Yes, No, Maybe… Brighton Rockers All-Stars v Bristol Harbour Harlots report



We may have mentioned in our report of the previous Brighton game (against Croydon) that a ‘bar in the hall’ initiative from the new leisure centre overlords resulted in the hell of lukewarm cider on a scorching weekend. In fact, we may have spent more time ranting about this than actually describing the game, but the ‘Power of the Press’ seems to have worked. “You’ll be pleased to hear there’s no bar in the hall this time,” we are told as we arrive to drop off fanzines on the door. The foyer cafe has expanded its range of bottled boozes greatly and it’s all blissfully cold. Unfortunately the queues are epic, especially when selfish people start ordering food and coffee and all sorts of other things that, frankly, leisure centres shouldn’t even sell. We yearn for the days of the secret backroom gym bar. Is it still there? The sign on the door now says gym members only. Is it worth joining the gym just to drink booze there on Rockers game days? Hmmm…

Maybe we’re a bit slow on the uptake here. It’s probably a good three or four jams into the contest before we become aware that something’s different today. We can hear what the players are shouting at each other, what the bench are shouting at the players, what the players are shouting at the bench (all surprisingly unsweary, as it happens)… How come? Finally we twig that this game has no announcer. Bout co-ordinator Mistress called out the squads during the skate outs, but for the game itself there is no commentary. Last minute cancellation, we later learn. Whisper it, but it’s actually quite refreshing not to have constant dialogue (one second too loud to understand, the next too quiet to hear) accompanying every moment of on-track action. What other sport has a live announcer calling out every play? Not many. Why does derby? Tradition, presumably. Originally it would have been to describe the new sport to an unfamiliar audience. Whilst there are still derby virgins out there, here in Haywards Heath – in a venue that sees nearly ten games a year and (like almost all derby venues) falling rather than rising attendances – surely there aren’t really enough newbies present to necessitate announcers. Perhaps the only reason we still have them is… no, we’ll stop there. The Association of Flat Track Derby Announcers is as feared and connected a Union as Jimmy Hoffa’s Teamsters. Best keep schtum (us not them, obvs). Best move on.


Initial stats-crunching suggests Bristol are going to have a tough time of this. They’ve lost most of their recent open door games by a couple of hundred points, and the online predictometer has Brighton hitting just shy of double the Harlots score today. The Somerset/Gloucestershire/Avon (whichever of those Bristol is currently part of) league have already overturned similar odds to beat the Rockers in London last year, and have been working hard to turn around their recent form. We’re still expecting Brighton to take and build upon an early lead here today, though.


Successive lead jammer statuses for Rose Bleed and The Mighty Mighty Bash, with Shambolic at the heart of defensive duties, sees Brighton racking up the first points. It seems pretty feisty out there, with the crowd “oo”-ing at a steady procession of floorbound clatters. (It’s only later we realise that we’re noticing these player bumps and crowd gasps more because there’s no announcer.) Visor-clad Til Thrillster picks up a few for Bristol in the third, calling as Rose edges her off track. 10-4. Sham up next in the star for the Rockers, hurtling around as BRD’s Raven Lunatic is knocked about by a very physical Brighton pack. A skate problem that sees Raven spending time on the outfield doesn’t help – a star pass to Lil Miss Bloodlust follows, but the damage is done. 27-4. Brighton in control, but Bristol clawing things back now through Ophelia Pain. Rockers lead 31-27. Closer than expected now. Power jam Sham. Great burst of speed through the pack, but zombie-jawed (face paint not medical condition) Vile Shadow knocks her back. Brighton pack jumping in to assist, Sham off for a track cut, new jam, Bash knocking Ophelia off as Sham returns. Dr Whooligan with a power jam start, but straight off. Fleur Rocious running interference on the Rockers wall as Ophelia racks up a single pass before calling. Bash off, power jam Ophelia, Brighton close it down well, but Bristol have narrowed the gap to 88-71. Whooligan, Swann and Sham take successive leads as the Rockers hit the ton with nothing more conceded.

Official time out. The entire Rockers line-up fixing the track tape. Those on the Brighton bench singing “we love you Racey” at their off-skates teammate in the bleachers. The computer powering the scoreboard explodes (or at least crashes) and whiteboards and marker pens are dug out. Given the game now lacks both scoreboard and announcers, it’s only a couple of degrees of ‘old school’ away from being a closed door. Whooligan spends the final two jams of the period going back and forth from track to penalty box. It’s been a battling performance from the Harbour Harlots – the likes of Vile, The Blizzard, Black Thorn and Da Silva Surfer preventing Brighton from getting much benefit from their power jams. The Bristol starheads have found it equally tough going, but must surely be happy with a far closer that expected half-time deficit of 125-107.


What beers do you do? “London Pride, Newcastle Brown, John Smiths, Peroni, Stella, Carling…” Next customer: What beers do you do? “Newcastle Brown, Peroni, Stella, John Smiths, Carling, London Pride…” Next customer: What beers do you do? Last game’s lukewarm beer bar had a printed list. Maybe this chilled beer bar should have one too, for the sake of the server’s sanity and queuing time? Just a suggestion, King Dolphin…


12-10 say the little numbers on the now working again scoreboard. We’ve always wondered what those numbers represent. Jams won? Lead jammer statuses attained? Bananas eaten? Ah, who cares. Recent transferee Swann up against Raven as the action resumes. Swann takes lead and a couple of points. Kapow up in the star next for Brighton, putting up a string of great scoring passes. Very physical blocking from Vile, throwing shoulders at Whooligan almost non-stop throughout the jam, the latter not wilting under the onslaught. Bash takes the star and Brighton are starting to edge away now. Sham v Bloodlust. Rose trying to take out the Harlots jammer, but ‘no pack’ is called, so Sham swoops in and does it herself. 161-110 to the Rockers. Brighton maintaining the 50 point differential as the period progresses, with Hairy Fairy, Derby McGee and Enyo Face amongst the standouts in the Sussex packs. Official time out sees Mistress on the turn one corner leading the Rockers bench in dancing to ‘Living In America’. (Strangely ’80s-themed playlist here today, instead of the more usual riot grrrl fare.) Lots of Sham passes in the next jam, with Hyde ‘N’ Shriek, Cake Or Death and Whooligan doing a good job of holding the starheaded Harlot back. 206-125. That’s on par with photographer The Philosofear’s predicted 80-point Brighton win, but there’s still half a half to go.

The South Westerners are mixing up their jammer rotation more now. Gremilyn goes star-clad but a penalty call just past the sin bin sees her off track for a while as Swann jams in just shy of twenty. Next up Kapow, who is pocketed by the Bristol blockers, and eventually passes the star to Rose. The problems the former had with the rival pack are nothing compared to the difficulties the latter has getting the jammer panty on. Twenty seconds (and three passes) of trying, but the whistle goes before she manages it. Rose looks suitable chastened, but everyone else enjoyed the Mr Bean-esque comedy of it. Bristol resurgent now, getting a procession of leads to close the gap a little. Rockers time out at 241-172. Sin bin switcheroos from Kapow and Raven as the game resumes. Track cut on the whistle for the latter and Bash takes full advantage of a PJ start. Two minutes left and it’s 266-184. Sham edges up Brighton’s lead, then Swann dons the star against Raven for the final jam of the game. Penalty called on the Rockers starhead. Bash and Hairy battling to hold back Raven, but she’s putting a fair few points on the board now. Swann back on and sending the imposing Vile Shadow flying, to cheers from the crowd. Both packs resilient and each side must be happy (in their own way) with a final scoreline of 277-209.

The Victory in capitals, that is, as the central Brighton pub is hosting a Rockers after party for the first time today. The Sussex league pick The Blizzard as Bristol’s Best Blocker, with Ophelia Pain and Vile Shadow taking the Jammer and MVP awards. The Harlots, meanwhile, select Sham as Brighton’s MVP, with Hairy as Best Blocker and Swann picking up the first Best Jammer award of her derby career. “We were expecting a really tough, physical encounter,” one of the Harbour Harlots later tells us, “and we weren’t disappointed. The Rockers are a very powerful, drilled and well organised team, so we went into the game knowing that there would be no mercy. Despite the score, we were really pleased with how the team played and how we kept the points differential much closer than predicted. Plus, the Brighton Rockers were such lovely hosts and genuinely nice people – it was a derby win for everyone!”


For Bristol, Saturday 25th sees a first home open door event since June. This one’s a double header with Bristol taking on South West Angels of Terror (from Taunton/Exeter) whilst neighbours Bath face Wales’ Neath Port Talbot. Flattrackstats call both games as close, giving Bristol a 52% win chance with a squeaky close 55:54 points differential, whilst Bath have a slightly better 60% (9:8) over NPT. Find more details of this event in the link below. The Brighton Rockers, meanwhile, are also heading “out West” on the 25th, albeit only 40-odd miles along the coast, as they face off against Portsmouth Roller Wenches. The Wenches are one of the fastest rising leagues in the South and have already seen off Brighton’s B-team in the latter’s only public home game, back in March of last year. FTS gives the Rockers a 64% win probability with a 41:35 ratio, so this one could go either way. This event’s also a double header, with the other game seeing Portsmouth’s B-team take an 87% chance (27:16) into their game with Essex newcomers Killa Hurtz. The action takes place at Havant Leisure Centre from 2pm and tickets are £7 in advance, £8 on the door. See the link lower down for more info.

We can’t emphasise enough how much we recommend Brighton fans make it over to the Portsmouth away game, which we’ll have a full preview of on here in the next few days. It’s by far the nearest away match geographically the Rockers have ever played. You don’t even need to go into Portsmouth itself; Havant is to the east of Pompey and only an hour by train from Brighton, with a day return with a railcard costing less than a tenner. We have a feeling it’s going to be an epic (and very close) game. It’s also the closest to home you’ll be able to see the Sussex side in action for a while. There was a double header at Haywards Heath planned for the following Saturday (Nov 1st) with both Brighton and Croydon up against continental opposition. Unfortunately, the Rockers’ opponents had to cancel, so the Brighton game is off. Croydon’s game against One Love from Antwerp is going ahead though, with a 1.45pm start at the Dolphin. If we treat this as a semi-neutral venue for CRD (who have played here before on occasion), Flattrackstats’ prediction works out at an almost unprecedented 50% win chance for both teams, so it should be a doozy. It will also be Gin Atomic’s last game for Croydon as she’s transferring to the Rockers shortly afterwards. More details on the game at the link below.


For a long while now people have been bemoaning the lack of a structured league programme in roller derby. When all games are effectively randomly decided ‘friendlies’ and often only announced a couple of weeks in advance, it’s somewhat hard to follow a team’s progression, at least compared to more structured sporting schedules that have fixture lists etc. It looks like all of that will change next year. The word on the street is that the Heartland Series, which started out as a tournament for teams in the South Midlands, is being expanded into an official UKRDA competition with regional leagues, play offs and so forth. For a sample of the current incarnation of Heartland, get up to High Wycombe on Sunday 2nd November as six sides, including Eastbourne’s Bourne Bombshells, meet to decide the final 2014 South East league table. There will be a much bigger tournament packed with top UK derby sides next year, and as the highest ranked league South of the Thames (if we ignore Royal Windsor, who are based right by the river) we can surely expect the Brighton Rockers to be involved. With the likes of Croydon and Eastbourne also now using Haywards Heath for some of their games, it looks like 2015 is shaping up to be a packed year of roller derby in Sussex. That’s in the future, though. For now: see you in Havant on the 25th.


[Photos by John Hesse]






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Brighton Rockers All-Stars v Bristol Harbour Harlots preview


The mighty Brighton Rockers are back in action at the Dolphin in Haywards Heath this Saturday (20th Sept) and their opponents could arguably be described as their ‘nemesis’. Brighton and Bristol went into what was both sides’ first ever tournament back in May 2013. Taking place in the heady surrounds of London’s Alexandra Palace, it was the inaugural (and to date, only) UKRDA Southern tournament. Brighton had initially entered the tournament as second seeds, but a late switch (Central City replacing Big Bucks) saw them ranked third of five. They were certainly expected to beat Bristol, however, which made their 175-251 defeat to the Harlots something of a shock. Indeed, this was the first – and so far, the only – time that a lower ranked side has beaten the Rockers.

There’s an element of revenge about Saturday’s game then, and if the prediction computers are to be believed, Brighton ought to get it. Based on the official UKRDA table, the online predictor calls this as 92% chance of a home win an expected 60:31 score ratio – which would equate to a 270-140 Rockers win, for example. The European rankings predictor varies very little at 91% and 15:8. Having said all of that, Brighton were recently losing for most of a game they had 82% win probability for (July’s match against Croydon, reviewed here). Bristol actually overturned very similar odds to Saturday’s to take last year’s shock win, so let’s just wait and see. We have previews and predictions from members of both teams, along with others, right after the next paragraph…

The game starts at 3pm with doors at 2.30. Tickets are £8 adults (free under-12s) with group and student discounts if you buy online in advance. The venue (which has ample parking) is roughly six minutes walk from Haywards Heath train station – turn left when you leave the station and follow the signs/crowd. There’s a big Sainsbury’s en route, and the pub opposite the station is sporty but palatable, with a big garden to the rear. The leisure centre recently changed hands and offers a fairly cheap (if fairly warm) bottle and can bar within the sports hall itself. There’s also a foyer cafe bar and vending machines. Be sure to pick up a free copy of our redesigned Turn Left fanzine (from which the quotes below come) at the game – this one’s a fashion special. The after party is back in central Brighton at the friendly and alcovey, if slightly spendy, Victory Inn.


“The predictions do suggest this could be something of a mismatch. As does the respective performances of these two teams against Paris Rollergirls in March. The French side played both teams away on consecutive days – they were unlucky to lose by the thinnest of margins to Brighton, but bested Bristol by a huge amount. The points against column doesn’t look good for the Harlots year-round, in fact, at least in open doors. Having said that though, these teams were similarly ranked and rated when they met at Ally Pally last year. The South West side took the ‘shock win’ quite comfortably on that occasion, so who knows what might happen on Saturday.”

“Brighton clearly underestimated Bristol in their meeting last May. The Rockers hadn’t rostered a few key players for the game and seemed to be giving newer players more track time than usual. Some of these were jamming and really struggling to get through Bristol’s strong walls, picking up penalties which meant Brighton had a string of power jams against them. About 20 minutes in, the Rockers changed tactics, began putting on star jammers like Chariot Sophia and started to make a comeback, but it was too late by then to close a big Harlots lead. I think Brighton will win this rematch, but watch out for Bristol’s The Blizzard and Goldie Lookin’ Pain.”

“I didn’t play in that game against Bristol as we decided to rest myself and Rose Bleed for any further games we might play, so my recollections are different from others. Losing that game, there was a sense of disbelief. We were so keen to progress and totally focused on the rest of the tournament. Rose and I had all our kit on ready to warm up for the next game when we realised Bristol were going to knock us out. We really enjoyed supporting them in the rest of their tournament. Bristol and Brighton are kindred cities. Though their team is much changed, we saw them play Portsmouth recently, so we know they have some very experienced and strong skaters.”

“A year and a half is a long time in derby. Travels, relocations, pregnancies and sabbaticals have slowly shaven off most of our May 2013 roster, so the line up looks very different now. You will spot a few familiar names though, such as myself, E-Z Roller and international stars The Blizzard (Finland) and Da Silva Surfer (Portugal). I’m sure Brighton’s line up is different too, so it’ll be a surprise! We do recall they had big strong blockers and feisty jammers, with dynamic and hard hitting pack work, so we’ll be ready to evade and block accordingly. We always try to play our own game and won’t be changing it based on probably out-of-date recollections.”

[Photo by Rebecca Cornford]