We were promised a storm. News reports all week have reiterated the severe weather warning in place for the whole country today, speculating with frothy pens as to what kind of Biblical deluge we can expect. “Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies,” warned the Express. “Rivers and seas boiling, forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes…” suggested the Mirror, while the Daily Mail goes for the surprisingly subdued (for the Mail): “The dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!” In the end – here in Haywards Heath at least – it was a little bit rainy for a couple of hours this morning, but is now scorchingly hot and sunny. So much so that most of the doorways to the Dolphin leisure centre’s sports hall are wide open, framing the breeze-hungry Bombshells standing within them as silhouettes against the ferocious daylight beyond. It’s what the closing scene of Close Encounters would have looked like if the aliens played derby.
Whilst the promised hurricane force winds haven’t materialised, there is a blowout in progress. That’s the phrase used to describe high differential sporting contests, which in derby terms means a game where one team racks up in hundreds what the other does in tens. The Milton Keynes Concrete Cows, needing only a win to go top of the Heartland Series South East division, have 82 points after just four jams. Their Bedfordshire Rollergirls opponents – the division’s underest of underdogs, rankings wise – have yet to score. MK’s core jammer rotation of Terrorizinya, Magic Beanz, Huni Basher and Rollin’ Sin are proving too strong. They’re juking and swooping through and around the walls of purple, as BRG’s own jammers make repeated visits to the penalty box. Cherry Bomb is wearing the Bedford star several jams in a row now, having bought a season ticket for the sin bin, with MK starheads calling when she stands to keep her in play. She’s BRG’s top jamming threat on paper, but finding things hard going here, with a solid Betty Knox one-wall amongst the defensive tactics drawing out “Purple Double Zero” ref calls.
With Bettie Trubble needing treatment, the already numerically disadvantaged BRG squad are at further risk of tiring faster than the Cows’ full fourteen. That’s even without the extra work they’re having to do to try and hold back the likes of Sin (finding gaps in the walls no-one else can see) and Terror, who shakes off the Beds blockers’ hits almost nonchalantly. MK are starting to mix things up jammer-wise, with the likes of Cat Clash and Hurt Nouveau getting chances in the red star – OK, gold star on red – as the game progresses. Bedford captain Booty Vicious puts in some super tough last line defending to keep the latter held back, whilst Cherry outscores the former to chalk up BRG’s first winning jam of the game, albeit a single pointer. Brothers finds herself up against a barely budging red pack next, as Terror racks up several five point passes. Terrorizinya follows this up in her next starclad outing with arguably the wiliest move of the game… Sent off a few seconds after Beds jammer Kookiekat, she blindsides her rival to overtake in the ref lane and sit down first, ensuring the earlier return to track.
An injury to Kookie later in the jam sees everyone take a knee – the lively BRG jammer is happily back on her feet after a couple of minutes of EMT activity. As if playing a team ranked 200 places above on flattrackstats wasn’t enough of a challenge for Bedford, there’s the added sting of having to face the woman who invented this whole crazy Heartland Series thing in the first place. The Valkyrie (for it is she) takes the MK star for the period’s final jam, but a forearms penalty sees her sent to the naughty seats, and Jed E Knights – assisted by some aggressive blocking from Screw Luce – takes advantage to nudge BRG above double figures. Half time score: 238-16. It will require a comeback of epic proportions for Beds to get anything from this game, though. This looks unlikely, particularly given the Cows packs’ burgeoning reputation as ‘purple people’ eaters; they chomped down hard on the similarly hued Bombshells last time out.
Indeed, it’s more of the same in the second half. Magic Beanz jumping all over the track as the purple pack struggle to snare her. Cherry Bomb bouncing off Bolshevik’s shoulders – a regular hindrance for the BRG jammers – as she battles to break through. Yoho and Screw Luce donning the star for Beds and doing well, but the likes of Sula Riot, Blaise of Glory and Claudia Faceoff are as concrete as their team’s name in defence. Beds jammers recycled so often they’re running out of fibre. Brothers up in the star for BRG now though, delivering a hit on Betty Knox that the crowd cheers, only to have it returned to sender (with extra postage) on the next pass. T-Sharp and Booty battling hard as packs collide, but the red army march on. The only question remaining is whether the Cows can breach the 500 point mark, and they answer that one in the final jam. It ends 503-22, with MKRD moving above Big Bucks to top a divisional table now propped up by the brave and battling but besieged Bedfordshirians. The Cows take it in their stride – from bench manager OxymAndyAs to line-up Snoogins to captain Valkyrie, they *are* the Heartland Series, and they’re daring Big Bucks to say any different…
The Bombshells were represented in the first game not just by refs and NSOs, but also announcers. The Sassy & Swann Show we’re calling it, as the Eastbourne bench coach and captain made their debut as an announcing duo. They did a good job calling what (given the scoreline) must have been a tough game to keep the crowd engaged with, but of course we’re not about to tell them that, as it would only encourage them. “Not totally awful” is about the highest praise their mic work will get from anyone they know today (Heartland’s Twitter feed is much more complimentary). The Bombshells skate out, on the other hand, receives high praise from all quarters, despite being officially ‘The Worst Skate Out Ever’. Players draped in pieces of cardboard bearing handwritten admissions of shame – or in one notable case, a No Parking sign – parade around the track as fans hold up “You Suck (at skate outs)” placards. For the Sussex league, this is the start of a period of transition, with several high profile players and coaches leaving over the next couple of months, and rookies such as Jumpin’ Jack Smash, Seoul Destroyer and Von Stackit joining the gameday squad. The skate out ends in a shower of angle grinding burlesque from Lily Malicious, but will sparks fly in the game itself?
The official prediction for this game on flattrackstats gives opponents Hell’s Belles from Hertfordshire Roller Derby a 67% chance of taking the win. The site treats all Heartland Series games as neutral, however, and though the Bombshells are new to this floor, with their previous open door venue in Hastings now banning skating, it’s probably fairer to view this as a home game. This adjusts the prediction to 56% Belles’ way, which suggests it will be close, but it’s still somewhat unexpected to see the Bombshells 21-0 up after four jams and seemingly well in control. Bullet Bomber, Swann, Crash and Dreaded Shortcake have taken successive leads for the Sussex side, with the tough blocking of Smash’Er Fierce, PhilosoFear and others keeping the Belles jammers pegged back. An out of bounds call on Bullet gives Scarlett Heartless a PJ start. Whilst Swann and Fear try to peg her back until a speeding Bullet’s return to track, Scarlett puts some points on the board for the Herts side. A lengthy stint off track for starclad Dolly Spartan – who passes the point of no return by inches and has to circle again before entering the penalty box – allows Crash to edge things up for the Bombshells. The Sussex league are giving very few points away at present.
An official time out gives experienced announcer Snoogins the chance to dispense a couple of birthday shoutouts to members of the Milton Keynes side she line-up manages. The Cows are celebrating both the earlier victory and the birthdays up in the bleachers, largely via the medium of booze. Another shoutout goes to the recently hitched DodgeHer – the Belles captain, who donned a wedding veil for the skate out, dons the star for Herts shortly after play resumes. She helps close the gap, alongside the other red jammers (both today’s games are purple v red, though photos colour corrected for the venue’s yellowy light may disagree) Scarlett and Spartan. Belles sticking with a rotation of three, whilst Bourne have double that, with Drag ‘N’ Fly and Chunder Woman joining the opening quartet. Power jam for Heartless, recycled well by Bullet and Hell Block H, but there’s more belief about this Belles side now. Track cut call on DNF, passive offence from the Belles pack, the impressive Vera Offtrack clacking her wheels on the floor to impersonate the jammer attack, all very close now. Chunder off next jam, forearms… Crash off too… Two minutes left, lead for Spartan, lead change for Spartan, 74-75. Bullet starred up, Chunder trying to clear a path, sent flying, spinning track cut Bullet, power jam DodgeHer. Half time: Bombshells trail 83-96.
A large chunk of the crowd here today are cheering for the Hell’s Belles, and for Scarlett Heartless in particular. Many seem to be the players from the earlier game. The Bombshells are in some ways outsiders in this South East Division – most of the other teams know each other from past tournaments, and from the shared scrims, spectator trips and league transfers that come of geographical proximity. The South Coast is a world away from the South Midlands, and here, with a previously untraversed floor beneath and mixed crowd around, Eastbourne are to some extent strangers at their own party. They are, however, starting this second period even stronger than they began the first. A power jam and star pass from Swann in the second sees the Bombshells regain the initiative in style, with the scoreline now 120-96. Hell’s Belles fighting back though. Tough blocking from the likes of Les Be Avenue, Candy Cane-her and Leggett N Hide. Lots of jammer penalties and PJ starts on both sides. Belles close the gap to six points. Bombshells extend it again.
Power jam start for Smash’Er now. She sees the Herts jammer rejoining the track, and sends her to ground as soon as she crosses the tape. Bam! Gives it the full Popeye to the crowd. Rocky Bashova, Crash and Hell Block holding back the red jammer for Bullet to score next jam. Team time out for the rattled (clanging?) Belles. Successive leads for Bourne now, but little movement in the way of points. Back block called on Chunder, who looks very cross with either herself or the ref who made the call – best not to ask which, but it gives Herts the chance to close the gap: 148-140. Close as. There’s a slight, and unexpected, delay in proceedings now. It seems someone living by the leisure centre has complained about an illegal rave taking place nearby. The source of that complaint has been traced to this hall, and the not-very-loud-at-all tannoy. Roller derby must be what passes for lawlessness here in Haywards Heath at 6pm on a Saturday. (Personally, we suspect a specious complaint from someone who wanted to attend one of the weekly roller discos that had to make way for today’s event. Ho hum.)
We quickly down all our drugs, hide all the sound systems, and the on track action resumes. The local residents have identified Dolly Spartan as the ringleader of the rave, and she’s been removed from the game. Either that or she fouled out on penalties. Bullet picks up lead either side of the break and the Sussex side now have a more comfortable 30 point lead, with about eight minutes – roughly two and a half bangin’ 180bpm choons, officers – remaining. Edging it up further now, picking up a point or two more than Herts in every jam. Swann and PhilosoFear holding back Heartless as Smash’Er extends the lead to over forty points. Swann stars up for what will be the final jam of the game, and also the final one in purple and leopard print for the Bombshells captain. Having tired of changing her derby name every few months – from Jayne Zawmasika to Toxic Block Syndrome to Swann – she’s now resorted to changing her derby league instead. She’ll be donning the cyan and black of the Brighton Rockers after today, her hair having already donned the former, and she goes out in style for the ‘shells with a swooping, high-scorin’, multiple-passin’, and – let’s be honest – show-boatin’ final Swann-song to close the game out at 214-159.
Jammer, Blocker and MVP awards for the first game go to MK’s Terrorizinya, Betty Knox and Rollin’ Sin, with Cherry Bomb, Yoho and Booty Vicious picking up the respective gongs for Beds. For Hell’s Belles, the certificates go to Dolly Spartan, Candy Cane-her and Leggett N Hide, with the Bombshells recipients being Drag N Fly, Hell Block H and Swann. Various Bourne players queue up to give the latter her leaving presents. In Swann’s own words: “They all wait until I finish crying from the previous gift/card before appearing with the next one. It goes on quite a while.” We miss all of the above, of course, as we are keen to maintain our flawless record of being the first to arrive at the after party for every derby event we attend (30 in a row now, just sayin’). When we called into the Burrell Arms earlier today, a gas problem meant Guinness and ales were off, and we’re keen to see (and praying) that’s been rectified. It has indeed, but the solution may well have involved re-routing gas from the ovens, since the venue is now doing no food. At. All.
As hordes of ravenous rollergirls arrive at the pub, we anticipate a riot, but fortunately people are being allowed to bring in food from the adjacent pizza shop and chippy. Crisis averted. Out in the garden, the evening soon descends into Connect Four tournaments and arm wrestling challenges, with the latter, as ever, being simply an excuse for Smash’Er Fierce to hurt people off (as well as on) track. We understand that several of the Bourne and Belles side end up getting the midnight train to Eastbourne itself – a fair ways from here – and persuade a publican there to let them have a lock-in until the sun comes up. So much for it being a town full of grannies! Where next for the Bombshells sports-wise then? To Eastbourne Extreme, of course, the UK’s only free outdoor derby tournament, which takes place on the weekend of the 12th/13th July. Contrary to Sassy McAwesome’s assertions on the announcer mic, New York’s Gotham Girls aren’t taking part, but the A-team of Surrey, plus B-teams of Croydon and LRR will be facing off against the home side on the Saturday. Meanwhile, an intriguing Sunday programme sees several star-studded exhibition games in all the flavours – men’s, women’s, junior, co-ed, rookie to advanced.
That Saturday (12th) also sees the next Heartland Series South East gameday up in Norwich, with the Norfolk Brawds taking on Milton Keynes, whilst Beds face Big Bucks. MK currently sit atop the table, with the final SE day’s Cows v Bucks game increasingly looking like it will be a decider for play-offs seeding. Norfolk have strong ambitions to catch at least one of those sides, though. The Belles will be looking to build upon their strong showing against favourites Big Bucks and finish as high up the ‘mid section’ as they can. Beds, meanwhile, will be keen to nab their first win and improve their current points differential. With six of the division’s fifteen games completed, only one result has gone the way of the lower ranked team – that was Eastbourne’s victory over Herts today. This puts the Bombshells in a good position going into the rest of their campaign, albeit with what will in several areas be a less experienced squad. Today the Bourne debutants fared well in a bruising encounter. Tomorrow (or rather, August 16th) the Bombshells do Heartland Series battle again, against Norfolk in the home of just vanquished Herts. For now though, we party – remembering always the golden rule; don’t ever challenge Smash’Er to an arm wrestle…
[Photos by John Hesse]
ANOTHER REPORT (BY MK’S BENCH MANAGER)
EASTBOURNE EXTREME: https://www.facebook.com/EastbourneExtremeRollerDerby
HEARTLAND SERIES: http://www.heartlandseries.co.uk/
HELL’S BELLES: http://www.hertsrd.co.uk/
MK COWS: http://www.miltonkeynesrollerderby.com/
BIG BUCKS: http://www.bigbuckshighrollers.co.uk/
NORFOLK BRAWDS: http://www.norfolkbrawds.com/