British Champs UKRDA National South Day Two REPORT: Rockers v Sirens, LRR v Bristol

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There is a chance (albeit slim) that the Brighton Rockers could win this, their first British Championships game, 300-0. Considering that their much stronger than predicted opponents, Southend’s feisty Seaside Sirens, took a 98-68 lead into half time, this might seem mathematically impossible, but that’s not necessarily the case. Are the Rockers themselves aware of this potential outcome? We can’t help but notice several Brighton players, led by captain Swann, spending a few minutes in the half time break studying the penalty tracker boards. Is it their own accumulated trips to the naughty seats they’re looking at? Or Southend’s?
    If it’s the latter this would echo our own scrawled summary of the first period: “Sirens not playing clean enough for a team that has only rostered ten players.” That’s not to say the Essex side are playing a particularly penalty heavy game, just that these offences become much more of an issue when playing short. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, everyone on the roster plays an equal number of jams and picks up an equal number of penalties. For a team that has a squad of ten rather than fourteen players, average trips to the penalty box for each player go up by 40%. That means the chances of fouling out (for seven penalties) are 40% higher too.
    As it happens the Brighton Rockers are skating short today also, although their roster of twelve only equates to 16.66% above average penalty acquisition. The other important thing to note about a roster of ten, of course, is that this is only enough for two alternating line-ups. The first foul out means skaters will have to start regularly playing consecutive jams. This in turn increases the chances of them picking up more penalties, not just due to the extra track time but also increased tiredness. The net effect – as we’ve often seen when teams skate short – is ‘foul out dominoes’ as each consecutive departure increases the chance of another. So when, halfway through the second period, the Sirens’ imposing captain (and most effective blocker) Frocky Balboa takes the “walk of shame” into the crowd, we’re not expecting this to be Southend’s only foul out of the day…

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Sure enough, a few jams later, Tiny Temper joins her in the bleachers – well, actually, in the queue for the bar, but you know what we mean. A couple of jams further down the line and two more Sirens, Force Ten Gail and Bazooka Salt, foul out within seconds of each other. Like we said: dominoes. The six remaining Southend players will now be accumulating (even ignoring extra tiredness, etc) penalties at more than 2.3 times the rate of a squad of fourteen player. It will only take one more foul out from the Sirens to trigger WFTDA rule 8.2.7: “The Head Ref may declare a forfeit if a team has five or less players still eligible to participate in the game.”
    And what’s the British Champs tournament policy on a team forfeiting? As we understand it, the game is awarded to the opponents by a scoreline of 300-0, or if said opponent is already leading by more than 300, by that differential to nil. So, yes, it *is* technically possible that Brighton could win this game 300-0, even though the Southend league now have around 170 on the scoreboard. Or is it? As it happens, there’s only enough time left for one more jam, and the Sirens will finish with a squad of six, but would the possible forfeit have actually been enforced anyway? We check in with one of the referees the next day. He thinks the Head Ref would only really have imposed that (discretionary) WFTDA rulebook forfeit “if it became a safety issue, such as the remaining skaters being so tired they were causing a hazard to themselves or the other team.”
    We also check with Champs head office re the 300-0 rule. They confirm this is the case where a team elects to forfeit but they “will check” if it applies to an enforced forfeit. “It may not be something they’ve actually considered,” another referee suggests. One thing’s for certain: The Sirens are the latest in a long line of teams (including Brighton themselves on a few occasions) who should be grateful that UK derby is governed under the ruleset of WFTDA rather than its rival organisation, USARS. The rulebook of the latter states that a Head Ref MUST enforce a forfeit when a team is reduced to EIGHT players. Jeebers!

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After a somewhat smaller than expected crowd for the first UKRDA National South division game day (four weeks ago in Windsor), it’s reassuring to see that Newham Leisure Centre is packed to the gunnels for today’s action. Indeed, the crowd is a sold out capacity 300 and – despite LRR’s best efforts to publicise this fact via social media – many ticketless people will be turned away at the door. Technical problems are a common feature of roller derby events, but today’s are mostly related to the announcer’s radio mic giving up for large swathes of the opening game. It also takes us a while to spot the scoreboard, projected as it is at a jaunty angle above the bar, which is itself horrifyingly closed! Said bar’s eventual opening, during Brighton’s first team time out, raises one of the biggest cheers of the day, despite the initial 15-minute long booze queues.
    Out on track, some super tough defending from the cyan Sirens blockers sees the Southenders build up an early lead. A power jam nine for Force Ten Gail, followed by two five point passes for Pegasus as Dr Whooligan wrestles with the Essex walls, puts the Sirens 19-0 up early doors. Brighton sneak a couple of points on the board through ever sneaking (through packs) Kapow, but Southend are giving away very little here. Whooligan struggling to get past the forceful Gail, as Pegasus sits in the box, before she eventually makes it through for three passes. Big jam for Brighton there. 26-20 to the cyans as the bar opens and Mass Janeycide orders that black ‘T’.
    A recent addition to the Rockers jammer roster, Emma the Condemner is up against Ella Gnaw next, with both starheads spending much of the jam being dragged back around the track. Swann taking advantage of a short delay in proceedings to point out the number on her back and ‘C’ on her arm to the announcers, who have been under the impression that Kapow was captaining Brighton today. The Rockers cap taking heavy hits from her Southend counterpart now, on what is a very slippy track. The granite tough Frocky Balboa is proving a tough obstacle for all the Sussex starheads here, with the likes of Hairy Fairy and Emma having to run regular offence against her to help them through.

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Tiny Temper, Gail and Hell de Jour are amongst the standout blockers in these sturdy Sirens packs, with jammers Ella, Gail, Temper and Pegasus edging up the lead for the Essex league. Possibly more photographers here than we’ve ever seen at a domestic derby game, or maybe LRR’s hi-vis media tabards just makes them stand out more? Still, there’s a good eight or nine here, supping on their teas in the half time break. What is the collective noun for a group of photographers anyway? An “exposure of…”? A “composition of…”? Back in the bleachers, the atmosphere is fairly flat for this opening game, with the exception of a small cluster of Sirens fans and a similarly sized cluster of Rockers fans (largely Brighton rookies) in the bleachers.
    One of the Sussex fans gets told off for being too loud by someone sat nearby. She’s not being loud, she’s being Canadian – admittedly this is largely the same thing. Ironically, the complainant will be far louder himself during his team Bristol’s game. Other noisy support for Brighton coming from the Rockers merch table, which includes one Gin Atomic among its staff. She can’t play today for red tape reasons, but should be joining the Sussex roster for the rest of their Champs campaign. The Rockers get off to a flyer at the start of the second period, with Chariot Sophia jamming in 27 points versus 12 from Gail to cut the deficit in half. 95-110 now. Swann, Whooligan and Emma all follow this with scoring jams of their own to trigger the game’s first lead change. It’s 125-122 in Brighton’s favour now as a knock to Swann sees a short pause in the action.
    The Rockers are bagging lead jammer status far more often in this half, having only managed a handful in the first period. Hairy, Swann, Emma, Whooligan and Sophia amongst those putting in good defensive stints for the Sussex side, but a jamming penalty call on the last of these sees Southend regain the initiative to go 131-125 ahead. Kapow then Whooligan as the lead switches back to Brighton. 141-135, 150-149 now. Rockers time out and the Sussex squad are building up a head of steam. Slippery starhead Sophia looks to have taken lead, but she’s off for an elbow instead. Gail against Swann, the former taking the points. Lead change again! The crowd would probably be getting more excited by all this epicness if the announcer’s mic was working. Sirens now 156-150 ahead and there’s an official time out. Refs and NSOs confer. Look at the penalty board. Frocky Balboa leaves the box… and the game.

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It’s difficult to ascertain exactly what impact their captain’s departure has on the Southend league’s play. What we do know for sure is that the ever impressive Dr Whooligan (BRATS 2014 Player of the Year) racks up a whopping 27 points for Brighton in the next jam, as the game’s fifth and final lead change sees the Rockers go 177-160 ahead. Sirens still not giving up. Feisty jamming from Gail, followed by a penalty box switcheroo with Emma. Swann side-surfing her way both into and out of trouble. The Essex side aren’t just playing roller derby now, though. They’re also playing FOD (foul out dominoes) and the resulting procession of departures is accompanied by a widening points gap, with the final whistle sounding on a 253-175 Sussex victory.
    The numerically disadvantaged Southend side certainly shouldn’t be downhearted by such a result though. They fared around thirty points better than the pre-game predictions suggested. Both these sides are at transitional points in their history, with the Sirens having lost a number of players – some to the newly bouting Killa Hurtz of Chelmsford – over the past year or so. Similarly, the Rockers line-up in today’s programme differs greatly from the players Brighton actually have available at present, with at least three of these currently on a break from derby. Said programme also suggests that Bexorcist was line-up manager for both these teams, and that a penalty box visit still lasts one minute, which certainly explains a few puzzled looks at wristwatches from derby virgins in the crowd today.
    Still, these are very small niggles for what is a typically well organised LRR game day, which even features awards (Crowd Favourite) voted for by the fans in attendance. Swann picks this up for Brighton, with the Sirens gong going to Hell de Jour. The Rockers select Force Ten Gail as Southend’s best jammer, with Tiny Temper best blocker and Ella Gnaw as MVP. The Essex side dole out their awards to Brighton’s Kapow (jammer), Hairy Fairy (blocker) and Chariot Sophia (MVP). We barely have chance to get our breath back before hosts London Rockin’ Rollers and opponents Bristol Roller Derby take to track for the day’s second game…

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We weren’t expecting their fans to be quite so loud. Sure, LRR have something of a reputation for rowdy supporters, and their fans do form the majority of those in the hall today. The thing is, we’re not talking about the LRR fans here, but Bristol’s. A cluster of a thirty or more who are waving signs, shouting encouragement and puncturing the air with rousing chants of “BRD” for much of this second game. The announcers are trying to rally the local support, telling them they can’t remember LRR being out-sung like this at home before, but as loud as the London fans get, the very vocal Bristol contingent “take it up to eleven” (to paraphrase Spinal Tap). As away fans in any sport go, they’re pretty damn awesome.
    This support is even more impressive given that BRD are in the lead for approximately two minutes of the entire game. This is from the point Delta Strike (up against Jack Attack in the opening jam) takes a single pass and call, until roughly halfway through jam three, which sees a typically blistering-paced charge from Beat Girl, whose 19 point haul gives the Londoners a 22-10 lead. “BRD, BRD, BRD…!” Jacks, Beat and captain Rammit form the core of the LRR Allstars’ small but highly experienced jammer rotation, and the Bristol side are finding them difficult to contain. Long-time Harbour Harlots captain Black Thorn is at the heart of a tough BRD defence – sending Beat to ground on the inside of the track, then seconds later on the outside – but the LRR starheads are an ever resilient bunch.
    Raven Lunatic, Ophelia Pain, Lil Miss Bloodlust, Delta and Til Thrillster forming the major part of the Harlots rotation here. Or the Bristol Roller Derby A-team rotation, that is to say, with the Harbour Harlots name seemingly soon retired, along with the accompanying kit, which is being worn for the last time today. Thrillster pulls it back to 53-64 for BRD as the South Westerners call a team time out. There’s solid blocking here from the likes of The Blizzard, E-Z Roller, Gremilyn, Vile Shadow and others for Bristol. The home team have plenty of super tough blockers of their own on show, though, such as Rebel Rebel, Flash Bang Wallop, Betty Swollox and the ever terrifying Von Bitch.

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Delta puts in a single pass to take BRD within five points of the Allstars. 80-75 to the latter in points scored. 11-8 to the former in lead jammer statuses gained. LRR jammers chasing Bristol’s down too quickly for them to gain much advantage from those extra leads though. Home pack holding Ophelia back really well as the rampant Rammit spins in three passes without reply. A penalty call at the whistle sees the visiting jammer start the next one in the box, with Jack Attack putting 17 points on the board as the Londoners build some breathing space. It’s 111-77 (which must equate to something brutal in the roller derby drinking game) at half time.
    Two jammer penalties in the first jam of the second period against Delta, and the Somerset (or Gloucestershire or Avon or Wessex or Unitary Authority, depending on what year your map was made) side are starting to slip further behind now. Beat Girl takes fifteen without reply to put LRR up 151-86. Both teams rostering a full fourteen here, so even if the penalties pick up – as they are starting to now, with both teams beginning the next jam with two blockers seated – the risk of foul out dominoes is pretty low here. Rammit dancing through on the outside line, jamming in twenty without reply, as Von Bitch repeatedly introduces Bloodlust to her shoulder.
    Bristol fans chanting Delta’s name, then E-Z’s. Jacks spectacularly taken out mid apex jump by one of the BRD blockers, but the home side are picking up LJ status with more consistency now. Rebel Rebel struggles with some extra tough defending from the Bristolians, passing the star to Obnoxious Li now as the clock ticks down. The London pivot passes through the pack with star in hand rather than on head, and BRD take the jam 8-0. The crowd has thinned out considerably now, as often happens at double headers – some people have homes to go to, apparently. 18-15 to LRR in lead jammer statuses (statii?) currently as Demolition Darcy and Swollox chip in with great defence for Jacks to crank it up to 224-150. Home side one shy of 50% more points than their opponents with only enough time for one more jam now. Can Bristol keep it below that 50%? Beat v Ophelia. Ophelia takes lead. Passes the star to Black Thorn to cheers from the Brizzle crowd. Black Thorn on a scoring pass. Then another. Beat Girl is scoring too though. The final whistle sounds.

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LRR have taken the win 235-164. We make that 43% more points than Bristol. Certainly less than the 50% we’re sure no-one but us was hunched over a calculator watching out for at the end. It’s considerably less than the predicted margin of victory, which suggested around a 2:1 differential in favour of the Londoners, so BRD have much to be proud of from their opening game in British Champs. Til Thrillster takes the Crowd Favourite award for them, with Beat Girl picking up the one for LRR’s Allstars. The Bristol side pick out Jack Attack as the home team’s best jammer, with Betty Swollox as best blocker and Rebel Rebel MVP. LRR give their awards to Bristol’s Thrillster (jammer), Black Thorn (blocker) and Blizzard (MVP).
    In a controversial move, we BRATS swerve today’s official after party. Largely because it’s a roller disco. Even three months of lessons from the head coach of Team GB’s national figure [roller] skating squad have left us unable to skate a single stride (“talk to your doctor about flat feet” was his parting shot) so donning wheels now, after ten cans of beer, would be a huge recipe for disaster. Instead we jump on a bus and hold our own unofficial after party in LRR’s usual venue, a former local of ours, the King Eddy in Stratford. There is much Jägermeister drunk and indecipherable notes are stared at, whilst grumpy pet owners refuse to let us attempt a “human pyramid of dogs”.
    So where next for the Tier 2 UKRDA National South Division then? Geographically speaking, this show moves 32 miles down the A13 to a leisure centre near Southend. Royal Windsor take on the hosting Sirens on March 21st, knowing that a big win (by 160+ points) will see Windsor leapfrog LRR to top the table, whilst the Essex side will be hoping for a first Champs win of their own. The day’s other game sees the mighty Brighton Rockers (who currently place third, not far behind RWRG on points difference) taking on today’s impressive Bristol team in what we feel will be one of the best match-ups of the tournament. We’ll have a full preview of said National South Day Three online in a couple of weeks, and we hope to see as many Rockers fans as possible there on the day – if only to tell that bloke from Bristol to keep his voice down!

[Photos by John Hesse]

THINGS YOU CAN CLICK ON:
FB PAGE FOR DAY THREE @ SOUTHEND MAR 21ST
TICKETS FOR DAY THREE @ SOUTHEND MAR 21ST
BRITISH CHAMPIONSHIPS WEBSITE
BRITISH CHAMPIONSHIPS FB PAGE

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