By Nicola Waterworth
Saturday 7th December
Bristol Harbour Harlots A – 128 : Nottingham Hellfire Harlots – 225
Before actually attending a Roller Derby “bout” my preconception was of an aggressive pursuit, performed and watched by an uber-cool sub-culture. Pre-bout homework quickly formed a second preconception – that the rules were complex, indecipherable and I would not in any way be equipped to follow the action. Both of these proved to have some element of truth. However, my overriding experience of the game was that it’s brilliant fun, high-energy, a great spectator sport and that providing you can skate you’d be welcomed in with open arms!
The easily 2 to 300 spectators (counting’s never my thing) created a keen and fun atmosphere, with plenty of away fans supporting t’other Harlots. We were well catered for pre-action with stalls selling merchandise that appreciated a definite rockabilly inspired aesthetic – clearly at least one skater has wide-ranging talents as my Christmas tree is now proudly adorned with a cool hand-made dec (- thanks to anon skater). And, as a cyclist I am immediately set at ease by any sport that values cake and there was definite dedication demonstrated on that front.
So, having seated myself a reasonable distance back from the action (my pre-reading had highlighted the potential for skater-audience contact and there is a clear no under-18s in the front rows policy!) I got ready for the action. Roller Derby is a full-contact game undertaken on quad roller skates, ona flat oval track. Skaters perform under pseudonyms – for some these take on the status of ‘alter-ego’ – my favourites included: ‘Tattooed Terror’, ‘The Blizzard’, ‘Joannasaurus’ and ‘May K Fist’. While it’s fast, aggressive and has a clear element of theatre the skaters are immensely talented and skilful; several members of both squads will be heading to next year’s World Championships in Dallas to compete for England, Finland and Portugal.
No denying, the rules are complicated, the fast pace requires a significant number of referees and a number of time-outs appeared to be solely for the purpose of referee consultation on where things were at with various penalties etc. Most new sports are unintelligible rule-wise to the uninitiated and that’s part of the fun, plus the two commentators were fantastic at explaining the intricacies. In simple terms, a “bout” is divided into two halves made up of a series of “jams”, lasting a maximum of 2 minutes. With 5 skaters on the track from each team at once, the aim is for your team’s “jammer” to score points by breaking through the opposing side’s defence (“blockers”). Penalties are wide-ranging but mainly revolve around a skater leaving the confine of the marked track and not ‘re-forming’ in the appropriate place. There is more about the game format and rules at www.bristolrollerderby.com
Having missed the Bs play the first bout – which I understand was highly action-packed – the second was no disappointment. Nottingham played from the beginning with a definite edge of determination, although all the hard-working harlots of Bristol never gave up pursuing. “Kevin” – a clear Bristol team and crowd favourite – put in good solid work throughout the bout and towards the end of the first half her play and the unrelenting eye-catching work of the “Tattooed Terror” made reining it back look possible. But at half-time with a score line of 54:94 it was going to be a tough call.
If possible, penalties in the second half appeared to get harsher; I was particularly perplexed by the form when both teams jammers were in the penalty box at the same time! There was no let up from the Away team – only 7 minutes in the score had leaped to 61:135 with unremitting fire power from Nottingham’s “Joannasaurus” in particular and it began to feel out of grasp for Bristol’s Harlots. But the hard battling continued, with “Kevin” taking good advantage of at least one “Power Jam” (period when the opposing side’s jammer is in the penalty box). “Black Thorn” was equally throwing herself at the challenge until, if I am correct in my understanding, she fouled out of the game due to cumulative total of 7 penalties. The tables were clearly unable to be turned but the final score line of 128:225 was no reflection of the determination put in by Bristol’s skaters.
It was a great experience and the fast paced action is great fun for all the family to watch with real characters to get behind in terms of personality, styles and tactics. If you’re up for a great afternoon out the first bout of the 2014 season is in March – we’ll post the details as soon as we have them.
And if you fancy taking on the challenge of skating itself the team runs ’Drop in Derby’ sessions every Thursday 6.30 – 8:00pm at Ashton Park Sports Centre – just remember to take a convincing roller name with you!
All photography courtesy of Adam Gasson, http://www.bristolphotoblog.com/