Exactly ten weeks have passed since the Bombshells took to this Hastings track in front of a paying baying audience for the very first time. That meeting with Croydon’s B-team is best described as ‘a learning experience’. This afternoon we’ll discover exactly how much was gleaned from that lesson, plus two subsequent mixed-up closed doors and various scrimmage appearances from the lively ladies in velvet and leopard skin. Today’s opposition come from the wilds of North Hampshire. Of all the Facebook good luck messages posted on the Bombshells page in the run-up to the Croydon bout, the one from the Basingstoke Bullets – incorporating the Eastbourne league’s “tick tick BOOM” rallying call – was probably the most touching and heartfelt.
These sides have rolled a very similar development path these past two years, you see, meeting on track in several closed door bouts and scrimmages along the way; not just in the yellowy electric haze of Hampshire and Sussex sports halls, but also the glorious sunshine of the Bombshells’ outdoor derby tournament. That this initials-sharing pair know each other well and take the whole concept of ‘sister leagues’ to a whole new level is bo(u)rne out with a pre-bout display that even veteran [NB as in experienced not as in old] derby announcer Smashlyn Monroe has “never seen anything like before”. Instead of two separate skate outs, we get a combined one as a Bombshell and Bullet take to the track in pairs, skating around hand in hand as their names are announced. The whole thing ends with the teams parading side by side around the track, as the two captains each wave the other league’s flag. No really, it’s just something in my eye… *sniff*
Of course when the first whistle sounds the mutual love-in has to take a back seat. For the match-up itself these thirteen pairs of derby sisters get competitive. Very competitive. This is going to be a fairly penalty filled bout for both sides. The Eastbourne league get the best of the opening few jams with successive lead calls for Toxic Block Syndrome, Bullet Bomber, Chunder Woman and Hell Block H, together with the first of many jammer box visits for the Hampshire side. The Bombshells lead 15-0 as Basingstoke take their first time-out, or ‘bullet-time’ as fans of The Matrix might call it. Time hasn’t slowed enough for the visitors though, as The PhilosoFear – making a rare appearance in the star – adds another eleven for Eastbourne in the next jam. A brief scoreless sixth sees the Bullets speeding the pack up to try and outrun Dreaded Shortcake as both sides have two blockers sent to the box. Belle Mortez takes the star for Basingstoke in the seventh and makes use of a power jam to close the gap substantially, the Bullets now sitting on the soft side of a 27-14 scoreline.
Jam 8 is probably the biggest of the first period. Na Trash’Her finally battles her way past tenacious blocker Beast Unleashed to take lead for Basingstoke, but she ends up in the box shortly after. Drag ‘N’ Fly passes the Eastbourne star to Bullet Bomber. This will happen several times in today’s bout, and it will possibly confuse the refs a little bit. You see, in this room full of derby sisters, this Bombshells duo are actual sisters and similar looking enough twins to make following the star passes between them tricky for the folks in zebra stripes. (Indeed, midway through the second half the Bombshells will start a jam with a pivot on track, despite having a star passed jammer in the box; whilst the refs don’t notice, said pivot will realise this mid-jam and turn down the offer of a panty pass from the once released penaltyee, figuring quite rightly that the sight of the other pivot cover appearing might just give the game away somewhat. Personally, we’re more confused by Bullet Bomber being an amalgam of both these sides’ names. We’ll refer to her as BB from now on in this report, confident that this won’t remotely make things any more confusing.) So it’s BB of BB v BB, and the breathless jamming machine, who is able to find an outside line where none would appear to exist – her overtaking lane swoops around the bemused Hampshire pack will be a major factor in today’s result – hits this power jam hard and cranks up the points gap. BB 46 – BB 14.
As an official time out is called, Toxic and PoiSin Cherry are lined up to jam. Eastbourne’s head coach and probably their most experienced player versus the pink-haired refugee from roller hockey who, whistle in mouth, had coached the Hampshire league’s pre-bout warm up. Looks like the big guns are rolling out now. PoiSin takes lead but Toxic is right on her heels and forces the call. That’s the story of the next few jams as the teams eke out a few points each; a couple to Basingstoke’s Bruise Payne, Ninja Knut Job and Little Miss Mischevil, with similar hauls for Crash and BB. Time seems to stop still in Jam 13 as Bruise and Toxic swap over in the box. 61-31. PoiSin dances through the Eastbourne pack for eight. Crash puts up a gutsy battle to break through a tough Bullets pack for three. Rocky Bashova and PhilosoFear two-wall Darth Smaul brilliantly in the seventeenth, but the going is getting tougher for the Bombshells now. The physicality of the Basingstoke packs are forcing exasperated Sussex jammers to call upon star passes with increasing frequency. Captain and ex-Portsmouth Roller Wench Atomic Affliction in particular is putting up a fierce performance in the Bullets defence; not just tough, derby tough, as is amply demonstrated when she almost takes down half the crowd with hand-slaps at the end of the bout.
As the half time whistle sounds (92-52 to the home team) we head for the café bar, hoping they’ve learned their lesson from the previous bout when they decided to shut it despite the presence of dozens of very thirsty roller derby fans. This time it’s open, but fans of another sports event in the centre – possible something swimming related – are queuing up and ordering ever more elaborate types of hot beverage; half decaf half cocoa, camomile tea with lemon and cinnamon, double decaf with orange zest and pixie dust, coffee and chips (thinking about it, the last one might have incorporated a food order). We reach the counter before the rest of the derby mob, but booze-wise there’s no beer, ale or cider, just five mini-bottles of rosé left in the entire place. Conscious of the queue that has built up behind us, we decide not to be greedy and only buy four of them. In the hall, announcer Smashlyn won’t be winning first prize in the raffle this time as she didn’t buy a ticket. Instead, the prizes are snapped up by an NSO, a birthday celebrating Bombshell in the crowd, Crash of the Bombshells, a Bullet, Crash again, one of the medics, Crash, Rocky’s mum, Crash, a guy in a hat, Crash and Crash. Smashlyn gets one of the aforementioned to admit to having a raffle ticket addiction. (Clue: It’s not Rocky’s mum or the guy in a hat.)
Dropkick No Mercy is all over Toxic in the opening jam of the second half, trying to bustle the Bombshells jammer off track. It’s a valiant defensive performance, but she picks up a penalty call and is off to join another Bullets blocker in the box. Their jammer Bruise Payne had taken lead and tried to call when Toxic broke past DNM, but she picks up a penalty herself and Toxic makes no mistake with the power jam – 20-0 for the jam, 20-0 for the period, 112-52 for the bout – but then she picks up a penalty right on the two minute whistle. The second jam starts with no jammer on track, before Bruise is released to pull back ten points before calling it when she sees her star-clad rival standing. There are many blockers but few jammers in the box for both sides for the remainder of the bout. Eastbourne are continuing to edge up the differential. Every time the Bullets claw back four or five, the Bombshells get seven or eight shortly after. Basingstoke coach Scrim Reaper, delightfully dapper in his bowtie and braces, flirts with the NSOs and announcers, but – despite hard hitting pack work from the likes of Dropkick, Affliction and Mischevil plus relentless jammer runs from PoiSin, Payne, Trash’Her and others – this bout is slipping beyond the Hampshire side’s reach now. With Lily Malicious, Smash’er Fierce, Bashova, Crash and others forming well marshalled Eastbourne packs – bolstered by bunny ears, face paint and devil horns – and the likes of Hell Block, Chunder and BB edging out a last few jam’s worth of points, the Bombshells bench are now pondering whether they will go up or down in the rankings. It’s all down to the winning points margin, y’see.
Rankings, oh rankings. Everyone pretends not to care about them, but everyone does. At the after party, taking place in the Union Bar (which looks awfully similar to the Tubman where the Bombshells held their last after party) we inform inquisitive bench coach Sassy McAwesome that by our reckoning her side’s 206-128 win was 0.87 points less than predicted and might result in a slight ranking points drop. As it happens maths is hard, and the Bombshells will actually see a +0.3 points rankings rise, taking them up two places to 171st in the whole of Europe. (NB bear in mind roughly half the teams above them are intraleague etc rather than travel teams, so you can probably halve that 171 for a more realistic Euro A-team ranking.) Toxic picked up the Best Blocker award and a foul out, with Chunder picking up Best Jammer and PhilosoFear MVP. For Basingstoke, PoiSin Cherry took Best Jammer and Affliction took Blocker with Dropkick as MVP. (Um, we think. We’re basing this all on who looks to be holding up what certificates in photos, as we were already in the pub by then to be honest, so sorry if we’re wrong.) As the two teams toast each other with cake – and indeed toast the whole concept of cake itself – and the barometer starts teetering towards raucous, we head off back to the civilian world. Where 2014 will take these two track hungry and ambitious teams is yet to be seen. Whatever happens, as Ms Franklin almost sang, derby sisters are doin’ in for themselves.
[Photos by John Hesse]
ADDENDUM: Most leagues hibernate in terms of public bouting for a couple of months over the winter. The last bout in Sussex this year will see the Brighton Rockers take on Birmingham’s Central City Rollergirls at Haywards Heath this Saturday (23rd Nov) at 3pm, so check that out if you need another local derby fix before 2013 is done. Leagues are up for hearing from people interested in getting involved in the sport at any time, so please visit the websites of the Bombshells, Bullets or whoever your local league is and get in touch if you want to know/do more about the fastest growing, most woman and alt-friendly, coolest damn sport there ever was. Cheers.
BOURNE BOMBSHELLS: http://bournebombshells.wix.com/bombshells
BASINGSTOKE BULLETS: http://www.basingstokebullets.moonfruit.com/
RANKINGS TABLE: http://flattrackstats.com/rankings/europe
BRIGHTON v CCR INFO: https://www.facebook.com/events/647691741929370/