, for example – whilst Puerto Rico, whose people recent voted to become the 51st state (something the US has yet to agree on), are a real unknown.

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KNOCKOUT STAGES
We’re not going to try and guess the group standings here, as there are sure to be at least a few upsets along the way, but we will point out a few match-ups we’d like to see. Firstly, should the West Indies finish second in their group they would almost certainly meet England in the first knockout round. This would provide an interesting situation where almost everyone on track skates for an English league! The way the tournament is structured, with a re-seeding of teams for the quarter finals, means a lot of the more interesting potential match-ups (such as Sweden v Finland or Australia v New Zealand) are highly unlikely. One very logical sequence of results would see England meeting New Zealand in the quarter finals – three years too late for the Family Bash. The closest game could well be Canada v England – in all likelihood these teams will meet in the semis and juke it out for the honour of being roundly hammered by Team USA in the final. We’ll know soon enough.

MEANWHILE, IN BRIGHTON…

Although all eyes in the derby world are on Dallas this weekend, there’s still plenty to get excited about in the world of the Brighton Rockers. Last week, for instance, the league officially became a Limited Company with a five woman board of directors. This is a necessary prerequisite for quite a lot of exciting things in the world of international derby, fundraising and more, so let’s see what develops in the coming months and years. The divisional structure for the 2015 British Championships (a national league pyramid) is being announced in the next few days. We’re expecting Brighton to feature in the Southern section of a second tier here – even if we’re right, we still have only a remote idea of who they’ll be up against. That will all become clear this week, with the full 2015 Champs fixture list due to follow a week or two later. Meanwhile, keep an eye on this website next week for a report on Brighton’s recent trip to play Manchester Roller Derby. Don’t use up all your screaming and cheering on this weekend’s World Cup. Save some for the Rockers’ upcoming Championship season, yeah…

[Photos by John Hesse]

LINKS
WORLD CUP SITE: http://rollerderbyworldcup.com/
SCHEDULE: http://rollerderbyworldcup.com/schedule/
LIVE STREAM: http://rollerderbyworldcup.com/live/
BRITISH CHAMPS: https://www.facebook.com/BritishRollerDerbyChamps