BOMBSHELL NEWS: BRITISH CHAMPIONSHIPS ROLLER DERBY IN SUSSEX THIS SATURDAY!

British Championships Roller Derby returns to Sussex tomorrow (Saturday 2nd March) as Eastbourne Roller Derby’s Bourne Bombshells host Gameday 1 of Tier 3 South. The action takes place at the Dolphin leisure centre in Haywards Heath with doors at 1pm and admission a bargainous £5 on the door. The first game at 2pm sees Northampton’s Vendetta Vixens take on Guildford’s Surrey Roller Girls, followed by hosts Eastbourne up against Milton Keynes Concrete Cows at 4.15pm.

Car users should point their Sat Navs at RH16 1LY. Train folks should be aware that replacement buses are running from Lewes, Brighton and (for those coming from London) Three Bridges, so allow an extra half hour or so travelling time. The buses drop off outside Haywards Heath station, which is just seven minutes walk from the venue.

The leisure centre has vending machines and a licensed café in its foyer. The nearest ATMs are at the big Sainsbury’s halfway between the station and venue, and the pub opposite the train station (the Burrell Arms) is decent enough for any spectators wanting a pre-event drink. There will also be stalls and entertainment in the sports hall. Find out about those, as well as what to expect from the games, below…

PREDICTIONS AND THAT

[SPOILER ALERT: Skip to after the next photograph if you’re one of those people who don’t like to know predictions ahead of a game.] Tier 3 South of British Champs 2019 contains three teams from north of London and two from south of the capital. Milton Keynes are the best connected with their divisional opponents, being located at the midpoint of a 40 mile vertical line linking High Wycombe (home to Big Bucks High Rollers) with Northampton’s Vendetta Vixens. The southern duo, based in Guildford and Eastbourne, are 50 miles apart but know each other quite well, particular from outdoor games at Eastbourne Extreme.

Rankings wise, Big Bucks (69th in Europe) are by far the strongest of the five teams, so this gameday – which they sit out – gives the other four sides a chance to put some points on the board. In Saturday’s first game, averaging out home and away predictions for a neutral venue, Vendetta Vixens (226th in Europe) are given 65% chance of victory over Surrey (263rd). Predicted differential of 7:6 suggests something like a 175-150 Vixens win. Surrey edged the previous meeting of these two teams 164-140, but that was four years ago (both teams’ first game of the first ever British Champs in 2015) which is ages in roller derby.

In the second game, even with home advantage hosts Eastbourne (243rd in Europe) are predicted to come up a little short against the higher placed Milton Keynes (168th). MK are given 75% chance of victory here, with an expected differential of 25:18. That works out as something like a 175-126 MK win, pretty similar to the 177-119 result when these teams met in last year’s Champs. That’s what the prediction computer at Flattrackstats reckons anyway. What do the teams expect? See below…

EASTBOURNE ROLLER DERBY

Can you tell us a bit about your team’s history to date?
The Bourne Bombshells have been a team for over seven years. Six of our current roster (Bullet Bomber, Drag-N-Fly, Hell Block H, Lily Malicious, Smash’er Fierce and The PhilosoFear) played with the team back at the start. Last season we had our first junior Jazzaster age out of our New Bournes juniors to join the Bombshells. This season we have another junior, Jemma English, joining us the day after her 18th birthday in May.

What about your thoughts on British Champs?

We always really enjoy Champs. We returned last year after a season off. We had some really fun games which were all very hard fought. We finished middle of the table, which the team were really happy with. It’s exciting we have a few different teams in our Champs group this year. We have played them all at some point in the past apart from Vendetta Vixens. They will be our last game of the season and will be interesting as we have very little knowledge of their players and gameplay.

What are you expecting from Saturday’s game against Milton Keynes Concrete Cows?
We have played Milton Keynes a few times now. Every game has been a tough one as they have some very experienced players. They’re a really lovely team and we are looking forward to battling it out against them again. It will not be an easy game for us but it will be fun.

Any particular Eastbourne players the crowd should look out for?
Over the last year Lily Malicious has been jamming more for the team and is definitely one to watch, but I’m not going to tell you more about her jamming otherwise I may give away her secrets. InnsterSlam, our pocket rocket, is a double threat with excellent speed and agility when jamming and excellent track awareness pivoting. She is one to watch out for – that is if you can see her! The Bombshells are a team of players who have been together over a long period of time and it’s hard to select one standout blocker as they all work together so well to create solid walls. I’m sure the jammers on the opposing team will remember Smash’er Fierce and Jazzaster’s hits, though.

Any thoughts on the other teams in your Champs group?

It’s always interesting to see the other teams play against each other to see what new tactics they have, since teams and gameplay change so much from year to year. It will be nice to face Big Bucks again after a few years of not playing them, and we have never played against Surrey in a Champs game, so that’s going to be an interesting one too.

What else can we expect from tomorrow’s event?
We have a cake stall with delicious home-baked goods. The very awesome Roller Dirty Soaps will have a stall so make sure you take a look. There will be merch stalls from the teams. During the half-time of the first game we have the fabulous Sussex Supreme Baton Twirlers doing a performance. Then during the half-time of the second game we’ll have our raffle draw with merch and cash up for grabs.

Any words for the Eastbourne fans in the crowd?

Don’t forget to set aside the weekend of 13th & 14th July for Eastbourne Extreme. Planning is in full swing and the summer can’t come quick enough!

MILTON KEYNES ROLLER DERBY

Can you tell us a little about your history?
MKRD was founded in May 2010. In 2011/2012 we created The End of the World Series tournament for five local leagues in which we were undefeated. The EOWS led to The Heartland Series in 2013 and MKRD remained heavily involved in the organisation. This tournament then developed into the British Championships tournament that we know today.

What are your thoughts on Champs as a league?
We’ve loved playing British Champs and continue to do so. Seeing the growth and organisation of roller derby in the UK is amazing, and getting to play both new and familiar teams is really fun. We had a really enjoyable Champs season last year especially and hope to continue to have more fun in 2019. We’ve been working hard on our plays and tactics so will be looking to put those into practice.

Do you know much about the other teams in your division?
We’ve played Eastbourne a few times now and they’re a really fun team to play against and wonderful hosts, so we’re looking forward to Saturday. They have some really nippy jammers and powerful blockers so we’ll be looking to shut them down. Our division is looking really interesting this year. We know the Vixens quite well and they’ll be a force to be reckoned with! We haven’t played Big Bucks in ages and it’ll be interesting to see them on track again. Eastbourne are going from strength to strength and Surrey are a rather unknown quantity to us so we’re looking forward to the season ahead.

Any words for the MKRD fans in Saturday’s crowd?
Oh lawd, she comin’!

SURREY ROLLER GIRLS

Can you tell us a little about your league?

Based in Guildford, Surrey Roller Girls were founded in December 2011. We are a friendly bunch who love cake and cuddles, as well as bashing each other about on track.

What are you expecting from Champs this year?

SRG have taken a year away from British Champs in 2018 to develop and grow as a team and what a year we have had! Not only have we enjoyed welcoming many new skaters, we have also had the pleasure of playing many friendly games with our Southern counterparts.

And from Saturday in particular?
We have been training hard in the lead up to British Champs and are ready to show the other teams what it means to be a Surrey Roller Girl. Excitement is brewing for our game against the Vendetta Vixens on Saturday, who I’m sure will be a formidable opponent.

What can we expect from SRG on the day?
Surrey will arrive on gameday with glittered faces, short shorts and a fierce spirit. We will battle hard and (whatever the outcome) we will hug it out at the end and hunker down to watch Eastbourne v Milton Keynes, which I’m sure will be an epic pairing. For any Surrey fans cheering us on in the crowd, cheer loud and clear: WHO ARE WE? SRG!

VENDETTA VIXENS

Can you tell us a little about your history?
The Vixens began in early 2011 and competed in the End of the World Series coming a respectful last place. Over the years we have lost more games than we have won, but what we lack in points we have made up for in team spirit and perseverance. We’ve been fortunate enough to be part of the tournaments preceding Champs and very much enjoy meeting and playing new teams. We learn so much and generally have a wonderful time during the tournament season.

What are you hoping for from Champs this year?
Last year saw a turning point for the team and we won more games than we lost. We hope that the hard work and determination that we have put into training has started to show on track and we continue to progress this year. 2019 also means playing our neighbours the Concrete Cows and facing new opponents in Eastbourne and Big Bucks.

Any particular expectations for Saturday’s games?

In the other game we will be hoping for a win for the Concrete Cows as our neighbouring team and friends, but wish all the teams taking part a happy, safe and successful gameday. Last time we played Surrey in 2015 it was a really close game – we’re obviously hoping to take the win this year. In terms of Vixens to watch our for on track? Watch out for us all! Everyone brings something different and unique, and it wouldn’t work without every single person on the team and those who constantly support us.



BIG BUCKS HIGH ROLLERS

Can you tell us a little about your league?
Big Bucks High Rollers were formed in July 2011 and we smashed onto the scene with some fantastic results early on. Since then we have continued to grow and evolve as a league.

What are your thoughts ahead of the 2019 Champs season?
BBHR decided to focus on rebuilding our team last year. Now we’re back in Champs and feeling stronger than ever! We have a great line-up, including a mix of veteran and newer skaters, and are really excited for them to experience their first Champs game.

What are the (dis)advantages or not playing Gameday 1?
Sitting out the first gameday makes us itch to be on track, although it allows us a cheeky peak at our competition before we get started. We are up against some tough teams, which is a challenge we have been training hard for and we can’t wait to meet everyone on track. We can, we will – BBHR!

[Photos by John Hesse, Eastbourne Roller Derby, Vendetta Vixens & Big Bucks High Rollers]

LINKS
FB EVENT PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/events/238370273750413/
BRITISH CHAMPS: https://www.britishchamps.com/

Heartland Series Bout Day 3 @ Haywards Heath Preview

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This Saturday the mighty Bourne Bombshells return to Heartland Series South East Division action as they host their home double header. This takes place at the Dolphin leisure centre in Haywards Heath, which is building up something of a reputation for quad skating. It’s played host to many Brighton Rockers home games, the occasional Croydon Roller Derby home game, and is also the regular venue for the National Roller Figure Skating Championships. Boasting one of the fastest floors in the region, the sports hall has plenty of room for spectators, and the venue is also home to two bars – a bright cafe style one in the foyer, plus a more booze-focused health club bar (with a strange policy of paying somewhere different to where you collect your drinks) a few corridor turns past the hall. As is the way with leisure centres, you’ll also find vending machines, the whiff of chlorine, and clusters of small children dressed for judo.

Doors open at 2pm, with Milton Keynes Concrete Cows taking on Bedfordshire Roller Girls at 2.35, followed by the Bombshells against Hertfordshire’s Hell’s Belles around 4.35pm, then after partying down the road from 6.30ish. Tickets are £8 in advance (£10 on the door) from the link at the bottom of this piece. There’s a ‘buy five get one free’ deal, and under 12s go free. The leisure centre is on Pasture Hill Road, around seven minutes walk from Haywards Heath train station (turn left and follow the handmade signs). There’s a large Sainsbury’s halfway along the route, should you require supplies. The pub opposite the station, the Burrell Arms, is decent enough for a sports bar – home to the more civilised rugby rather than football type this Saturday – and will be hosting the after party. Those travelling from further afield who plan to stay over will find little in the way of accommodation in Haywards Heath itself, but Brighton is less than 15 minutes away by train and boasts a plethora of options, from backpacker hostels to pop star frequented designer hotels.

MK Cows currently place second in the SE table, behind Big Bucks High Rollers, who have the weekend off (as do the Norfolk Brawds). MK’s score differential is superior to BBHR’s, so any victory will see them go top. Saturday’s other three teams are all awaiting their first win – although Hell’s Belles came close against leaders Big Bucks – and take the 4th to 6th spots based on points scored v conceded. The Bombshells currently place bottom, so have the most to gain, and could climb to as high as second with a big win, although fourth would be more achievable. The predictor at flattrackstats gives MK (ranked 73rd in Europe) a 97% chance of beating Bedfordshire (268th) with an expected score ratio of 47-17, which would equate to a typical derby scoreline of around 235-85. The Bombshells v Hell’s Belles game is expected to be much closer, with the 179th placed Belles given a 56% chance of beating Eastbourne (223rd) and a score ratio of just 16-15, equivalent to a 144-135 Belles win. As ever, take any predictions with a pinch of salt. We’ll leave you with a few words from departing Bombshells player-coach Lois Swann (formerly Toxic Block Syndrome) and Night Cub from Hell’s Belles…

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LOIS SWANN – BOURNE BOMBSHELLS

The Bombshells kicked off their Heartland Series campaign a few weeks ago in Milton Keynes. What did you learn from that game?
Oh, we learned a ton. It was our most difficult game to date, and when we finished we were pretty certain that we’d done everything we could, and we couldn’t have done any better. Having done a lot of footage review since, however, we spotted many silly mistakes that I hope we’ve resolved now. We have got a couple of new skaters in the line-ups on Saturday, and we’re playing with a full squad of fourteen for the first time since (I think) August. We’ve just really drummed in everything we should have been doing in the last game. Hopefully it will pay off.

Do you know much about Saturday’s opponents, the Hell’s Belles? Care to predict the result?
We don’t know an awful lot about them, to be honest. I’ve never come across any of their players anywhere, but I’m aware that they’re coached by [Men’s Team England star jammer] Reaper, so I hope their jammers haven’t picked up too many of his tricks! We’ve seen some footage of them from earlier in the year, and I think if we’re both having a good day, it’ll be a tough, competitive game. I’d like to think it will be nice and close, and then we’ll edge ahead to a comfortable lead in the second half.

With your traditional Hastings venue no longer allowing skating, this will be the Bombshells’ first outing at Haywards Heath’s Dolphin. Do many of you have experience of the floor there?
Not really. We have a handful of girls who originally started out with the Brighton Rockers, who also use it as their home ground, so a couple of them have skated there. Generally speaking, we’re going in a little bit blind, though. We’re just going to have to show up super early!

The double header’s other game sees Milton Keynes take on Bedfordshire. What are you expecting from that game? Any standout players to look out for?
Most of the teams in our division are ones we’ve never really come up against before, so Bedfordshire are a little unknown to us. I attended a bootcamp with them several months ago, though, and if their attendees were reflective of their bouting team, I’d speculate that Milton Keynes will have the edge. The MK walls are just so solid, and difficult to move or break up. The Valkyrie and Bolshevik gave our jammers an awful lot of trouble, and Magic Beanz was a really fun jammer to block against.

It’s not long now until Eastbourne Extreme (July 12-13th). Are preparations going smoothly?
Sassy McAwesome has got it all under control with her committee. Everything’s going great, so long as we don’t talk about the weather. We’ve opened the Sunday up this year to be a true expo event, showcasing all the different kinds of derby on offer. We’ve got three women’s mixed games (rookie, intermediate and advanced), a men’s game, a co-ed game, and a junior demo, so there’ll be something for everyone. The uptake has been amazing and we’ve got some great players on the rosters, including a handful from various national teams!

Finally, we understand Saturday will be your last game as a Bombshell. Eep! Tell us more…
It will indeed. I have my first training session with the Brighton Rockers two days later (Mon 9th), which is pretty exciting. I’ve been with the Bombshells since the very beginning, so obviously leaving was a big decision and one I feel very sad about, but it was just time for me to move on. I feel like I’ve given all I can to them as a coach and I need some time to focus on my own development, so I can push myself to the next level. I don’t know if or when we’ll meet again on the track, but the Bombshells and Bomb S’Quad are like my extended family. They’re already talking about how excited they are to see me play with the Rockers if I get rostered, and of course I’ll always be their biggest supporter, so I don’t think it’s the last we’ll be seeing of each other.

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NIGHT CUB – HELL’S BELLES

For those who don’t know the Belles, can you tell us about your history to date?
The Belles were founded in 2010 and since then we’ve grown as a league, and we’re now establishing ourselves as Hertfordshire Roller Derby, with the Belles still being our main travel team. We competed in [Heartland Series predecessor] The End of the World Series in 2012, as well as being part of the Heartland Series itself in 2013 and 2014.

Have you learned a lot by playing in a big tournament like the Heartland Series?
The Belles developed significantly as a team over 2013, gaining a few of our travel team players from last year’s fresh meat courses. Playing all the Heartland games, as well as extra scrims and bouts, has developed us to work as a team. We’ve come a long way and we are quickly learning what works for us and how to play ‘our game’.

Are there any particular Hell’s Belles players the crowd should keep an eye out for?
We recently did an article for the Heartland Series website, ‘Stars on the Rise’, introducing some of our newer team players. Scarlett Heartless is one of our newest league members, joining us from Big Bucks last summer. She’s a quick thinking jammer, with equally quick footwork. Candy Cane-Her is one of our strongest blockers, having no problem with wiping opposition players off their feet and off the track. Les Be Avenue is a skilful blocker, and like Candy emerged from one of the more recent fresh meat courses. She has good knowledge of the game and its tactics, which she regularly puts into practice.

Do you know much about the Bourne Bombshells?
We haven’t played the Bombshells before, so we look forward to pitching our skills against a new team.

What are you expecting from the day’s other game, MK v Bedfordshire?
The Valkyrie, Bolshevik and Cherry Bomb are three players to watch out for. We’re sure we will enjoy some high quality derby from both these teams.

Finally, do you have a message for any Belles fans in the crowd on Saturday?
Our message for the Belles fans is lots of cheering and wearing red and black. We hope you enjoy the bout too!

LINKS
BUY TICKETS: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/heartlands-south-east-division-bout-day-3-tickets-11368648935
FB EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/536554199787495/
HEARTLAND: http://www.heartlandseries.co.uk/
BOMBSHELLS: http://www.bournebombshells.co.uk/
HELL’S BELLES: http://www.hertsrd.co.uk/
MK COWS: http://www.miltonkeynesrollerderby.com/
BEDFORDSHIRE: http://www.bedfordshirerollergirls.com/

[Photos by John Hesse and PolaDroid/Chris Yarrow]

Heartland Series South East Matchday 2 Report

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They say you don’t need to actually watch a roller derby match – which is what we’re calling them now in protest at WFTDA changing the official term from bout to game – to know how tough and hard hitting it was. You can find that out just from the state of the players’ shoulders at the final whistle. Ideally, of course, you’ll need a copy of the chart created by Roman physician Ignius Solarus in around 110 AD. It was used to quickly assess sunburn levels – in order to most effectively distribute available ointment – of soldiers/legions marching long distances in the Roman Empire’s Middle Eastern extremities. Whilst said ancient chart would need to be adjusted for derby and altered for individual players’ ethnicity, skin tone and lifestyle (from tanned beach bunnies to daylight-averse Goth punks), it would likely go a long way towards telling you who was throwing or receiving the hardest hits, as well as giving you an overall ‘shade’ of toughness for the match.

The shoulders of some here (Smash’Er Fierce and Rocky Bashova from the Bourne Bombshells, Claudia Faceoff and Betty Knox from the Concrete Cows, amongst others) lie towards what must have been the severest end of Ignius’ chart, being a Pompeii lava hued red in colour, and no-one’s looking much below a two ladles of ointment level, so it’s been a tough battle. Don’t go looking for a copy of this Roman sunburn chart in WH Smith, by the way, as you’ll be out of luck. Partly because, although referenced in later writings, the chart itself is lost in the mists of time. Partly because, if you happen to be in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire (as we are) on a Sunday (as we are) you’ll find that WH Smith is closed. As is Boots, and indeed the entire Brunel Shopping Centre. Call us self-entitled townies if you like, but we can’t remember the last time we encountered a WH Smith that closed all day Sunday. Even the ones on tiny uninhabited islands open for a few hours in the morning, don’t they? Either way, the good people of Bletchley take this state of affairs in their stride. Asking a passing local where we might go to buy a newspaper, he looks at us like we’re mad. “A paper? It’s Sunday, mate.”

Suddenly it makes sense that there are so many roller derby leagues in this part of the world. Enough, indeed, to have set up the UK’s first meaningful year-long tournament. The Heartland Series is now in its third year, including a first under a different name. These towns that the Series grew out of seem almost saturated in derby. Let’s do the maths. The whole of Greater London contains at the last count four senior derby leagues (including a male one that’s largely based outside London anyway), whereas this ‘Heart of England area’ – with less than half of London’s population – contains around twenty women’s leagues, plus a bunch of merby sides too. Towns like Northampton, Bedford, Hertford and here in Milton Keynes are each home to two senior women’s leagues, and some places have three. Heck, it goes to figure. After all, if there’s nowhere to buy a paper on a Sunday, what the hell else are you gonna do but skate?

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Even the local Mayor has been driven by the lack of comment pieces to read (or crosswords to complete) to attend today’s double header. Disappointingly, he’s not on skates, but he does do the honours of blowing first whistle for the day’s opening match. Divisional favourites Big Bucks High Rollers in green are up against the navy blue clad Norfolk Brawds. Although the latter actually top the table on points going into this contest – these being the two winning sides from the first South East region matchday – the Wycombe side are keen to reassert their ‘top seed’ status, and they score 27 without reply over the first three jams. The strong El E Copped Her, pacey Agent Sparling and fleet-footed Miss Pain Maple prove a particular handful for the Brawds blockers when starred up for Big Bucks. Defensively, it’s a slow paced positional battle, with the East Anglian jammers struggling to break through the Wycombe walls.

Colletteral Damage looks the Brawds’ biggest jamming threat, and the Norfolk league are putting a few points on the board now, but the green machine is very much in control. The harder skating style of the Wycombe league is having an impact on the turn two track tape too. Located in front of the Big Bucks bench, the punishment it takes during line-up swaps is the source of much fraying, wire showing and several reparatory official timeouts. As the first period comes to an end, its 91-25 scoreline eminently bridgeable – if Norfolk can just get their jammers out quicker in the second half – one wonders what kind of tactical track tape the Brawds bench have to hand. Something to repair the frays Big Bucks have caused to their gameplan?

With no alcohol on offer in the leisure centre, and the nearest pub – possibly the only pub, if they’re anything like Sunday newspapers round here – six minutes walk away, we resort to wandering the centre’s corridors. During the course of this, we discover what looks like a brilliant new sport. There’s a table tennis table in the middle of a squash court. Table squash? Brilliant! What sort of ball is used? What different tactics are in play for when it bounces from table to wall and back again? We ask a passing member of staff, who looks at us like we’re mad. “We just store the table there. It’s Sunday, mate.” Back on track, it’s business as usual for the team in green. Sparling, Liddy Savage, Lolly Chunders, Rucking Hostile, Toxic Tinkerbell and others are keeping the Norfolk jammers pegged back, the two-walls of this strong and physically commanding Wycombe side often proving as effective as a three or four-wall. A-Cute Injury bustles through in the star to add to the green machine’s points total, as Big Bucks seek to put behind them the surprisingly small margin by which they edged past Hell’s Belles in the last round (223-211) and start racking up differentials more worthy of the Division’s highest ranked team.

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Largely sailing into the wind throughout, Norfolk’s jammers are nonetheless pulling hard and tacking points here and there. There are some valiant starclad showings from players like Philthy Delphia, Penny Slain and Yours Truly. The last-named has been carving out a sideline as a derby announcer (we caught her debut in that role in a greenhouse 40 miles North of here last summer) and is now widely known for sporting the most flamboyant hairpieces in UK derby; sadly this skill is not displayable where a helmet is required. Philthy, meanwhile, is also proving an important part of many Brawds packs, saddling up alongside Cruel Runnings, NoTorious, Teki Bomb, Slammin Siren and others to try and hold back the green wave. It’s a battling performance from the East Anglians. Ultimately, though, the High Rollers (playing in their own county, albeit at the opposite end of it) are good value for the 100-odd places above Norfolk they stand in the European rankings, and they extend their lead to a final score of 213-46.

Whilst this is a setback for the battling Brawds, it’s also a shot across the bows for the Bedfordshire side the Norwich fleet defeated 234-111 in their previous South East Division outing. What potential differential might that side face when they line up against Big Bucks in July, and how can they best prepare? The Bedford crew may not be taking part today, but they’re surely watching; some in person, some on Twitter, some when updated at their next training session by those in the former categories. This is the Heartland Series, after all, and almost everyone involved in it is watching out for upcoming opponents and other team’s results, even though most will pretend they aren’t. This year sees the most ambitious Heartland Series to date. Indeed, the most ambitious multi-location tournament in UK derby history. There are 24 teams separated over four divisions, and 22 of those have already played a match in this year’s Series. Several have already played twice.

Today’s hometowners Milton Keynes Concrete Cows and opponents Bourne Bombshells are the final leagues making their 2014 Series debut. That’s where the similarities end, though, as MK were heavily involved in setting this tournament up, won it in its first year (when it was called the End of the World Series) and remain at the heart of the Heartland organisation. For the Bombshells, this is their very first appearance in the tournament. Whilst most of the other leagues taking part know each other well – and not just from Heartland – this is a world of new for the Sussex squad. A quick glance at the map goes a long way towards explaining why. Although this is the South East Division, that compass point is largely in terms of the Midlands. The Bombshells are the only team from South of the Thames taking part in this group, and whilst Norfolk are equally removed geographically, the other four sides are near neighbours. In many ways, this whole Heartland experience could be a (very useful) baptism of fire for the Eastbourne league, and that’s certainly the case with today’s match-up.

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The opening jam – Terrorizinya lining up against Bullet Bomber in the star – is taken 15-0 by MK, with the Bombshells at one point having a full sin bin and a sense of relief that this is the first Heartland matchday played under the 30 second penalties rule. This is a sign of things to come, as a series of insanely well marshalled MK packs (their solidity worthy of the Concrete in the team name) keep the Sussex jammers pegged back. The Cows starheads have time for a pass or two before their opposite number breaks through and forces the call. A pattern is being set, and in what feels like no time MK are 48-2 up with the Sussex points both being last gasp singles on the whistle. A few jams later the Bombshells bench coach, Sassy McAwesome, calls a team timeout. Opposite number OzymAndyAs, possibly the calmest and certainly the most sensibly dressed bench manager in the whole of UK derby, can afford a wry smile. Milton Keynes are very much in control here.

Generally speaking, this game is being played at a somewhat faster pace than the previous one. Whether that’s through Eastbourne looking to disrupt the MK packs to give their speedy jammers more of a chance to break through, or the Cows being happy to adapt to any pace if it means the Bombshells tiring earlier, who knows? Certainly, the home side are often happy to let lone blockers such as The Valkyrie (super quick of both foot and mind) keep the Sussex starhead pegged back as the rest of the pack bridge or aid their jammer. It takes the aforementioned being sent to the box, with Bombshells jammer Drag ‘N’ Fly drawing the penalty, for the Sussex league to get some better points on the board. The juking runs of DNF look Eastbourne’s best hope of scoring in general, as even their most physical jammers Toxic Block Syndrome and Smash’Er Fierce are getting little change from the local defence force.

The team in purple and leopard skin are also proving no strangers to the penalty box, and a series of power jams – on top of picking up lead jammer status 80% of the time – sees the Cows stretch their lead still further. The wheels are coming off for Eastbourne; quite literally, as one of Dreaded Shortcake’s decides to head off on its own, and she sits out the rest of the jam on the inner track to re-attach it to her skate/foot. The pounding that the pace and physicality of this match is taking on players’ equipment claims an even bigger scalp a few jams later as one of Chunder Woman’s skates explodes. OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but the boot and plate are having a trial separation and it looks serious. It will take half an hour of kind help from Swift Customs (the skate store run by local men’s teamer Swiftyfool) and a bag of bits to get them back on speaking terms.

MKR5

As Chunder’s skate undergoes major surgery, we take a half time stroll around the hall. As is usually the way in derby crowds, roughly 5% of those present are on crutches, with another 10% bandaged in some way (Bombshell Beast Unleashed forming part of the latter, still cheerily waving from the crowd when her name was announced as part of the skate out). As is also often the way in derby crowds, roughly 0.4% of those present are Team England men’s skater and off-duty High Rollers ref Sutton Impact, bedecked in more sponsored clothing than the average F1 racing driver. We’ve long since stopped keeping track of the scoreline in our notebook, by the way, but the screen in the corner tells us MK are winning 156-37. I guess if you’re gonna make your debut in the Heartland Series (the closest thing to a national league in the UK) you might as well make it as hard as possible by (a) being away, (b) being away to the guys who invented the Series and won it the first year, and (c) having several of your key players’ skates shed parts mid-jam!

The Bombshells have battled damn hard, and will continue to do so in the second period. The Philosofear, Smash’Er, Toxic and others working overtime in the Sussex pack – giving as good as they get when the hard hits come flying – with the starclad likes of Hell Block H, Chunder, Bullet and DNF battling for every track inch they can eek out of the steely mean Concrete Cow defence. Still, despite the Eastbourners’ best efforts, MK will come out head and (Pompeii lava red) shoulders above in almost all respects on the day. Their blockers, particularly the fearsome Betty Knox, hard hitting Bolshevik and fast moving Valkyrie are an immovable force. Their jamming roster, including uncontainable Magic Beanz, flighty fighty Huni Basher and just back from long term injury Nucky Studs, are an irresistible force. The Cows are awesome, but of course MK got to where they are by being on the opposite end of results/days like this. Indeed, their most recent outing – a 304-72 reverse at home to Croydon – is a case in point, and the one they’re responding to here. Often you learn more from losing (and how you come back from that in your next match and beyond) than you do from winning. Or, as more eloquently put by some philosophy dude: “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

The second half goes much the way of the first, although the points hauls are lower on both sides. The MK jammers prove resistant to most of the hits thrown at them, although a few solid blows from Smash’Er in particular take ’em down. A very long official review (called for by The Valkyrie) confirms a jam’s end star pass from Philosofear to DNF was in fact legal, and gives the crowd a four minute ‘singing and swinging along to the music’ break. Whilst Bullet is finding it tough to break through the MK packs, especially where Knox is involved, she’s so fast when through that she forces a number of early calls from her opposite numbers. Philosofear picks up a good PJ-assisted 15-pointer as Bullet holds up and Smash’Er fells penalty box releasee Valkyrie. Ultimately though, Terrorizinya, Huni, Beanz and Nucky rack up the points to lengthen MK’s lead and take the differential over 200 on the final jam. The match ends 265-59 to the home team.

MKR6

We dropped by the after party venue earlier in the day, where we were excited to see signs everywhere advertising two Jägerbombs for a fiver, then slightly less excited to be told: “We don’t have any Jägermeister, we haven’t had any for weeks”. Less an offer, then, more of a taunt. This slightly odd venue, with huge windows proudly overlooking a roundabout, fills up after the event – although, as it’s a school night and two of today’s teams hail from over 100 miles away, few but the hometown side and a smattering of Big Bucks will stay for long. The home side give The Philosofear the Best Blocker award, with Bullet Bomber picking up Best Jammer and Smash’Er Fierce as MVP. Chunder Woman’s skate plate traumas merit a special Triumph Through Adversity certificate, and Toxic is given a Leader of the Pack title that she presumes is code for ‘Loudest Shouter’. The Eastbourne league vote Magic Beanz the best opposing jammer, Betty Knox best blocker and The Valkyrie MVP, with their special certificates going to Bolshevik (for Sportsmanship) and Big Bucks’ Miss Pain as Fairy Skate Mother. The High Rollers’ own Blocker, Jammer and MVP winners are Lolly Chunders, Agent Sparling and Toxic Tinkerbell, with NoTorious, Philthy Delphia and Teki Bomb picking up the respective awards for Norfolk.

Over on platform four of Bletchley station, our wait for one of the rare trains that stop here late of an evening feels somewhat longer due to all the fast ones racing through. This is of course the West Coast Main Line (the UK’s most important intercity route) and every couple of minutes a train rattles through in too much of a hurry to think about stopping here. To keep ourselves entertained we replace a few of the words in the tannoy announcement that precedes each of these platform-rattling passthroughs, drunkenly imagining it to be some kind of commentary on today’s matches: “Stand well back from the platform edge inside line at platform turn two, the approaching train jammer does not stop here.”

Two of today’s teams are back in action on Saturday 7th June when the mighty Bourne Bombshells host the next Heartland Series South East Division double header at the Dolphin in Haywards Heath. Milton Keynes will be taking on Bedfordshire Rollergirls, and the Bombshells face Hertfordshire’s Hell’s Belles. Doors are at 2pm and tickets are on sale now at £8 each for adults (free for under 12s) or six for £40. The Bombshells have a lot to work on in response to their opening match of the campaign, and with two months to do it in they’ll be coming out tougher and stronger than ever… be scared Hell’s Belles, be very scared. MK Cows, meanwhile, will be hunting the win over Beds that would see them take over top spot in the table from Big Bucks. With three of these four leagues still looking for their first win in the 2014 Heartland Series, and a load more matches to come between now and November’s play-off finals, there’s everything to play for and a thrilling afternoon of roller derby for Sussex to look forward to. Go buy all the tickets now, yeah.

[MK Cows v Bombshells photos by John Hesse. Big Bucks v Brawds photos by Pete Florey of MDP Images]

LINKS
JUNE 7TH TICKETS: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/heartlands-south-east-division-bout-day-3-tickets-11368648935
JUNE 7TH FB EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/536554199787495/
HEARTLAND SERIES: http://www.heartlandseries.co.uk/
BOURNE BOMBSHELLS: http://www.bournebombshells.co.uk/
MK ROLLER DERBY: http://www.miltonkeynesrollerderby.com/
BIG BUCKS HIGH ROLLERS: http://www.bigbuckshighrollers.co.uk/
NORFOLK BRAWDS: http://www.norfolkbrawds.com/
HELL’S BELLES ROLLER GIRLS: http://www.hertsrd.co.uk/
BEDFORDSHIRE ROLLERGIRLS: http://www.bedfordshirerollergirls.com/