Steven looks across as the woman from the council checks her balls and tubes, dials and gauges, whilst tapping a sequence of figures into her notepad. The roof of the Arndale Centre is a regular haunt of Steven’s. For the lady from Health & Environment, it’s merely the scene of a brief but daily 9am (10am in summer) chore. One with an important purpose, though, particularly today. For this ‘climate centre’ perched above Boots Opticians is where the town of Eastbourne forges its annual claim to have more hours of sunshine than anywhere else in the UK. Though this doesn’t go down well with other south coast towns – both Bognor and Hastings have made rival claims in recent years – it’s a reassuring factor when it comes to putting on an outdoor roller derby tournament. Skating in the rain is something of a no-no, so derby (a scary enough proposition on dry surfaces) simply ain’t gonna happen under a crying sky.
Which is precisely why each year members of the local Bourne Bombshells league spend much of late June and early July checking conflicting online weather forecasts – trusting whichever is the most favourable at any given time – crossing fingers, sacrificing chickens and chicken-flavoured pieces of Quorn, and dedicating prayers to the Gods of Outdoor Derby and that title-claiming weather station on the roof of Boots. The lady from the council looks happy enough with today’s readings, and Steven makes his way down to The Cage, the concrete corral off the Eastern prom that will host this weekend’s war on wheels. Joining his friends Nodding Bob and Mewan atop an outhouse, Steven looks across at an orange-rimmed oval. Enough of the town’s 1,962 annual hours of sunshine (or at least hours of ‘non-rain’) will land today and tomorrow for the tournament to go ahead as scheduled. Yay!
First up, it’s the London Rockin’ Rollers B-team Rising Stars (known as the Badasses to their friends) in the red kit. Up against them in sky grey is Croydon Roller Derby, whose A-team have won this tournament in its two previous years. It’s their B-team Vice Squad taking part in 2014, although we notice at least one person from last year’s Extreme squad in there. [Memo to self: Don’t use the phrase ‘A-team ringer’ here or you’ll get an ear-bashing from CRD’s PR crew.] When the participants for this tournament were selected at the start of the year, all four competitors were closely matched in the rankings. These two B-teams have both powered up the table in the intervening months, however, and if the statistics are to be believed this opener will be a dress rehearsal for the final. Scoring is slow to begin with, as players get used to the surface and the ungodliness of the hour, but London soon start putting clear distance between themselves and CRD, taking a 54-13 lead into half time.
LRR might have over four times Croydon’s score, but a 39-point gap is easily bridgeable, even when periods are only 20 rather than 30 minutes. (40 minute stoppage-free games with 5-10 minute half-times are the only way to cram all seven of today’s matches into the event’s allocated time slot.) Miss N Link and Claudia Shove’er take the star for London early in the second half. Von Bitch hollers instructions from the bench as LRR keep their lead going. Charging fightback in the final few jams from Croydon gives them a scare, with Fackelman racking up five point passes as the game draws to a close, but the red army have enough of a lead to weather that storm. London hold out for a 79-71 win. It’s the Bourne Bombshells v Surrey Rollergirls next. With both teams expected to struggle against Croydon and London, this could well be the play-off for third place. It’s not just about taking the win, though. The final table is being decided on points for and against, rather than wins/losses, so sides need to make the margins of their victories as big as possible, whilst keeping the gap small in losing games.
Early exchanges are nip and tuck. A few points one way, a few the other. Buffy Smothers the strongest of the Surrey jammers, with Evil Badger and Hunter Stompson amongst the black-clad Guildfordians’ biggest blocking threats. A couple of five point passes from Bullet Bomber sees the Bombshells start to pull away. Penalty box jammer switcheroo between Smash’er Fierce and Crazy Cat Lady follows, with Smash’er adding to Eastbourne’s lead. Chunder Woman, Crash and Dreaded Shortcake regularly starring up for the ‘shells. We’re seeing packs starting on the pivot line a lot more than usual today – something to do with the slower pace of skating on an outdoor surface, perhaps? The open air environment is also affecting communication between the penalty box and incoming line-ups, with almost every jam preceded by one team or other screaming at a player to get off or lose their pivot panty seconds before the whistle. A referee’s wheel goes for a solo wander around the track. It’s 63-11 to the Sussex side as we take a brief half-time break.
A large complement of announcers taking turns to call today’s games. People passing by on the prom who stop to watch through the fencing are being beckoned in, siren-like. Or would be if they could find the entrance gate, awkwardly located on the opposite side of the cage to the tide of human traffic. Midday. The sun is over the yardarm. People in the crowd start cracking open the first of many cans of cider and beer. PM stands for pissed meridiem, yeah? Queues forming at the loos. Steven, Bob and Mewan do their business on the beach instead. Tracklines re-oranged for the second half. Smashlyn on the mic, kit checking the ref with the runaway wheel. The bits that meet the ground – wheels and toe-stops – are taking a pounding on this concrete, and more detachments will follow. Game back on now. The likes of Kerosene and Anne Grenade battling with tough purple walls. The Philosofear and Smash’er are keeping them and other Surrey starheads pegged back. Some good shifts in the star from Elle Hound, a recent addition to the Bourne rotation and supplier of today’s water bottles, then it’s down to Shortcake to seal the win with a triple pass power jam. Final score is 101-40 to the hometown heroes.
There’s no rest for the wicked good and the Bombshells are back on track in the next match. It’s around now that the weather forecasts predicted a few showers, but the Arndale rooftop juju has kept them at bay. Bullet and Chunder take the first two leads against Croydon, but are quickly chased down with minimal scoring. Agent Cooper, who made her open door (and open air) debut in last year’s tournament, gets CRD’s first lead in the third as an Inara Terror-filled grey wall holds Drag N Fly back. Vice Squad starting to put up the points now – Terror donning the star and drawing the game’s first PJ – but they’re not running away with it yet. Chunder, who is joining Croydon after this tournament, is off for a turn two track cut. Philosofear laying down a tough one-wall in front of Cooper, but she breaks through and goes on a scoring spree. CRD pack too tough for the returning Chunder, forcing a star pass, and six laps of the pack from Cooper puts Croydon 50-12 up. OK, now they’re running away with it. Further power jams for both sides, and a spectacular – if somewhat ill-advised on unyielding concrete – apex jump from Fackelman sees the half closed out at 61-23.
Bombshells still in touch, with some pacy jamming from Bullet at the start of the second half, but Croydon start turning the screw as the period progresses. Inara Terror, Blazing Nympherno and Angel DDelight taking successive leads for the South Londoners now, as someone turns up the brightness on the sun. Occasional welcome breezes are few and far between, and it’s starting to get a bit “only dogs and Englishmen” now, even for those of us just watching. On track, the water, from both bottles and sweat glands, flows freely. Sussex jammers tiring as they end up embroiled and boiled in lengthy discussions with Dot Cottonmouth’s shoulders. Attempted star pass between DNF and ‘fear couldn’t have gone more wrong if they’d both ended up with Union Jack boxer shorts on their helmets. The final whistle is something of a relief all round. Vice Squad take the game with triple Eastbourne’s score (135-45) and everyone joins the queue at the ice cream stand. The next contest sees Surrey matching LRR point for point in the early exchanges, before the red army shifts up a gear and the Cockneys take it 124-48. Nodding Bob celebrates by stealing a small child’s chips.
This isn’t what we were expecting at all. Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe it’s a hangover from the tough battle they just had with Surrey. Either way, LRR begin their game with Eastbourne a little on the back foot. After an epic opening jam that runs the full two minutes and ends 16-15 to the Bombshells, the hosts start edging out into the lead. Chunder takes full advantage of a power jam, dancing through the LRR pack on her toe-stops, and it’s 29-15. The typically rowdy Rockin’ Rollers support urge their team on, but the Bombshells are matching them point for point now in what has begun as one of the cleanest matches in this penalty heavy tournament. The sin bin visits are on the way though, with Bullet taking a star seat twice in one jam, as Mimika Mayhem restores the natural order of things. 55-40 to London. Almost everyone on track wearing shades now, as the beating sun intensifies with the Rockin’ Rollers dazzling play. 67-40 at half time, and Eastbourne will need Skate Protection Factor 30 to avoid being burned further by LRR in the second period.
As Steven and Mewan take turns annoying a small dog, the game resumes. The Bombshells make a brief resurgence, but it lasts about as long as the dog baiting. Claudia Shove’er and Hunter doing the damage for London now, as the home side succumb to a series of penalty calls, track cuts – so easy to make when there’s no wire on the perimeter – and bungled star passes. LRR take it 171-71. The Sussex side managed the same number of points against London that Croydon did, but the differential here is the day’s biggest. Will this century gap see the Bombshells finish fourth rather than third? Unfortunately for Surrey, no it won’t. Badger puts in some big hits for them against Croydon, with Buffy and Kerosene jamming in the points. It’s a battling performance, but the girls in grey are too strong. Psycho Sis in particular is proving a tough obstacle for the SRG starheads, with DDelight, Cooper and Cardinal Sim rolling out a 129-68 victory for Vice Squad – the same 61 point margin of victory the Bombshells managed over Surrey.
The official table may have been calculated differently, but by our reckoning LRR are top with +184 points, Croydon second on +143, followed by the Bombshells (-129) and SRG (-198). A spread that seems to back up the pre-tournament expectations of a ‘two-division division’. It’s not over, though, as the table topping pair must play off for the title. LRR Rising Stars go into the game as favourites, having already edged past Vice Squad at the start of the day, but we have a feeling CRD could surprise them here. We place a one pint bet on a Croydon victory with the person we’re sitting next to. Both sides are well supported here, with the front row dominated by equal clusters of chanting, sign waving Rockin’ Rollers and CRD A-teamers. Nikki Blocker Glory kicks things off with a five pass power jam. Fackelman follows up with a power jam of her own. Barely three minutes gone and Croydon have a 39-0 lead. The person sitting next to us looks very angry and is muttering something about being “hustled”. There’s certainly some hustling happening on track. Also some bustling. Both packs working hard to keep the jammers at bay. Sis, Terror and Cottonmouth amongst the defensive standouts for Croydon; Fonda Kaos, DisorderLee and Demolition Darcy for London.
LRR are getting over their slow start. Their packs have more of a handle on Croydon’s starclads now, and their own jammers – notably Hunter, Link, Mimika and Claudia – have started getting their hips past. A scoreless final jam sees half-time tallied at 72-28. The person next to us is still scowling. Meanwhile, Steven looks unimpressed as Mewan and Bob turn an empty crisp packet into a tug-of-war rope. Whatever rocket Von Bitch puts up the troops with her mid-game team talk, it seems to do the trick, as the LRR Rising Stars come out battling for the second period. OK, Croydon’s Cooper is outscoring Hunter, who she is usually paired with, and putting up regular multi-pass jams, but elsewhere the Badass jammers are largely besting their Vice Squad counterparts… Link, in particular, helps pull them back into contention… Dirty DC deals well with a mid-jam toe-stop malfunction… Nympherno takes Croydon into triple figures, before a track cut call on Cooper sees Hunter take a two pass PJ… With three minutes left on the clock it’s 104-87 to CRD and there’s still time for our neighbour to win that pint after all, grrr… “Come on Croydon!”… Terror and DC are battling for lead, but a double track cut call on the latter sees Vice Squad mop up fourteen points in the final jam. It’s a 118-87 win for Croydon, a 568ml of Guinness win for us, and Nodding Bob takes victory in the tug-of-war.
As if winning the Extreme tournament for the third year in a row isn’t enough, Croydon also pick up all three of the player awards, with Psycho Sis taking best blocker, Agent Cooper best jammer, and Nikki Blocker Glory as MVP. There’s little time for anyone to bask in the results, though, as most of the skaters, officials and spectators hightail it to a roller disco in a Napoleonic fort. Not to skate – they’ve had quite enough of that – nor to ask why we call them ‘Napoleonic forts’ when they’re actually anti-Napoleon forts. Instead, it’s to watch a stream of the day’s other main derby action, as New York’s Gotham Girls meet London Brawling on track and take them to school. Steven pops by for a look, but ends up getting shooed off by angry derbyers for getting in the way of the (pretty sketchy to begin with) screen. There’s an after after party party until the wee small hours, but a lot of people will be getting a fairly early night. We have a whole second day of derby action to come tomorrow, starting with a mixed women’s rookie game at 9.30. Nine thirty in the morning? Is playing derby at such an hour even legal?
Steven, Mewan, Bob and friends helpfully provide an alarm call for many of those in the Eastbourne area, and the Sunday action gets started more or less on time. Today was thought to be at greater risk from the weather than yesterday – an indoor venue has been sourced “just in case” – but the ground has mostly de-damped from an earlier shizzle of drizzle, and events are only slight delayed. The Hula-gans take on the Tiki Terrors in this rookie opener, as a bleary hungover crowd try to find out whose idea it was to give the day’s first teams such garish kit colours. Eye-scorching orange and head-thumping purple? Yeah, thanks for that. With Bombshells bench and line-upping both teams, there are also Eastbourne rookies taking part, along with folk from more than a dozen other leagues. Although most of today’s skaters are based in the South East, a handful are from further afield. The junior derby exhibition which follows the rookie game also has long travelled competitors. Helmed by Eastbourne’s New Bournes junior league, the demo includes a few skaters from Cardiff’s Tiger Bay Cubs. The Welsh side put on the UK’s first ever junior derby event 18 months ago, and now get to take part in the first ever outdoor junior derby event, although today’s strictly enforced ‘no contact’ rule will result in these more experienced players picking up a lot of penalty calls.
The kit colours are getting more restrained as the day progresses, and whilst the intermediate women’s game features more purple – it’s Eastbourne, of course there’s purple – a soothing teal (whatever the hell that is) takes the place of nuclear orange. It’s no secret that the scheduling of last night’s New York v London game, and its accompanying Leeds-based boot camp, has caused a fair few withdrawals from today’s mixed teams. With advanced skaters plugging co-ed gaps, intermediates stepping up to advanced and general doubling up, there’s a marginal quality shift over what the original rosters offered, but of course everyone’s still giving it their all. That’s certainly true of the men’s game, where local Bomb S’Quadders are teamed up with skaters from Portsmouth, London, South Wales and beyond. Although there are some experienced derbyers involved, many of these players are in teams that have yet to begin playing regular games, and this – combined with the challenges of the outdoor environment – means the action is scrappy at times. It’s a fitting public showcase for the unfairer sex’s version of the sport nonetheless. Bob and Mewan look on with bemused detachment. Steven, meanwhile, has an upset tummy and will spend much of the afternoon decorating nearby cars.
Bombshells defectors Swann and Chunder Woman line up against each other in the advanced women’s game. Croydon’s A-teamers, audience members for yesterday’s tournament, are liberally scattered amongst many of today’s squads. The crowd itself bears an even broader range of league tops than yesterday, such is the effect of having more than twenty teams provide players. Tannoy music remains of a resolutely riot grrrl disposition and the Jellied Wheels (in white) are behind at half-time, but battling hard as the second half gets underway. Seaside Siren Killer Bite is amongst the red topped Rampaging Badgers’ biggest jamming threats, along with CRD’s Polly Filla and Cooper – the presence of another 808 in today’s games sees the latter donning TW4T as her number. Kent’s Boot’Em Khamun plays a starring role for the Jellies, racking up a string of passes as Swann recycles Pompey Badger Halcyon Daze. One of the Jellies fouls out. Chunder collides with teammate Cooper. Someone in red jumps through the white pack. The dog from yesterday returns with a friend and starts shouting at Steven, Bob and Mewan. The announcer mistakes this for canine cheering. Swann dons the star for the Jellies, but the clock is running down and the Badgers take the win by the sharp end of 50 points.
Many expect this final game of the weekend, the co-ed match, to be its highlight. The presence of a large number of refs in the teams’ male contingent is going to see some tricks tried and loopholes explored. That much is obvious even from the opening jam, where both teams recycle simultaneously and their jammers end up having to retrace almost an entire track’s length before returning to play. Standout jammers for the black-clad Team Footloose are The Mechanic, zigzagging all over the track like there are alligators after him, and Noise Tank, who somewhat confuses the announcers by wearing the absent Omar Gherd’s top. With Finch of Fury and CRD bench coach Herbielicious also donning the star for Footloose, the team in black – who wore Kevin Bacon face masks for their skate out – are using a fairly male dominated rotation here. Their opponents Danger Zone, bedecked in grey, are primarily putting tough and experienced female skaters in the star; Boot’Em, Dropkick Molly, Peggy Peril, Mosquito and more. It’s an approach that sees more showboating from the Footloose starheads (backwards skating and so forth), but doesn’t always go according to plan; such as when Tank hangs back from a scoring pass to throw everything at rival jammer Mosquito, only for the latter to shake it off as if she was brushing off, well, a mosquito. She passes, grinning, and Tank has to call.
A hefty points haul from Khamun near the end of the half has brought DZ back into touch. It’s 58-45 to Footloose as the second period gets underway. Herbie relishing going up against some of his own CRD troops, but he’ll have bruises to show for it, with the likes of Smashasaurus Bex and Mosquito throwing hits at him from all angles. The latter is often blocking here alongside teammates – eg Mat Lovin, one of several South Wales Silures on display, and Disasteroid – and rival jammers who are twice her height, but it doesn’t show. A power jam from Peggy Peril, with Belgian opponent Decat sin binned, sees DZ clawing it back. A lead change soon follows. 70-68 to the guys and gals in grey. Noise Tank responds with a huge scoring jam, gliding in and around the opposing pack time and again, whilst Peril struggles against the Footloose wall. “Is Noise Gherd wearing an invisibility cloak?” the announcers wonder. It’s now 102-70 to the bods in black, and that margin is growing with every jam. Blitzkrieg throwing huge hits on Disasteroid, forcing the DZer to pass the star to Boot’Em. Force Ten Gail racing around for Footloose next. Suffolk Punch and Mother Mercy staying solid in the black packs. Danger Zone run out of time. Footloose win by some amount of points (we lost count, to be honest).
It’s off to the Crown and Anchor, the Bombshells favoured seafront pub, for part one of today’s after party. With all the skating out of the way, now’s the time everyone can really let their hair down. People split off and annex various parts of the building. For some it’s the main bar. For others the function room, where the World Cup Final of some strange sport involving a ball is on the big screen. Many of the Bombshells and Croydon attendees shun both options, opting instead to sit in the gutter outside. Steven and Mewan are equally classy. They try to steal the skaters’ food when they’re not looking, but it’s all in vain. Steven heads back to the roof of Boots. The climate station will continue to gather sunshine in globes, rain in tubes, pressure in gauges, and whatever else it is that weather stations do. For the Eastbourne skaters, meanwhile, tomorrow marks the start of 365 more days of fretting about what the weather is going to be like on a certain weekend next July. We can answer that now. The Paris roller derby league has the slogan “Paris… brings the passion!” The Extreme tournament should adopt “Derby… brings the sunshine!” Because it does. No matter what council Health & Environment officials or the Michael Fishes of the world might think.
[Photos by John Hesse]
The Bombshells are back in action this Saturday (16th August) in Hemel Hempstead. Their Heartland Series game against the Norfolk Brawds – who they currently place higher than on points differential – starts at 1.30pm and a full preview will appear on theBBCD.com very soon. Croydon are holding rookie and referee tryouts this Sunday (17th) from 3pm-5pm. Contact email@example.com for more details. Surrey Rollergirls have a double header in Guildford on August 30th, with their women’s team taking on Windsor B and the sibling men’s team playing Portsmouth. London Rockin’ Rollers take on the highly rated German league Ruhrpott in East London on September 13th. The next open door derby event here in Sussex, meanwhile, is on September 20th in Haywards Heath, where the Brighton Rockers take on Bristol Roller Derby, the only lower ranked league to have ever beaten them. (Brighton haven’t officially confirmed this match-up, incidentally, but it’s on the Bristol side’s own website.) In the meantime, enjoy the rest of those 1,962 hours of sunshine, yeah.
BOURNE BOMBSHELLS: http://bournebombshells.wix.com/bombshells
CROYDON ROLLER DERBY: http://croydonrollerderby.co.uk/
LONDON ROCKIN’ ROLLERS: http://londonrockinrollers.co.uk/
SURREY ROLLERGIRLS: http://www.surreyrollergirls.com/
SAT 16TH AUG IN HEMEL: https://www.facebook.com/events/1428289724127454/
SAT 20TH SEPT IN HHEATH: https://www.facebook.com/events/260828327459718/