With a big bang the door to Rotterdam’s Bar de Regenboog (population: three regulars, one barpeeps and your writer) flies open and a large party – quite literally, a party – spills in. This hot ball of glitter, tinfoil, sparkles, neon and shiny sci-fi fancy dress (around twenty strong) is better known as The Brighton Rockers On Tour. There’s certainly plenty to celebrate this Sunday April evening as this super-force of roller derbyers have just wheeled out what is surely the Rockers’ most awesomely successful weekend ever on track. BRATS takes another swig of dense particle soup, aka the strong Belgian beer we’ve already cleared the bar’s shelves of, before joining the players in a series of strangely coloured shots served in tiny glass mugs. As the Rockers pack the tiny stage and call out song requests to the multitasking barserve, there is the matter of interviews about the weekend’s three games to attend to. That’s if we can find time and create space for them in this tiny bar. The volume cranks up as the shiny throng of Rockers continue to celebrate their rising status in the derby universe – Brighton are likely to climb around 15 places in the next official WFTDA rankings because of this weekend.
Whilst we have galaxies of questions, for now let’s rewind to around 1.28pm yesterday afternoon at the RC de Lichtstad, a warehouse turned roller hockey venue in western Eindhoven. Behind the mesh fencing that surrounds the rink a supercluster of Rockers in centre track perform the Haka Khan – or whatever the actual name of their neon strewn pre-game choreographed dance-out is. Sez Who, borrowed from Eastbourne Roller Derby for the weekend, takes a sip of her coffee (served the semi milky way). She’s here to assist the Rockers bench crew, Psychosamatic and Adios Aimeego, who are busy making final checks to their blocking line-ups and star system (jammer rotation). The sun is shining, the absence of walls on three sides of the venue presenting a gleaming church and woodland as the unusual backdrop to today’s action. The mercury reading is low though, the metal roof imposing extra chilly shade as many Rockers take to the track in hoodies – opponents Rockcity Rollers stick to standard team shirts so they’re either double tough or used to it. It’s too cold to stand Venus de Milo still on the bench, so for once the incessant between jam dancing (largely led as ever by Slap Dash) is serving a practical purpose in keeping Brighton’s squad members warm.
Rockcity’s squad of ten take an early lead, before jamming turns from Brighton’s sprightly Deathblade and Finn McCruel bring the Dutch side back down to earth. The chilly weather mars none of the action as Skate Bush, Mighty Mouse and Hippy Hippy Skate bump up the Rockers’ tally, whilst great jamming from Rockcity’s Cat Core Galore and The Great Tyrant translates into less on the scoreboard. As the hosts call a timeout at 88-30 down, BRATS nips into the clubhouse where we are delighted and/or frightened to discover that Jupiter (or possibly Jupiler) beer is just €1.70 a glass. Go Go Gozer is running rings of Saturn around the Rockcity defence as we retake our place on the four rows of bleachers along the far straight. To our right an impressive turnout of travelling Rockers fans devours stroopwafels like the Roman god Neptune devoured ships. Falling on uranus is a regular occurrence in roller derby and that’s one disadvantage of this venue’s concrete floor, the other being the constant track tape repairs its lack of adhesion causes. Whilst the intense cold means NSOs wrapped in blankets, an even stranger sight is one of the Rockcity bench crew covered head to toe in fur – on closer inspection this turns out to be an actual dog, who we are going to call (for no particular reason) Pluto.
With a half-time gap of around 70 points it looks like Eindhoven’s Rockcity Rollers will be shooting for the moon in the second period, but anything can happen in roller derby. Although Brighton were tipped to win this first game of their Europa trip, the Rockers are currently on course for around double the predicted differential. The excellent announcer explains how difficult it is for a titan like Tyrant to be blocked by a Mighty Mouse high skater (centre of balance stuff) as Rosie Galore pegs back Finn. The gap is around a hundred points now and you don’t need an atlas to see which way we’re heading, although Rockcity continue battling with Lotta Havoc bagging them a rare lead jammer status. We pan across to the packs where Bitchface Betty, Dee Dee Dominator and Scream Queen have been amongst Eindhoven’s standout blockers. Brighton equivalents Hairy Fairy, Fellen E Assault and Cake Or Death are regularly keeping Rockcity’s jam score to nix, but a blistering final effort from Tyrant (geeing up the crowd) sees the hosts hit triple figures in the final seconds. It wouldn’t win the Hydra, but it’s been a really strong and impressive performance from the Brighton Rockers, who chalk up a solid 223-101 victory over the tenacious Rockcity Rollers.
BRATS usually hangs around to watch an event’s other games (in this case Rockcity B beating Charleroi’s Blackland 164-123) but as genuine snowflakes drift across the bleachers we take this as our cue to leave this ice planet. Escaping the stellar temptation of €1.70 beers whilst we can still find (let alone check into) our hotel is another factor. The shop windows we pass on the 20 minute walk back into town offer a magnitude of delights, such as jewelled machine gun hookah pipes and actual children on rollerblades playing table tennis – what the heck is that shop selling? It’s a long held derby tradition that BRATS are always first to arrive at an after party and in this case we get to rock bar Café The Jack light years ahead of anyone else. To be fair the pub’s only just opened and the second game has only just started, but we can’t resist the gravitational pull of the strong keg beers on offer. These gas giants include two 11% stouts (one Dutch, one Scottish) but we are mindful that tomorrow’s first game kicks off at the ungodly hour of midday. Not only that, but it’s a distant world away – well, an InterCity train, two tubes and some walking – so we call it an early night and continue our other tradition of also always being the first to leave the after party.
After yesterday’s awesome but eclectic venue, it’s in some ways comforting to be in the less alien (ie totally expected) setting of a suburban leisure centre as Sunday’s first whistle blows in Rotterdam’s Sportcentrum West. It’s hosts Rotterdam Roller Derby who put the first points on the board before a starburst from Shambolic, who has joined up with the Rockers today after missing yesterday due to work. It seems the penalty box is still a regular habitable zone for Sham, the hosts taking advantage of several misdemeanours in quick succession to lead by 20. Fliza Minnelli is shooting star on head down the inside line in several jams now, but a magnificent star turn by Mighty Mouse keeps the Rockers in touch at 26-40. A supergiant power jam from Hippy Hippy Skate, followed by some great jumping passes from the hugely impressive relative newbie Deathblade, sees Brighton close to 50-55. Rockers blockers kill a power jam and Hippy wins a space race with Rotterdam’s May, though the latter still finds a path through as the hosts maintain their lead. Brighton bodge an overly complicated four corners pack start, and Rebel Drillsome, Pocket Bomb, Vicious Phoenix and Monster Mary peg back Deathblade whilst Loos Licht makes multiple orbits of the track.
That was enough to give Rotterdam a sizeable half time lead as the points for the team in white dwarf those of black clad Brighton by 92-63. During the interval BRATS naturally gravitates from the three rows of bleachers in the hall to the adjacent bar (with window seating overlooking the action) where we don’t moan too much about the slightly more than Eindhoven €2.25 cost of a beer. Strangely there’s no announcer here and even the music is turned off during the game, with the on track and bench calls filling the vacuum. This actually seems to create more atmosphere as the crowd gets a window into team communication, although several players will be warned about accidentally swearing – family audience, yeah. Brighton edge their score up to 75 early in the second half, but are then void of points for several jams as a resurgent Rotterdam go more than 40 ahead. Emma The Condemner, Mills & Boom, Slap Dash, Slaughter Melon and others putting in good blocking stints for Brighton, but the outnumbered hosts (eleven players here to Brighton’s full squad) are finding the black holes to maintain that lead. The Rockers start eking out three or four points per jam now, but it’s an astronomic gap to close at such a slow rate.
Cometh the hour cometh the Sham as the Rockers supernova makes the gap a more closeable 102-125 and a shaken Rotterdam call a timeout. There’s an even bigger ray of light for Brighton as Skate Bush pulls it back to 116-125, although Cake Or Death fouls out and there are less than ten minutes left. Cosmic side surfing from Shambolic on the outside line as Finn McCruel keeps Pocket Bomb in her pocket; Skate Bush and Mills & Boom joining the defensive effort as Sham wheels in pass upon pass to jam Brighton into a 140-133 lead. Hosts battling back though, as Hairy Fairy and Fellen E Assault struggle to keep May from Brexiting the pack whilst the telescopic Go Go Gozer pushes against the white wall of Rotterdam. Rockers eight points up with less than two minutes left as Sham gets a stellar wind behind her and power jams it up to 156-140. Rotterdam use their official review to force a final jam, but the hometown blockers ricochet like asteroids off the ever resilient Hippy Hippy Skate, who closes the game out 163-144. That was an out of this world final fifteen minutes as the mighty Brighton Rockers overturn a sizeable deficit and upset the odds to take the win over a tough Rotterdam Roller Derby.
Sadly we have to miss the day’s non-Brighton game for an expedition on Rotterdam’s spiral galaxy of a tube system in search of our hotel. Walking back to the venue, suitably impressed by all the great modern architecture, we are puzzled that this ocean planet of a city (90% of it rivers and bridges by our reckoning) only contains stationary ships and boats – we don’t see any actually moving on the water for our whole visit. We don’t have time to create some nebulous theory to explain this, since the day’s final game is seconds away. Rotterdam defeated Belgian side GO-GO Gent 160-132, so a win for Gent against Brighton will trigger a singularity of victories and the use of point differences to separate the three sides. However, any sort of victory for the Rockers will see them raise the Harbour Cup and bask in the starlight of its shiny golden shelly shipness. Gent are first on the scoreboard with Valerie jamming in a couple of points, but a globular cluster of scoring jams for the Rockers sees them quickly 31-14 ahead as an official timeout is called so a ref can go to the toilet or something. The two teams going pretty much point-for-point before Skate Bush takes advantage of a power jam for an elongation of Brighton’s lead to 54-25.
A cluster of (typically) loud North American types in front of us will cheer on the interstellar jamming of Shambolic and Go Go Gozer in particular throughout this game. As Gozer lands a big jump on turn four that surprises even herself, the sonic boom from the colonials is rewarded with a victorious tongue out gesture from the skater. It’s not all Go Go Gozer v GO-GO Gent though as Skate Bush, Hippy Hippy Skate and Sham (the latter aided by great offensive blocking from Finn McCruel) have the Belgian packs chasing their stardust. The second half of the first half has actually seen the red clad Gent jammers – particularly Fever and Valerie – post the more meteoric rise in points though, with GO-GO go-going into the break just 79-67 down. Gent are first out of the blocks in the second period as they close the Rockers’ lead to 83-79 with the Belgians now looking for the escape velocity required to claim a lead of their own. Binary stars in the box at the start of jam three with Sham and Valerie both released from penalty purgatory on the whistle. Skate Bush v Fever next and – with the former off for a forearm – GO-GO’s score suddenly eclipses Brighton’s as Gent lead 90-87.
Brighton aren’t going to let the score for the skaters in red dwarf their own for long as Hairy Fairy, Fellen E Assault and Finn peg back Ego Stripper whilst Hippy puts the Rockers back into a 95-90 lead. Then again, Gent aren’t going to give up either, with tough blocking from the likes of Amber, Genia, Sandra Buttblock and Vermassacre closing the gap to 101-97 as another redshift threatens. Ten points for Hippy followed by a dozen for Deathblade gives Brighton visible light between themselves and a Belgian team whose already low numbers are further reduced by a foul out. Gozer tries a helmet cover pass over the pack to Hippy that almost completely takes Gent by surprise, but they spot the celestial object at the last moment and block the move. A second attempt sees the dark matter change hands as Hippy sets off on pass after tiring pass – “sorry Jo” shouts the Brighton bench, “that’s OK” comes the breathless reply. Hairy Fairy, Slap Dash, Gozer and Fellen keep the Gent jammer’s motion retrograde as the hard-working Hippy puts Brighton a whopping 172-120 ahead. There’s just time for Sham to add a few more orbital paths round the track in the final jam as the Rockers close out a 188-124 win over the determined Gent contingent.
Delighted captain Skate Bush raises the Harbour Cup to the cosmos and we fast forward four hours back (er, forward – time travel is confusing) to the Bar de Regenboog, where the brilliant Brighton glitterati are effusive about how awesome the weekend’s opponents, venues, cities and games have been. We’re focusing on wider Rockers stuffs now though, so we corner Finn who admits that she and Sham were only late additions to this weekend’s awesome constellation of “half A-team, half B-team and one C-team”. Sez Who, whose own Eastbourne league could only roster nine players for this month’s British Champs game in Luton, admits to some jealousy over the strength in depth Brighton’s status as a major planet in UK derby bestows. Indeed, the Rockers receive weekly Fresh Meat enquiries and this year’s intake starts very soon; email firstname.lastname@example.org asap to take the first step towards becoming an evolved star of Brighton roller derby. With the Rockers’ friendly rivals Croydon Roller Derby (one of BRATS’ favourite leagues) recently sadly disappearing down a wormhole due to a shortage of skaters, a regular input of freshies is key to Brighton’s long-term future. Next up for the Rockers is a 1st of June A/B double header in Haywards Heath against Glasgow Roller Derby, formerly ranked #1 in UKRDA and winners of the first British Champs, although their star has waned a little since. Tickets for this epic event have just gone on sale, so make sure you snag yours now or something something giant molecular cloud.
PHOTOS USED WITH MANY THANKS
Eindhoven game pictures by Patrick Spruytenburg
Rotterdam tournament pictures by Em O’Sullivan
Space picture by NASA
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