Hellfire Harlots vs. Liverpool Roller Birds - pic: Sakura Zilla
First things first: what are the rules?
JC: The rules are complicated - we have to sit a written exam before we can compete - but the basics of roller derby are this: It’s played on an oval flat track. A bout (match) lasts an hour and is divided up into two-minute ‘jams’. Two teams of 14 compete, but only five players from each team can be in play at any given time. Each player has a specified role. There are four ‘blockers’ from each team, which together make up a pack of eight. 30 feet behind the pack is the jammer line. At the start of a jam, this is where you will find the ‘jammers’. There is one jammer per team, and they can be recognised by a star on their helmet.
So far, so good. What about when it gets going?
When the first whistle blows the pack of eight starts to move forward. When all blockers are past a certain line, a second whistle blows and the fun begins. The two jammers race toward the pack and try to get past the blockers from the opposing team in order to score points. A maximum five points (one for each opponent they pass) can be scored in each pass. Once they are through the pack, they whizz round the track and try to score as many points as possible by repeatedly getting through the pack. The ‘lead jammer’ is the one who gets through the pack first, and she has the advantage of being able to call off the jam to prevent the opposing jammer from scoring more points.
So, the jammers are like the Queen bee, in a way… What about the blockers?
They have an equally important job. The blockers help their jammer get through the pack as fast as possible, whilst at the same time preventing the opposing jammer from getting through the pack and scoring points. They do this by blocking, hitting, nudging, or moving opposing blockers out of the way, or stopping the opposing jammer from passing. There are lots of techniques that blockers can employ to help their jammer get through the pack – there are so many, anyone who’s interested should come and see our next bout. After 2 minutes, or when the lead jammer calls off the jam, there is a 30 second break while the next line-up of blockers and jammers assemble on the track, and the officials tally up the points, and then it all starts over again!
Is it actually a sport?
Yes! Roller derby is a fast-paced, full-contact sport that is recognised as such by Sport England under the British Roller Sports Federation national governing body. It even has its own World Cup. One of our skaters, ‘El Visious,’ has been selected to represent Team England at this year’s tournament, which will be held in Toronto in December. It originated in the states during the 1920s and, after something of a lull, is now undergoing a revival, with over 1000 Women’s Leagues in 36 countries.
What is the reality-versus-stereotype (from the movies) equation?
The stereotype is one of pretty, tattooed girls wearing hot pants and tight tops skating around a track hitting each other. The reality is that we’re athletes who train hard and play hard. We follow the rules set out by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), and each player is expected to pass a practical Minimum Skills Test and a written Rules Test to ensure they understand the rules properly and are safe to skate in such a full-contact sport.
So it’s not just a simple case of looking good in hotpants. Hollywood has been lying to us!
JC: Everyone looks good in hotpants! But really, no. You don’t have to wear hotpants. It’s optional.
FF: We have women from a size 6 to a size 20 and everyone can wear hotpants if they want. The important thing is that Roller Derby gives you the confidence to wear them regardless of your size because all body types are celebrated. Big bottoms are certainly an asset in roller derby, just as being small, light and nippy is equally as useful.
What are the Hellfire Harlots all about?
FF: We are about having fun, promoting roller derby and above all else we are a community. We bring an exciting extreme sport to women who never dreamt they could become athletes. From women who figure skated as children, to housewives who have never done any sport outside of school, we offer something to everyone. We are also highly competitive and we train hard to win! We are all passionate, dedicated and probably slightly barmy…
Who do you compete against? Where and how often?
We hosted our first home bout at Nottingham Trent University’s Clifton Campus in June this year against Hot Wheel Roller Derby from Yorkshire, winning with 114 point to Hot Wheels 101. Last month we had an away bout against Liverpool Roller Birds, winning 150 – 51. Our next bout is on the 29 October against Wakey Wheeled Cats Roller Derby in Huddersfield.
What competition are you in?
There is currently no official league table to allow us to rank ourselves as yet, but we have hope that one will appear in the near future.
What are the top moves?
JC:If you’ve seen the film Whip It then you’ll know that whips can be quite useful for helping your team members gain speed and get to the front of the pack. Blocks (‘hitting,’ nudging and/or moving opposing players) are also really important for getting the opposing players out of yours or your jammer’s way, or to prevent the opposing jammer getting past you. This doesn’t involve punching people in the face (or anywhere else) and definitely no elbows. We can only use certain parts of our body to block and there are legal zones on the opposing players’ body which we can hit.
Joannasaurus in action - photo Andrew McHardy
Will there be blood?
FF: This is unlikely...
JC: You’re more likely to come away with just a few bruises. Broken bones and torn ligaments are not uncommon though. We take the risk because the thrill is worth it.
Has it garnered any TV coverage?
FF: Various local news stations have done small segments on teams around the country. London have had the most success, for obvious reasons. There is currently a petition on the internet to get the World Cup broadcast on Sky Sports, so fingers crossed!
What have you been up to recently?
JC:In August, 15 Harlots went to Chichester to take part in the Goodwood Roller Marathon alongside 1300 other skaters. We completed the full 26.63 miles on roller skates. We did this to raise money for the NSPCC and have so far raised over £700 for the charity, with donations still coming in! Everyone put in a massive effort and, despite the blazing sunshine, the blisters, and even the odd tumble, team members finished the race in excellent times varying between 2-and-a-half and 4 hours. As mentioned before, we’ve also been training hard for our bouts putting in up to 4 training sessions a week! This has been successful given we have won our last 2 bouts and hope to do the same in our upcoming one against the Wakey Wheeled Cats on 29 October.
Any plans for a demo around Market Square to raise profile?
FF: We definitely haven’t ruled it out, but you do have to have a flyering licence to distribute literature in town which can be quite expensive. It’s definitely one for the future! We are running local events though. Our next one is a gig at the Navigation on Friday 21 October, including local bands such as Freaky Riverstyxx, Sarah Knight & The Blue Stones and Just James: a delicious pick-and-mix sweetshop and roller girls!
How do you get involved – either to participate or spectate? What gear do you need?
JC: We usually run recruitment drives every couple of months. Our next one starts in November. Check out our Facebook page for details. Anyone can join, whether they’ve skated before or not. And we hire kit out so you can ‘try before you buy’. Once you decide to become a member you have to purchase your own protective equipment including helmet, mouth guard, elbow pads and knee pads, as well as skates. It can be quite expensive but you can pick up beginner starter kits for around £150.
FF: If you don’t feel up for skating, you can get involved by becoming a non-skating official (NSO). NSO’s make sure everything runs smoothly off the track from keeping track of scoring, to running the penalty box. If you want to watch us, just go to our website and keep an eye out for our latest events. We are also on Facebook and Twitter too, so there are plenty of ways to keep up with the Harlots!
A night of bands presented by your favourite roller girls at takes place at The Navigation on Friday 21 October 2011.