BRATS Review of 2016: PART ONE – Tracking BRIGHTON from CAEN to CROYDON

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As 2016 comes to an end, we look back on twelve months in the life of the Brighton Rockers. The year before was dominated by British Championships, a seven month rollercoaster ride across Southern England that provided a structured schedule to the Rockers’ 2015, but a notable lack of variety. Brighton (like a number of teams) decided not to return to Champs in 2016, citing a wish to face more European sides – as well as develop the new B-team Rockerbillies – as their focus for the year. It turned out to be a busy one. So much so that we’ve had to split this preview into several parts. This is part one…

2016 begins, as many years do, in JANUARY. For the Brighton Rockers the New Year nowadays means new blood, with the league using the winter to defrost their annual Fresh Meat intake. It’s another bumper crop of freshies. They’ll spend much of the year learning the sport, with many of them making their way into the B-team ranks in the summer and autumn. At least one will find herself invited to train alongside the A-team before the year is out.

As baptisms of fire go, a six-team European tournament in Normandy ranks as pretty flamey, despite being held in the coldest hall on Earth. FEBRUARY‘s Slip It tournament in Caen sees several of last year’s Fresh Meat making their A-team debuts as part of a fairly makeshift Rockers squad (with a number of regular AllStars not travelling over). There’s a full report on Brighton’s three Slip It games in this thing we wrote so here we’ll just summarise. First up, at what feels like 6 in the morning, a bruising encounter with Brussels Derby Pixies. Scores are low and close in the first half as both sides shake their sleep out of their eyes, but the Pixies assert themselves in the second to win 217-121.

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Next up for the Rockers are the hosts, Roller Derby Caen. The Leopard Avengers (to give them their Sunday name) have been the surprise package of previous Slip Its, performing well above ranking predictions, so by now people shouldn’t be surprised by the surprise. They roll over the Rockers 236-145, which means Brighton will face Eindhoven’s Rockcity Rollers in Sunday’s play-offs. This is the AllStars’ closest game of the tournie, with the Sussex skaters never more than a power jam behind, ending in a battling 140-167 defeat.

Brighton will tempt Rockcity over to Haywards Heath later in the year in a quest for revenge, but the French trip ends with the Rockers finishing sixth from six in the tournament. Clearly they enjoyed it, though – or maybe realise they can’t do any worse – since Brighton will be taking part in the 2017 Slip It too. This is just a few weeks away (28th & 29th January) with opposition coming in the form of the Kallio Rolling Rainbow B-Team (Helsinki), Hellfire Harlots (Nottingham), Amsterdam, Madrid and the hosts. Keep an eye on this website for some sort of preview in the next few weeks.

After their trip to Caen, 114 miles due South of Brighton, the Rockers keep things similarly simple on the compass front for their second road trip of the year, heading 54 miles due North in MARCH to face Batter C Power in Tottenham. The Rockers had narrowly beaten said London Rollergirls third team in Shoreham four years ago, but four years is a lifetime in derby and both squads are radically different for this belated rematch. Although the Londoners take a 172-132 victory (full report here) this is widely acknowledged – by Rockers fans as well as the skaters themselves – to have been Brighton’s best performance in a fair old while.

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Spring sees the league switch their attention from road trips to home events. Their first outing of 2016 at Haywards Heath Dolphin comes at the end of APRIL as the Rockers face the B-team of Newcastle Roller Girls. The Geordies’ A-team has already won this year’s British Champs title (with several months of the season to go) so their B-team are clearly going to be a challenge. Despite losing a few players to injury, Brighton take the game to Newcastle and roll out 170-143 winners (full report here). This marks the AllStars’ first victory in almost a year. The day also sees a narrow Rockerbillies defeat to the Hoodlum Gang, a 30th birthday celebration for Gin Atomic and a wedding proposal for Cake Or Death.

A mere three weeks later, in the merry month of MAY, the AllStars are back at the Dolphin to face long-time friendfoes Croydon Roller Derby. This game is part of the Brighton Fringe Festival and proceedings are suitably dramatic. The likes of Gin and Emma the Condemner give the Rockers an early 30-17 lead, but Dyduch and Agent Cooper hit back for Croydon, the latter taking advantage of a full Brighton penalty box to make it 38-31 to the visitors. The lead change seems to hit the Rockers for six as they suddenly stop picking up any points at all. All of a sudden the South Londoners are 74-31 up with ten minutes left of the half.

Cometh the Hour, cometh Dr Whooligan, who trades power jams with Dyduch in a flurry of passes and penalties that finishes 20-4 (in points, not passes… or penalties) to the Rockers powerhouse. The fact that Whoolie starts the next jam in the sin bin doesn’t prevent her winning that ‘un too, 18-0 no less. It’s 69-84 on the totalisers now. Brighton’s bench crew are ordering in ketchup to eat up more of that Cronx lead. Or something similar which actually works as a metaphor. Imagine a clever line involving ‘Deliverooligan’ or something. You might have noticed that this end of year review has started getting more detailed (ie rambling) now we’ve reached the first of the games we forgot to actually write up at the time. Half time: 72-86.

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Second half. Second wind or seconds out? Pass and call from Skate Bush against Coop in the opener sees Brighton close it to ten points. Keeping it at that for a while. Hitt Bull and Inara Terra neutralising Dr W now though, Croydon pulling away 99-79. Emma off for a track cut next. CRD bench dude screaming at his pack to keep Shambolic separate from the rest of the Rockers defence as Dyduch makes it 111 for CRD. Gin pulling a whole bunch back for Brighton against her old teamies, but the gap is holding at a 20-ish tally. Both teams using time outs. Cake, Chaka Carnage and Sham throwing every hit they’ve got at Dyduch now, but she’s made out of concrete blancmange.

Gin closing things back up, but Brighton are picking up a lot of blocker penalties. Sham fouls out and goes straight to the bar table for a bottle of cider – good skills. 160-136 to Croydon with eight minutes left. Gin sends Canelator flying in a bit of jammer on jammer. The South Londoners are doing a good job of splitting the Brighton pack every other jam now, with Inara and Polly Filla proving particular effective in the purple packs. Irish Mist and Hippy Hippy Skate amongst the sturdiest defenders for Brighton, but the Cronx lot finish strong to take the win 181-142. They attempt to kidnap Gin at the final whistle and sign her back to CRD, but Rockers bench coach Mass Janeycide drags her away, flicking Vs at her opposite number. Blocking awards go to Smashasaurus Bex and Cake, with Coop and Emma picking up the starhead gongs and wholly unsurprising MVP nods to Dyduch and Gin. With a game-free JUNE we reach half time in the Rockers’ 2016…

…and leave things there. Keep an eye out for Part 2 of the BRATS Review of 2016, which encompasses the first ever Sussex derby derby (Brighton v Eastbourne), a double header against two challenging challenge teams, plus away adventures in the capital of Wales and the mysterious land of Houghton Regis. Yay!

[Photos by John Hesse except Caen by Vinciane Piérart]

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