As the mighty Brighton Rockers gear up for Saturday’s trip to face London Rollergirls side Batter-C Power in Tottenham [tickets still available – see the link at the bottom of this piece] we look back on Brighton’s five most recent open door games. In keeping with their summer promise to “face more European opposition” all five of these games were against teams from across the Channel. The first two took place in Haywards Heath in November and the other three a couple of weekends ago in Normandy.
Our story begins in Haywards then with home rematches of two foreign trips from past years. Gent GO-GO Girls are the challenge facing the Rockers A-team AllStars and what a challenge they are. The Belgian side has come on in leaps and bounds since the Rockers played them in 2012. Indeed, outside of Scandinavia and France, Gent are now the second highest ranked team in the entire rest of Europe (only Berlin’s Bear City place above them). Flattrackstats expects the Belgians to take the win by around 100 points here, so a first jam that sees Skate Bush triumph 17-11 over Olga Volt is a good start for the Sussex side. Meanwhile Shambolic, in only her second open door game back since an extended break from the team, re-establishes a tradition by being the first Rocker to visit the penalty box.
Some tough blocking and bracing from the likes of Chaka Carnage and Gin Atomic allows Kapow, Rose Bleed and others to keep Brighton noses in front for the next few jams. There is a sense though that, as often happens in derby, the stronger side are simply scoping their opponents out over the first four or five jams here, ready to switch up their tactics and regain the initiative. Gent’s very tough jammer Martacus has seen enough now and a 13-0 jam against Dr Whooligan sees the lead change. It’s now 34-27 to the visitors. A succession of jammer penalties for Brighton will see the Belgians add another fifty to their tally before the Rockers score again. The height of the challenge facing the home side here is demonstrated when Brighton’s biggest threat Gin takes lead, puts in a fantastic apex jumping starhead performance that has the crowd on its feet, yet still somehow loses the jam 11-12. GO-GO are GOOD.
The sentence “even when Brighton look to have got the better of them, Gent win the jam on points” appears several times in our notes. Other scrawled highlights include “Gent bench coach is very smartly dressed – more bench coaches should wear waistcoats”, “GO-GO’s Moodswing Baby is a super tough blocker” and “we are entirely surrounded by noisy Switchblade fans – are they all wearing denim ironically or is it still fashionable in France?” There’s one moment towards the end of the game where we’re pretty sure Olga Volt picks up three jammer penalties in a single jam, yet Brighton still only manage four points. That pretty much sums the contest up. The Rockers battle hard and give them a game, but Gent are a class above and roll out 258-116 winners.
The day’s second game isn’t strictly speaking a rematch. Although a Rockers side travelled over to Lille to take on Switchblade Roller Grrrls the previous summer, that was a mixed A/B-team Brighton squad, whereas today it’s specifically the B-team Rockerbillies taking on the Lilloise team. The fact that the mixed side lost (albeit not by much) means the B-team could really struggle here. “When the Rockers said they were arranging a game for the B-team against Switchblade I suggested they request Switchblade’s B-team,” one non-player in the Rockers ranks tells us, “I really hope to God they haven’t sent over their A-team or it will be a massacre.”
They have indeed sent over their A-team. Two jams in and it’s 17-0 to the French side. While Gent brought very few fans across for this event, the league from Lille are represented by a good 20+ in the crowd here, most of them bearing cardboard shields, banners and the like. They’re a fantastic support and damn loud too with a repertoire of chants that would put every UK derby league’s fans to shame. Out on track Sham, playing in both of today’s games to get her track time up after a break from derby, is first to put up points for the ‘billies. A strong jam from captain Irish Mist drags Brighton back into contention – up from 11-27 to 25-27 – before Speedy Gonzalex gives the Sussex side a 35-34 lead. A track cut calls sees Speedy start the next jam in the box and Switchblade take full advantage to post 23 without reply.
The French side are going with a super small jammer rotation here. For pretty much the entire game it’s only Fille De Satan and Honey Boo Boo donning the Switchblade star, but it’s working well for them. Satan in particular is tearing the Rockerbillies apart jam after jam. Pinkie Buster is amongst the standout blockers for the Lilloise. The likes of Lab Wrath and Van Hayley battle well for Brighton but the French packs dominate much of the proceedings. Jammer penalties are hitting the Rockerbillies hard too with Switchblade taking one jam at the end of the first period 48-0 as Sham looks on from the sin bin. Ouch. It’s 37-195 at the interval and one plucky member of the Lille travelling support agrees to shave his head if Switchblade make it to 400 points. Will he come to regret that bet?
Irish Mist is probably Brighton’s best hope of points here but even when she has a good run it’s just the odd two or three onto the ‘billies total. Thunderstriker makes an appearance in the French star as Lille vary things up towards the end of the game. Kelly’Diote fouls out and there must be a few of her teammates on five or six penalties now. A great jam from the impressive Mighty Mouse (13-4) is one of the second half highlights for Brighton. With 3’30” left on the clock it’s 368-75 to Switchblade and one of their fans is nervously running his fingers through his at-risk hair. A couple of short jams follow. Speedy Gonzalex does well to hit five without reply and make it 80-377 with just twelve seconds left on the clock. That chap’s hair must be safe now, surely?
Final jam: Lab Wrath v Honey Boo Boo. The latter takes lead and racks up several passes. Visitors on 392 now with just 45 seconds left on the jam clock. The Lille fans are going wild (well, all but one of them) and no-one but us amongst the Brighton fans knows why. That 400 point target is in sight. Another pass. 397. Twenty two seconds left. Can Boo Boo make it past and through in time? Yes she can! Lille hit 402 in the final seconds of the game with Brighton scoring 84. The French fans stream across to the bench and hug their team before sending someone to Sainsbury’s for clippers. Roller derby is a sport of big wins and big losses – the ‘billies beat Southampton a few months ago by a similar margin to today’s defeat – and this is all part of the learning curve for this fledgling second team. Nonetheless, after today’s results we expect it will be a long time before Brighton skaters face a Belgian and a French team on the same day again.
In fact, it will be just twelve short weeks…
We’ve never caught a ferry from Newhaven before, so we make an educated guess as to which train station (Town or Harbour) to get off at. Twenty minutes of wandering round deserted streets later a man in a Portaloo tells us we chose the wrong one. It seems the ferry port is slap bang next to Newhaven TOWN station. Luckily this is only ten minutes walk from Harbour station, which makes the existence of the latter (nowhere near the harbour) even more illogical. Things look up when we learn that booze (albeit Stella, euw) is only three quid a pint on the ferry. So begins several days of accompanying every other pint with a shot of Calvados, a Normandy apple brandy that tastes a lot better on the way in than the way out. Fun fact: around 2.5 hours into the four hour crossing to Dieppe the white cliff coastlines of both countries are visible from the upper deck of the ferry. Unfun fact: Bars in Normandy don’t open until 6pm, even on Saturday, and any that fail repeated hygiene inspections are forced to put a Union Jack in their window and call themselves an English Pub.
The annual Slip It! roller derby tournament kicks off at an ungodly 10am and Brighton are up first against the Brussels Derby Pixies. Strong continental packs were the theme of that November Saturday at the Dolphin and the same is true this crisp February morning in Caen. Four jams in and three points from Rose Bleed are all that Brighton have managed. She picks up another in jam eight and the scores stand at Rose 4 Brussels 32. Hairy Fairy takes advantage of a power jam and depleted Pixies pack to pull it back to 22-35. Cake Or Death holding back Roll Her Face well now but Sham can’t take advantage. Gin next up in the Sussex star – she looks to have landed an apex jump right on the whistle but the refs don’t give her the points. Noise Tank, benching here in the absence of Mass Janeycide, questions this somewhat vociferously. Racey and Gin are pegging back Roll Her really well now. Obliviator and Irish Mist the other half of a really strong Brighton pack that draws a penalty from the Belgian starhead. BRATS Jammer Of The Year Skate Bush takes full advantage, posting nineteen points to put the Rockers ahead for the first time in the game: 43-41.
Sham downing Metalix to force the call next and it’s still 43-41. Another pointless jam follows before Roll Her – the Belgian side’s most impressive jammer – retakes the lead. There’s 6’30” left of the period with the Pixies leading 58-52. A bodged star pass between Dr Whooligan and Rose allows Florence And The Machete three scoring passes. By the interval it’s 85-69 to Brussels. That’s a tiny gap in derby terms, but the second period doesn’t start well for Brighton. Multiple blockers getting penalised for failing to reform on a ‘no pack’ call is just one of many problems that sees the Rockers pick up a single point while the Pixies nab 51. Eek. Noise calls a team timeout at 70-136, but this contest is destined to slip away from Brighton. Brussels tough it out to take the game 217-121.
The Rockers face the hosts Roller Derby Caen next. Good home support here in a nice roller hockey style venue; white flooring that resembles ice makes it feel colder than it actually is, which is pretty damn cold to begin with. Rose gets the Rockers off to a good start with eight points in the first jam, but pretty soon it’s 12-30 to Caen and Noise is calling a timeout. Brighton will field quite a few newer players across this weekend, including the likes of the aces Bionic Betty, Speedy Gonzalex and Hippy Hippy Skate. Although the new additions all do really well, the absence through injury and other reasons of some of the Rockers’ most experienced blockers like Hyde N Shriek (here in the bleachers on crutches) is keenly felt. Caen’s chief tormentors Spank Girl and Chantal D’Acier and the hard blocking Quinn Cardinal are amongst those who keep Brighton on the back foot for most of the game. The final score is 236-145 to the hosts, so the Rockers finish third in the group and will playoff tomorrow at noon for the wooden spoon…
Having scoped out Sunday’s after party venue on the Saturday night, and been somewhat seduced by several really strong Belgian dark ales on draught, we’re in need of some hair of the dog for Brighton’s midday match-up with Eindhoven’s Rockcity Rollers. Unfortunately it seems that every shop in Caen including the supermarkets and off-licences is closed on a Sunday. After half an hour’s Googling we locate a small store in the suburbs that is open. This seems solely aimed at street drinkers however, with none of the beers (lagers) on offer being less than 6.5% ABV. Almost all of them are obscure German pilsners flavoured with various spirits. There’s the 6.8% whiskey beer, the 7.4% rum beer and the 7.6% tequila beer. We eschew all these ridiculous concoctions and plump instead for the 8.4% absinthe beer. It says “special herbal beer” in big letters on the can, so it must be good for us. Cracking into it back at the venue, we instantly discover that it’s the most disgusting drink ever created.
Brighton get the better of the first six jams but the lead is a worryingly narrow one (29-27). Lotta Havoc receives the star for Rockcity and takes advantage of a trip to the box for Rose to give the Dutch side a twelve point lead. Skate Bush and Whooligan are putting in some good turns in the star for the Rockers, but the Eindhoven squad of just eleven (Brighton with a full fourteen from an even bigger travel squad) are resolute in defence. The Brickster and Marcie in particular are a real handful for the Sussex packs to tussle with. A first half with a lot of stoppages, including Noise winning back his official review, ends 104-86 to Rockcity as we rush off back to the store for more disgusting wormwood lager. We have another reason to vacate the hall for the interval. There’s a huge ‘Turn Left’ advertising banner between the benches. It seems that we inadvertently gave our Rockers fanzine the same name as a long established Dutch roller derby store. Noise has suggested we should arm wrestle the store’s owner (one of the Rockcity skaters) for the rights to the name. This is a challenge we are VERY keen to avoid.
Most of the crowd are very much behind the Eindhoven team here with chants of “Go Go Go Rockcity” echoing around the hall as the game resumes. Ruby Cruel and The Great Tyrant are finding space through the Brighton packs despite the battling efforts of (amongst others) Racey, Emma the Condemner and Cake Or Death. The latter picks up a broken nose during the game and will appear at the after party with her face covered in what looks like gaffer tape (albeit stylishly accessorised gaffer tape). Gin, Skate and Whooligan keep the Rockers in touch – Rockcity’s lead is never more than a power jam away – but the Sussex side go down 140-167 to take sixth place in the tournament. The Brighton skaters take to the stands to watch the tournament’s two remaining games.
The third place playoff between the capital city sides of Brussels and the Paris Rollergirls B-team is the game of the tournament. There’s barely a cigarette paper between the two sides on the scoreboard for the vast majority of the contest. Indeed we lose track of the number of times the teams are tied between jams. 58-58 is followed a couple of minutes later by 72-72. There’s a 112-112 too and so on, hard to remember now, special herbal beer yeah. The Pixies have the edge 90-84 at half time, but a hard fought final couple of jams sees Paris triumph 179-166 with the teams gaining thirteen lead jammer statuses apiece. Wowsers. The final sees hosts Caen face Namur (whose 142-139 win over Paris was the highlight of Saturday). By this stage, to be honest, the six cans of absinthe beer have kicked in and all we can make out from our notes of the game now are what look like the phrases “don’t lick the bleachers not taste nice” and “does stick insects have ears”. According to the internet Namur won 200-154.
The after party then. We arrive fashionably early – two hours before anyone else – to take up our usual (well, third night in a row) spot at the bar. The rest of the evening is quite a blur. We can vaguely recall everyone in the building congaing around the bar, up and down the stairs and up and down the street… some crazy fake snow blizzard covering half the block… the barman giving us free shots of Calvados… being slightly sick on ourselves… and not much else. We have an early train in the morning so we retire at a sensible hour, thank God. We later learn that most of the Brighton team end up at a house party that is closed down by the police around five am. They may have lost the tournament but we’re pretty sure the Rockers won the after party. It was a splendid and awesomely hosted weekend all round. Yay!
PS Don’t forget you can catch the mighty Sussex skaters in action back on British soil this Saturday (12th March) in North London’s Tottenham Green Leisure Centre. The fact that it’s the only March weekend without engineering works on the Brighton train line is God telling you to attend, yeah? PPS Bring your own Calvados x
Photos by Vinciane Piérart aka NSP 189
BRIGHTON ROCKERS V BATTER C-POWER @ 12TH MARCH
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