On Saturday Christine and I went to watch our local womens’ roller derby team, the Halifax Bruising Banditas, play a home bout against local rivals the Leeds Roller Dolls Whip-Its. The home team won – just! – and this was our fourth time watching the team.
Roller derby isn’t particularly well-known in Britain. It’s mostly a sport played in America, but is becoming established elsewhere and now most large towns in this country have a team. Locally, there are clubs in Leeds, Sheffield, Hill, Halifax and Manchester. Whilst most teams are for women, there are some mens teams as well, such as Halifax’s Skateful Dead.
The sport is best described as competitive contact roller skating on a track, which is oval-shaped like an athletics track, and players score points by passing other players on the opposing team. Only one player on each team – the ‘jammer’ – can score points at any one time, with the remaining team members playing the role of ‘blockers’ to block the path of the other team’s jammer, whilst helping their own. There are a maximum of five players from each team on the track (one jammer, four blockers) and so between each ‘jam’ the teams rotate players. Jams can be up to two minutes, although the first jammer to clear the pack can call it off at any point, and the game is played in two halves of thirty minutes.
That’s a pretty basic description: there’s a lot more to it and I haven’t mentioned the role of the pivot, but it covers the essentials of the game. It sounds complicated but you pick it up really quickly when you actually see it being played
There are also referees and non-skating officials (NSOs) who keep score, and look after ‘the box’ where players are sent for 30 second penalties if they break the rules. There are almost as many referees and NSOs to form a third team, which is perhaps why bouts aren’t so common over here as you need a lot of people to run an event.
If this sounds interesting, then you may be interested in a tournament taking place in Hull at the end of the month, with the Hull, Halifax, Leeds and Sheffield womens roller derby teams all competing in a total of sixth half hour bouts. We’re hoping to go, transport depending.