This year sees the launch of the UK’s first nationwide roller derby tournament. British Champs features a total of 72 women’s teams split into a pyramid of thirteen divisions. (There’s also a twelve team men’s tournament.) The mighty Brighton Rockers are competing one tier below the very top division, in what’s called the UKRDA National South. The first of their seven divisional game days took place a few days ago (Sat 24th Jan) in Windsor, and BRATS were there to watch the tournament get underway. The Rockers themselves – along with Bristol Roller Derby – weren’t taking part in this first game day, but it presented a great opportunity to check out four of Brighton’s upcoming opponents, as well as to to get an early taste of Champs in general…
Windsor is posh. Very posh. From the moment we detrain – and yeah, we’re quite posh ourselves, we use words like ‘detrain’ – at Riverside station until the moment we depart, we’re forever expecting someone to tap us on the shoulder and say: “now now, you really shouldn’t be here should you?” Nobody does. Instead they seek to disconcert us by being almost obsequiously polite. Hammering back pre-derby Jägermeisters in the Wetherspoons opposite the Castle, the bar staff insist on constantly referring to us as ‘Sir’. Back in Brighton, the only time anyone calls us ‘sir’ is when we’re being arrested. We’re on more familiar ground when we reach the derby venue itself. The suburban leisure centres that host this awesome sport – from Reykjavik to Rio, Wellington to Windsor – are all reassuringly much of a muchness inside. Wherever you encounter a left-open turnstile, a paper sign taped to it shouting out ‘roller derby’ in 120-point Impact font above an arrow; the semi-distant sound of clacking wheels, the semi-distant smell of cupcakes… you know you’re on safe ground.
The Royal Windsor Roller Girls have hosted both the most chaotic and the most low-key derby events we’ve ever been to. The former being those Sur5al all-dayers where fifteen different sets of garishly coloured skaters and fans flit in and around every corner of the hall, like dayglo mosquitoes at an 80s beach party. The latter was an RWRG intraleague in Staines where we were amongst just four [£2] paying customers. Today’s event, not unnaturally, lies somewhere between the two extremes. Perhaps a smaller crowd at the moment than we might have been expecting, but there was a fairly late change of hosts for what [alongside today’s Tier 3 event in Halifax] is the first day of the whole women’s tournament. Of course the calendar year itself is still in its early stages, and much of the UK derby community sees January (events wise) the same way BRATS see midday on a Sunday. Yeah, we know it exists – for other people.
A few things suggest this event may have come a little early in the year for the hosts. There are photocopied rather than printed programmes, replete with white borders and hand folding. The projector screen scoreboard is notably small, although it’s supplemented by a delightfully old school (cricket pavilion-esque) numbers on cards version. Most gallingly of all, there doesn’t seem to be a bar here, nor any form of after party. Or at least they’re not telling *us* where the bar or after party are. [Heck, someone was going to act on that memo eventually.] Everything’s fully and awesomely present and correct on track though, and the hosts are up first against Portsmouth Roller Wenches. Not many skaters from the second game in the crowd as the opener gets underway – there are a bunch of London Rockin’ Rollers around, but it seems most of Southend’s Seaside Sirens will be arriving fashionably late today.
There’s a star pass in the very first jam for the Wenches. Recipient RIP McMurphy is likely to be a key player for Pompey today, with Royal Windsor very much the favourites in this game. (The hosts currently rank 10th in the UKRDA, whilst defeat to Manchester at Tattoo Freeze has seen PRW drop to 19th.) Fairly evenly matched in the early stages though, with Cle-Blam-O, Vix and the rangy Sutton starclad for Windsor; Psyclone DestroyHer, Nina Nunchucks and RIP taking early jamming opportunities for the Wenches. First few jams have been incredibly light on penalties, but now McMurphy and pivot Awesome Wells are both off for Portsmouth. Cle-Blam-O making the most of the opportunity to give Windsor a foothold on the game. 38-5 to the hosts. Wenches clawing some back now, but the Berkshire pack is proving resilient. Trashbag in particular has the navy blue jammers pegged well back. The granite strong RWRG blocker was recently called up as a reserve netminder for Team GB ice hockey, the announcers announce. If three inch rubber pucks can’t get past her, what chance do the Pompey starheads have?
Both teams employing very fast packs for much of this game, although things turn completely stationary for a long 15 seconds as McMurphy and the off-track Sutton stare each other down in a recycling standoff. An official time out shortly afterwards sees the PRW line-up challenge Windsor’s to a Cotton Eye Joe hoedown-off. Portsmouth win this, but the game itself is slipping away from them a little here. Great on-the-whistle apex jump of pretty much the entire left side of track from Psyclone, but the Wenches are picking up the majority of an increasing tally of penalty calls. It’s 115-68 to Windsor at the half time break. Having been unable to find a bar on site, we decide to see if it’s possible to run the length of Alexandra Park, neck a pint and shot in Wetherspoons, and make it back through the park in time for the second half. Short answer: No. The scoreboard reads 146-77 on our return. PoiSin Cherry is on a power jam for Windsor now. She has more experience of a tournament like this than most on track – having featured prominently for Basingstoke Bullets in last year’s Heartland Series – and must be relishing making her RWRG debut against fellow Hampshirians.
Portsmouth captain the Duchess of Crutches battling to hold the Wenches packs together as Windsor’s strong jammer rotation continue to edge up the lead. Halcyon Daze, T-Wrecks and Wheelma Flintstone amongst the standout blockers for the navy blues, but the home town defence – particularly Riley Cyrus, Melvin, Muscle Crowe and the ever terrifying Trashbag – are giving it back with interest. The strength of the RWRG packs forcing a number of star passes and jammer penalties from the navy blues, but Pompey hit the ton mark with Windsor around 75 ahead. The Royals react in the best way possible, with the likes of Vix, Cherry and captain Cle chalking up 50 without reply. 230-104. About six minutes left. Wenches try to take advantage of a PJ but the Windsor pack are giving away very few points here. A few (mostly short) jams and a final whistle follow. Windsor’s 252-130 win roughly matches pre-game expectations – the differential is a little smaller than a prediction based on UKRDA rankings, but a little bigger than the Euro prediction – and RWRG top the table after the first game of National South. There’s still another fourteen divisional games to go, of course, with the first of those in just 30 minutes time…
It turns out that what wasn’t possible during half time *is* possible during the break between games, and we get back from ‘spoons suitably refreshed in time for the second game’s skateouts. The sizable and stylish London Rockin’ Rollers travelling support seem equally refreshed, but don’t they always? Seaside Sirens 3-0 ahead after a quick hit-and-quit first jam. A relentless tide of scoring passes from the LRR starclads follows, with Jack Attack, Beat Girl and captain Rammit building up a hefty London lead. It’s 54-4 with less than ten minutes gone as the steaming Rollers flatten their Essex opposition. Von Bitch and Betty Swollox particularly effective in the red packs, both rocking in a lot of offence to sweep Sirens out of the London starheads’ way. Killer Bite is probably Southend’s most threatening jammer at the moment, but she – along with the likes of Ella Gnaw, Force Ten Gail and Pegasus – is finding it punishing going against the LRR packs. 114-7 says the scoreboard now. A far cry from the previous time these two teams met, four months ago in Southend, when the Essex side edged the game 150-147.
The Rockin’ Rollers have a lot more experience of tournaments (albeit weekend ones) than the vast majority of UK leagues, and they’re clearly aiming to get off to a flyer in British Champs. Despite the best defensive efforts of Sirens captain Frocky Balboa, WhoRae, Hell De Jour, Gail, Gnaw and more, the LRR jammers bag almost every lead status and continue wreaking havoc… Jacks grinning to the Rockin’ Rollers fans on scoring passes, as is her way… Rammit going jammer on jammer to edge off rival starheads… Beat Girl, arguably London’s most effective starclad in this first half, proving as sprightly as a truck full of Sprite… Rebel Rebel starring up to good effect too… With 216-65 on the board at the interval, the Sirens will need a miracle to pull this one back, and it’s not to be. Southend do actually fare a bit better in the second period, but whilst Pegasus, Bite and Gnaw are bagging a fair few leads, tough blocking from Flash Bang Wallop, Deadly Devito, VB and others keeps the Essex jammers from profiting much. Final score: London Rockin’ Rollers 372, Seaside Sirens 162. Slightly more than double the predicted differential.
So LRR sit atop the table after the first National South game day, their +210 differential putting them above fellow victors Windsor on +122. The Rockin’ Rollers have a great chance to further cement their top spot later this month. Not only are LRR hosting the event on Saturday 21st February, but they’re taking on Bristol Roller Derby – the lowest ranked side in the division – whilst second place Windsor don’t have a game. The day’s other match-up sees the mighty Brighton Rockers kick off their own campaign. The Sussex side will be hoping to take a leaf out of LRR’s book as they face off against the Seaside Sirens. All this awesome action is taking place at Newham Leisure Centre, a short bus ride from Plaistow tube (easily accessible from Sussex by jumping the District line at Victoria or Blackfriars). Tickets are £12 in advance (£6 kids) from the link below, with doors at 2pm, derby from 2.30-6pm and a roller disco after party to follow. ‘Bring it!’ as they say.
[Photos by Mindy Cherry Photography]
BRITISH CHAMPS: http://www.britishchamps.com/
CHAMPS FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/BritishRollerDerbyChamps
CHAMPS TWITTER: https://twitter.com/BritChampsLIVE
21ST FEB FB EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/1376880975944236/
21ST FEB TICKETS: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/306219
MINDY CHERRY PHOTOGRAPHY: https://www.facebook.com/mindycherryphotography
NATIONAL SOUTH TEAMS
BRIGHTON ROCKERS: http://www.brightonrockers.com/
ROCKIN’ ROLLERS: http://londonrockinrollers.co.uk/
SEASIDE SIRENS: http://www.seasidesirenrollergirls.com/
BRISTOL RD: http://www.bristolrollerderby.com/
ROYAL WINDSOR: http://windsorrollergirls.com/