The other day I went and saw a subculture sport for the first time. It’s called Roller Derby. You’ve probably heard of it. Because you’re cool like that. If you haven’t though, the gist of it is two teams of women skate around the track as fast as they can trying to knock one another over. Maybe there’s some point scoring involved?
The important stuff is: roller skates, teams, body checks. It’s like coming out of a coma to find society ruled by one of those bloody future sports like in the Running Man. There’s probably some sort of reward system where the audience can chuck helpful items from the stands to the flagging team, like bottle rockets, bags of ball bearings, or bayonets.
Anyway, London Rockin’ Rollers (LRR) the Capital favourites were playing host to fresh-faced up and comers Hot Wheel Roller Derby (HWRD) who had skated down all the way from York, at the fabulous Newham Leisure Centre.
First impressions are promising – a scene of uniform anarchy, masses of punked up skate soldiers rolling around in colour-coded packs. As we learnt to our cost in Return to Oz, watching people with fully functional limbs that terminate in wheels is a bit weird. It’s like looking at a different species, a flock of human/starling hybrids gracefully wheeling and darting about in tandem. Except instead of the whirring of wings you get the chatter of the crowd, the tortured squeal of skates brought to sudden stops and a DJ station pumping out Gary Newman’s Cars. Magnificent.
The general atmosphere is astoundingly upbeat and infectious. There’s a strong sense of do-it-yourself community spirit – a lot of people seem to know one another, like at Sunday League football or a club night for a particularly niche fetish scene. The tuck shop is in equipment shed, there’s a charity bake sale being run by a solitary teenager, kids running around behind the stands playing tiny basketball and absolutely nobody is behaving in the typical human fashion i.e. like an insufferable bell-end. It’s like Narnia, but with tattoos and a shed load more Instagram.
Of course there’s still the matter of which team to support. Fortunately, each team member gets their own introductory lap around the ring to endear to the crowd. Since each skater is encouraged to develop their own style and character, complete with puntastic pseudonyms, it’s actually pretty entertaining. They’re all pretty good and it could go either way… until
“And here she comes, flying the flag, it’s FANNY BATTER.”
That sharp crack you hear is the ball leaving the park.
If I wasn’t with York before, I am now irrefutably bound to them as parent to its child.
The whistle blows, wheels touch off and… it’s chaos. I have no idea where to look, there are players careening around the track caroming off one another, a load of shouting, someone goes down, meanwhile there’s one skater zooming along ahead of the pack and suddenly time is called and LRR are ahead by a handful of points.
It takes a few tries and quick glance at the rules guide to work out that points are scored by ‘Jammers’ a solitary team member whose job it is to pass the opposing blockers and begin the ‘Jam’ (a lap of the ring) every opposing skater she passes subsequent to this earns her points. Of course to do this the Jammer has to make her way past the Blockers, a pack of tightly knit bruisers whose job is protect their own jammer and hopefully transform the opposition’s into a greasy smear on the track…
… Or maybe not, body checks have to be done from the side and they have to be checks – you can’t just grab or shove opposing team members and my hoped for concealed chariot blades and ‘accidental’ knuckle dusters seem right out of the question 😦 The checks are still pretty brutal though and if the blocker squads are close together things can develop into a scrum where fallen rollers can be swiftly trampled by the pack.
While I’m trying to work out what the hell I’m looking at, LRR quickly pull ahead in the score stakes. HWRD mount a valiant attempt at a comeback, but rather than bridging the gap it gets steadily larger as LRR put away Jam after Jam like a demented WI member preparing for a nuclear holocaust.
It’s actually a mite depressing really. This isn’t HWRD’s first dance and they aren’t exactly phoning it in, but the harsh fact is LRR’s players just seem to playing on a different level – their speed and coordination is through the roof. Most visibly they have a mighty jammer going by the name of Jack Attack, who has a skull face, double armloads of tats and even a dinky toy doppelganger being sold in the stands. It doesn’t take you long to realize that Jack Attack must have been conceived, born and raised in a centrifuge because she goes round the track faster than a jet-propelled greyhound lure. If this were a Disney high school sports movie she’d be a smoking scene in the bathroom away from being the villain.
Joyously though, HWRD never surrender and inch until it’s been dragged from their scratched and bloodied hands. So the game goes on and as familiarity grows the little nuances and tactics employed by both teams slowly come to light. Also, Fanny Batter. In fact the only fly in the ointment is that I didn’t hear Getting into the Jam played at any point.
Final Scores on the Doors:
BUT WAIT. With time called, a large proportion of the audience stream down from the stands as all the skaters roll up into Chinese dragon formation to do a lap of the track while executing a massive Mexican high-five wave with the assembled audience. This is just so…
Roller Derby is awesome.
Upcoming Matches for these glorious competitors:
11/05/2013: London Rockin’ Rollers vs Hellfire Harlots
27/04/2013: Hot Wheels Roller Derby vs Auld Reekie Roller Girls