NORMANDY WISDOM – The ROCKERS Are Going To Give SLIP IT 4! What For

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The Christmas decorations are barely down, but this weekend sees the mighty Brighton Rockers playing three games overseas. By our reckoning it’s the earliest start to a Rockers season EVER – they usually wait until at least February before strapping on their skates in front of a crowd. The early start is due to the scheduling of the Slip It! tournament in Caen, Normandy. Brighton’s season began there last year, but the 2017 tournie is taking place nearly a month earlier than 2016’s…

Although Caen is literally just across the water from Brighton – set off swimming due South from the end of the Pier and you’ll end up thereabouts – it’s a bit of a mission to get to. Last year the team opted for the Dover-Calais ferry, misjudging quite how far they’d have to travel on the other side. The most direct route involves getting a ferry from Portsmouth to Caen itself, although the ferry port is actually around 10 miles away in Ouistreham. Last year BRATS opted for the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry, which is super cheap (£30 return for a foot passenger) but then involves a 2.5 hour train journey (£30 each way) on the other side. The SNCF timetable says change at Rouen, but it’s usually the same train for both stages of the journey.

Hotels in Caen are pretty cheap in the winter if anyone reading this fancies a last minute trip. The venue is the Halle Aux Granges, a chilly sports hall close to the Abbey in the West of the city centre. Tickets are 10 Euro for the whole weekend, free for under-12s, and available on the door. Brighton have two games on Saturday (against hosts Caen at noon and Amsterdam at 4pm local time) plus a game on Sunday whose opponents and timeslot depend on how they did the previous day. Last year’s Sunday night after party was pretty spectacular, and this year’s is in the same small bar (Au Chef Raide) close to Saint Pierre church in the centre of town. Sadly, circumstances mean BRATS can’t make this year’s event, but we are hoping someone there will be able to provide this site with a tournament report.

[If you don’t like predictions, skip this paragraph.] Flattrackstats.com have Brighton as by some way the lowest ranked team in Pool 2, placing 88th in Europe on 567.1 points. Hosts Roller Derby Caen (44th, 619.8) are given 86% chance of victory with a 42:23 differential suggesting they’ll beat the Rockers by about ten points more than last year’s 236-145. Amsterdam are ranked 40th (623.3) and – allowing for a neutral venue – have around 84% chance of victory with a 15:9 ratio suggesting something similar to the Caen result over Brighton. In Sunday’s playoffs the Rockers will play whichever Pool 1 team finished in the same place (1st, 2nd or 3rd) in the table that they did. Whether it’s Nottingham’s Hellfire Harlots (27th, 661.6), Helsinki’s Kallio B-team (35th, 632.8) or Roller Derby Madrid (60th, 599.9), Brighton will be facing a much higher ranked team for sure. Anything better than last year’s last place finish will be an awesome result for the Sussex side.

Can’t make it out to Normandy this weekend? Worry ye not. Roller Derby Caen will be streaming the tournament live on Facebook, so check out their page. Allowing for the time difference, Brighton are playing at 11am (v Caen) and 3pm (v Amsterdam) on Saturday, then at either 11am, 1.15pm or 3.30pm on Sunday. Now let’s hear from one of the Rockers ahead of the tournament…

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SHAMBOLIC – BRIGHTON ROCKERS ALLSTARS

Hi. The Rockers are kicking off their 2017 season the same way you began your 2016 one – by playing in the Slip It! tournament in Normandy. What are your recollections of last year’s tournie?
Apart from the twelve hours of driving it was a lot of fun! It was the first real tournament we had played (aside from the Alexandra Palace one dayer in 2013, which most of the current team didn’t play in) and really showed us the different styles of derby from around Europe. We had previously been playing a lot of more local teams who have similar styles, so the variation in Normandy made us learn to adapt to the games there fast. It was also quite intense playing games so close together. Caen are amazing hosts – that after party…!

Last year you took a fairly mixed squad, with quite a few prominent A-teamers missing and some players making their AllStars debuts. Will it be similar this time? Who should people look out for in the Rockers ranks?
Again we are coming with a small but mighty squad. Notably we’re missing Gin (obvs) but also Cake Or Death and Dr Whooligan. However we have brought up a couple of newer players who are handling it amazingly, such as Farmergeddon and Harriet Hotter, and I can’t wait to play with them on track. We only have thirteen players instead of a full squad of twenty, but it’s quality not quantity, right? Plus we have Finn – who could want more!

Your first game this Saturday is against hosts Roller Derby Caen. You lost 236-145 to them last year. What do you recall of that game and will you being doing anything different this time?
They are super solid and are a small league that play with a great hive mind. Their jammers are all smart, fast and strong. I remember being stuck in the bosom of Quinn Cardinal quite a lot. She is a one woman blocking machine!

Your other group game is against Amsterdam Roller Derby. Do you know much/anything about that team at all? What are your expectations for the game?
I’ve been wanting to play Amsterdam for AGES! It’s really hard to find any info on teams these days, and I’d rather not go looking too hard as you end up in that dangerous position of trying to play their game not yours. Our aim is to just adapt as we go. We have really mixed our packs around this time for ultimate flexibility and being able to adjust easily.

Depending on how you do on Saturday, you’ll face one of the following in Sunday’s play-offs: Roller Derby Madrid, Nottingham’s Hellfire Harlots, or the B-team of Kallio Rolling Rainbow (Helsinki). What do you know of those sides? Do you have one in particular you’d like to play against?

All of them! I’m so excited about the other teams, and interested to see how they cope in a tournament situation too. Never underestimate anyone. Kallio are obviously going to be strong as their A-team are incredible, but we have a couple of bits of Finland on our side too, shhhh!

Last year you finished sixth out of six – what are you hoping for this time around? Presumably you enjoyed the experience as you’re heading back. What are the benefits of playing in a tournament like Slip It! for the Rockers? And are you expecting another messy after party?

We want to learn. After last year we decided that our goal was to play more European teams, which we did, and I feel that really upped our game. I think our only weakness will be playing short, but we have a secret weapon (one loud blue-haired Canadian). It’s not about winning or losing as much as having fun and fulfilling our own personal goals. We also made some great friends last year, Eindhoven being our new BFFs. We’re going into this with great attitudes. And the knowledge that come what may, we are SMASHING that after party!

Finally, you’re playing against Vienna in Haywards Heath on March 4th. Any thoughts looking ahead to that game – and to 2017 in general?
The tournament is going to be a great warm-up for Vienna. We ended last year on a real high. I hope we can continue that into 2017. We also have some amazing players coming up, with our B-team becoming known for not only being the most fun to watch, but with some serious skill there too. Yeah it’s gonna be a good year all round!

[Photos by Vinciane Piérart aka NSP 189]

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HOSTS: https://www.facebook.com/rollerderbycaen/
EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/371502006520486/

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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]

BRIGHTON VS THE CONTINENT: The Rockers Take On Europe

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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.

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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…

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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…

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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.

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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
https://www.facebook.com/nsp189/

BRIGHTON ROCKERS V BATTER C-POWER @ 12TH MARCH
FB EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/177921445907182/
TICKETS: http://www.seetickets.com/event/london-rollergirls-2016-season-opener-game/tottenham-green-leisure-centre/954601

CAEN YOU DIG IT? Slip It 3! Tournament Preview

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The mighty Brighton Rockers said they would be lining up some European opposition in 2016 and this weekend (Sat 20th & Sun 21st Feb) sees them face no fewer than THREE Continental sides. The Rockers are taking part in their first Euro derby tournament, a competition featuring six WFTDA member and apprentice leagues in the city of Caen, Normandy. This piece contains previews of all nine tournament games plus interviews with the French hosts and the Brighton captain, along with travel and accommodation tips.
    Firstly, here’s some general info on the tournament itself. This is the third annual Slip It! tournament and takes place at the centrally located Halle des Granges in Caen. Things get off to an early start on Saturday (10am) and yes, Brighton are taking part in that first game – so pack an alarm clock! There’s a full twelve hours of derby action (six games) on the Saturday, then a slightly less frenetic day of three games starting at noon on Sunday.
    The Rockers will face Brussels and hosts Caen on Saturday. The next day Brighton will playoff for either first, third or fifth place against one of Namur (Belgium), Rockcity (Eindhoven) or the Paris Rollergirls B-team. Tickets are a super cheap 10 Euro for the whole weekend (€6 for one day) and are available from the link at the bottom of this piece. With Normandy full of budget hotel options and a number of different ways to get over there, it’s a cheaper weekend away than you might think…

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GETTING THERE

Sadly it’s too far to swim. Which is disappointing since if you stand on Brighton beach and stare out to sea, it’s actually Caen (or at least its attached port of Ouistreham) that you’re looking towards. With that pesky stretch of water in the way any travel plans are going to have to involve a boat, a plane or a tunnel. The ferry option is almost certainly the cheapest, but which of the sea crossings to use? You can get a boat from Portsmouth to Caen (well, Ouistreham) but it’s spendy in ferry terms (£30-£40 each way on foot) and takes 5 hours 45 minutes. The further East a port you want to travel from/to the shorter the crossing will be, but the longer the journey on both sides of La Manche will be. Decisions, decisions…
    For road users we suspect Dover-Calais is the best option for keeping time and costs down. Certainly it’s the option we’ve heard that most of the Brighton team will be using. Us public transport types might have considered the ferry from Portsmouth, but it seems Brittany Ferries don’t want public transport users on it. Check-in for the daytime crossing (the only one served by a bus on the other side) closes five minutes before the first train of the day can get you there! The best option then is the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry (just £30 return on foot). Although this involves a 2.5 hour £25 train journey on the other side, when you factor in the cheaper ferry price, shorter crossing time and stations right by the ports, it actually works out cheaper and slightly quicker than the Portsmouth option would have been. Hurrah!
    Other options include the Eurostar or catching a flight. Caen does have an airport (it’s actually much closer to the city than the port is) but the only UK location serving it is Southend. This wouldn’t normally be a problem, especially as it’s a cheap Flybe service, but there are only a couple of flights a week in winter so you won’t be able to fly back until Wednesday – gah! The best option for those who would rather use a tin can in the air than a tin can on the water? Probably Easyjet from Gatwick to Paris Charles De Gaulle (£40 each way) then a train from Gare Lazare to Caen. This doesn’t work out much more expensive than the ferry options, but the addition of the airport train and a Paris Metro hop make it no quicker and probably more hassle, especially with luggage.
    Accommodation wise, hotel prices in Normandy at this time of year are very good value. Although many places in central Caen are now full, there are still bargains to be had (eg an apartment hotel is offering studio flats for around £30 a night). Of course there’s also the option of an overnight ferry on the Friday and Sunday nights and sleeping in a hedge on Saturday. Enough of the logistics, though, on to the derby…

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TOURNAMENT STRUCTURE

The Structure for the tournament is exactly what you’d expect from a six team weekend tournie. On Saturday the teams have been split into two evenly matched groups. Each group consists of three teams and will feature a total of three games, with each team playing twice (one full-length game against each of the other two teams in their group). The results of these games will give us the group standings, a league table for each of the two groups with teams placed first, second and third. These tables form the basis for Sunday’s playoff games.
    So the teams that finished bottom of the two groups will play each other for fifth place in the tournament overall. Then the teams that finished in the middle of the groups will play off for third place. Finally, the winners of the two groups will meet each other to decide the winner of the whole tournament. If things play out according to the European rankings at flattrackstats.com we could be in for some VERY close games on Sunday. We have the 47th/48th ranked teams plus the 57th/59th split across the groups here.
    The national spread is also very even with one French and one Belgian team in each group, along with one from ‘elsewhere’ (the UK and Netherlands). Let’s take a look at the tournament schedule with the help of the prediction machine at flattrackstats.com. These computer predictions do have a certain element of guesswork to them as ever. The rankings, great though they are, usually don’t quite reflect the current state of the various leagues. We’ll also hear from the Rockers captain and hosts Caen about what they’re expecting from the weekend…

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SATURDAY 20TH FEBRUARY – THE GROUP GAMES

GROUP ONE
Brighton Rockers (ranked 48th in Europe)
Brussels Derby Pixies (59th)
Roller Derby Caen (77th)

10AM – BRUSSELS v BRIGHTON
Brighton are probably quite surprised at how well their Euro ranking has held up despite a tough 2015 season; indeed, one prominent player told BRATS she expected the Rockers to be the lowest ranked rather than second highest team in this tournie. So we’ll take all these predictions with a pinch of salt – particularly as Brighton have never played any of the other teams before. Flattrackstats calls this as around 66% chance of a Rockers win, with a predicted differential of 6:5. That means they expect Brighton to score six points for every five that Brussels get, which would result in a typical scoreline of say 210-175 to the Rockers. That’s pretty close so a Brussels win wouldn’t be a huge shock.

2PM – BRIGHTON v CAEN
As there’s no tournament/neutral option at Flattrackstats we’re having to average out home and away predictions for most of these games. However, in the case of the hosting Leopard Avengers of Caen Roller Derby, we’ll be awarding them home advantage in the calculations. Even so the website gives Brighton a hefty 80% win chance with an expected differential of 19:13. For the sake of keeping the maths simple, that suggests something like a 190-130 Rockers win. Having said that, Caen are not only the hosts but also defending champions (having won Slip It! 2) so we expect them to be tough opposition all weekend.

6PM – BRUSSELS v CAEN

The final Group 1 game also looks like a tricky one for the hosts if we are to believe the computer predictions. FTS gives Brussels a 68% chance of taking the win with a predicted differential of 39:32. That would mean a scoreline in the region of 195-160 to the Belgian side. These teams have met once before. That was at the very first Slip It! tournament back in January 2014, with Brussels taking the win by a super close 158-155 on that occasion, so this one could be a real nailbiter.

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GROUP TWO
Namur Roller Girls (ranked 47th in Europe)
Rockcity Rollers (57th)
Paris Rollergirls B – Les Quedalles (63rd)

12PM – NAMUR v PARIS
Namur from Wallonia (French-speaking Belgium) were a late addition to this tournament following the withdrawal of Copenhagen. Though ranked five places below the Danes they are the highest placed team taking part. Paris Rollergirls B-team Les Quedalles were the lowest ranked of the six teams, but a good showing earlier this month against teams from Lille and Reims has seen them jump a whopping 23 places in the rankings. Nonetheless, Flattrackstats give the Belgians 72% chance of the win here with a predicted differential of 47:34. If true that would mean something like a 188-136 Namur win.

4PM – ROCKCITY v PARIS
This shows you the effect Les Quedalles’ good results a week or two back have had on the (rankings based) prediction computer. When we ran the predictor before those games it gave Rockcity 82% chance of taking the win here. Once those three games on 6th/7th Feb are factored into the Paris ranking, Rockcity’s chances have dropped down to 62%. The suggested differential of 7:6 would equate to something like a 154-132 victory for the Dutch side from Eindhoven. That’s super close in derby terms, so this one could go either way.

8PM – NAMUR v ROCKCITY
Should the computer predictions for the first two Group 2 games have proven correct (which is unlikely – we’re expecting at least one upset in each group) then this match will decide the group winners. Flattrackstats favours the Belgian side here, giving Namur 65% chance of the win. The differential is pretty close though at 27:22, which suggests a scoreline in the region of 162-132. Rockcity have won their two previous games against Namur however (in 2013 and 2014) so take nothing for granted!

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SUNDAY 21ST FEBRUARY – THE PLAYOFFS
We aren’t going to include any predictions for Sunday’s playoff games as we really wouldn’t like to predict which teams are going to finish where in the group tables. Certainly several teams here are ranked quite a bit higher or lower than their most recent results would suggest. This is particularly apparent when looking at possible playoff match-ups. For example, hosts the Leopard Avengers beat Paris B by almost 300 points at Slip It! 2 and Caen’s only ever game against the highest ranked side here Namur (less than a year ago) saw the French side triumph 192-93. Rockcity are the only Group 2 side the hosts haven’t played before.
    An all-Belgium playoff game would prove an interesting proposition. Brussels and Namur have met three times before and the most recent meeting saw the Derby Pixies triumph by a single point: 170-169. Les Quedalles are also no stranger to Brussels with one win apiece in the teams’ previous meetings. Could there be a ‘best of three’ decider in Caen? As for a Brussels v Rockcity game, that would be the SEVENTH public meeting of the Benelux sides. The teams have been taking it in turns to win with scorelines to date [Brussels scores listed first] of 192-172, 165-202, 122-100, 152-182, 142-79 and 167-176. No-one would be brave enough to predict the outcome of a ‘best of seven’ decider here!
    Whoever Brighton meet on the Sunday will be a new opponent, although the Rockers have previously played (and narrowly beaten) the Paris Rollergirls A-team. Whatever the make-up of the tournament’s three playoff games, we’re expecting them to all be pretty close. Even the FTS predictor throws up 52%-48% win chances for a couple of Sunday’s potential match-ups!

12PM – 5TH/6TH PLACE PLAYOFF
This match features the teams who finished bottom of the two groups.

2.15PM – 3RD/4TH PLACE PLAYOFF

The ‘bronze medal match’ is between the two second place teams.

4.30PM – 1ST/2ND PLACE PLAYOFF
The final sees the winners of Groups 1 & 2 battle for the tournament title.

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SPANK GIRL – ROLLER DERBY CAEN

Can you tell us a little about the history of Roller Derby Caen and the Slip It! tournament? Do the Leopard Avengers have any special players or tactics that fans should look out for?
Roller Derby Caen was created in 2011 by our President and Captain, Chantal d’Acier. In the beginning we were just a few skaters and thus unable to play under our own colours, so we had our first games with Team Normandy. We played our first tournament as the Leopard Avengers in 2013. Since then we’ve played regularly and despite being a small league, we managed to become strong enough to be in the Elite category (the highest) in the first French Championships. We were accepted in late July as an Apprentice Member of WFTDA. As you can imagine we were really looking forward to making it!
    Since this year we’re happy to also have a B team, Les Pétrolleuses, which will allow our Fresh Meat to start playing games more quickly. We’ve been organising the Slip It! tournament for three years now. It’s well known in France and now throughout Europe. This year’s Slip It! will be 100% WFTDA teams, and we will be hosting players and referees from many different European countries. As for our special players and tactics, we prefer to let you see for yourselves and have the full surprise!

Have you played many of the teams at this year’s Slip It! before? Are any teams totally unknown to you? How are you hoping to do in the tournament and which teams do you think will do the best?
The two teams we really don’t know are the Rockcity Rollers from Eindhoven and the one you are cheering for, the Brighton Rockers. We have already met Brussels Derby Pixies, Paris Les Quedalles and Namur Roller Girls. We are really looking forward to playing against Brighton and we are happy to meet Brussels again; the Derby Pixies are a great team with good spirit and they’re funny ladies. We will do our best during this tournament in all the games we play and we’re sure that all six of the teams will play at their best level. As we say in French: “Que le meilleur gagne!”

Can you tell us a little about your venue? Is there much seating for fans? Vendors? Food? Most importantly, is there are a bar?
La Halle des Granges is a big place with a very high ceiling. It is really cold during the winter, so tell people to bring warm clothes (scarves, gloves, fleeces) to feel more comfortable, and blankets too. You will find bleachers and a big suicide zone to sit in, vendors (roller derby stuff, team merch, etc). There is a bar where you can have some homemade soups, cakes, sandwiches in fresh baguettes, plus hot and cold drinks. We do apologise but we don’t have the right to sell beer or wine. It is strictly forbidden by the City Of Caen to sell alcohol at an athletic meeting. We are sure you will find a way to have some!

For fans travelling to Caen for the tournament, is there anything you suggest to see and do (as a tourist) in the area?

The city centre of Caen is lovely and there are also many places you can visit in the surrounding area. First you should have a look at L’Abbaye aux Hommes near to the venue. It was erected by William the Conqueror himself, in a pure Norman style, and he’s buried there. You can also visit L’Abbaye aux Dames, which was founded at the same period. Still in the city centre you have the Ducal Castle at the top of which are the Fine Arts Museum and the Museum of Normandy. Close to this is St Pierre’s church. Also check out the Caen Memorial, a museum and war memorial commemorating the Second World War and the battle for Caen, during which the city was almost completely destroyed. Around Caen if you drive about 40km you can visit the D-Day beaches and the artificial harbour (Mulberry Harbour) of Arromanches. 20km from Caen you’ll find the famous Bayeux Tapestry. Embroidered by Queen Mathilde and others, this illustrates the events of the Norman Conquest of England, particularly the Battle of Hastings.

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GIN ATOMIC – BRIGHTON ROCKERS CAPTAIN

Are you selecting a full squad of twenty players for Caen? Any new players or tactics we should look out for? How have preparations been going? We understand part of the roof recently blew off your Hove training venue!
We’re taking nineteen skaters altogether – this includes two subs. The core seventeen includes four of our wonderful B-team who have been working their butts off and are now making their A-team debuts. We have decided to play a little short, partly to keep track time up and also to ensure we have solid line and pack rotation. We’ve been working on new tactics (you’ll have to wait and see what they are) as well as strengthening our defaults. A lot of our training time has been focused on that. When we lost the training hall for a night due to the storms, we ended up having a three-hour tactics meeting instead. This included some of our players patching in on Skype!

According to the current European rankings you’re the top rated team in Group 1 here. Do you consider yourselves favourites? What do you know of your opponents (Brussels and Caen in the group; then one of Group 2’s Namur, Rockcity or Paris B in playoffs)?
I think these will all be hard games, to be honest. We tend not to focus too much on rankings, since the moment you think you’ll have an easy ride the other team will always surprise you! We’re doing our research on everyone in preparation, but we will be playing our own game and will be ready to react to whatever team is on track against us on the day.

The Rockers said a big reason for quitting British Champs was to take on more European opposition in 2016. Are there more tournaments in the pipeline? Or will it mostly be one-offs for the rest of the year? You’ll still face UK teams too, right?
Yeah, we’ll be playing UK teams too. One thing we really missed during our Champs season was the freedom to choose who to play. We’ve got a few UK games confirmed including LRG Batter C-Power (in Tottenham on March 12th) and Newcastle B, as well as some other exciting European games in the pipeline. Currently there are no more tournaments confirmed, but we’ve not finalised our season just yet so watch this space!

LINKS
SLIP IT! 3 ON FB: https://www.facebook.com/events/1527006124294931/
SLIP IT! 3 TICKETS: https://www.yuticket.com/roller-derby-caen/febb72f1-4540-4377-af1e-95d8a564043f-slip-it-3-tournoi-de-roller-derby-20-21-fevrier-a-caen.html
ROCKERS: http://www.brightonrockers.com/
CAEN: http://roller-derby-caen.fr/
BRUSSELS: https://www.facebook.com/BrusselsDerbyPixies/
PARIS: https://www.facebook.com/ParisRollerGirls/
ROCKCITY: http://www.rockcityrollers.nl/
NAMUR: https://www.facebook.com/NamurRollerGirls/