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Roller Derby Teams in Nottingham

23 November 12 words: Penny Reeve

The Hellfire Harlots have just won team of the year at the Nottingham Sports Awards. We have a chat to them and the Nottingham Roller Girls about the sport

Hellfire Harlots

How complicated is Roller Derby as a game?
The basic rules are quite simple, but there are all the additional bits like the penalties and jams - it’s very tactical.

It appears to be a very female-orientated sport. Why's that?
We don’t think the game would be the same if it wasn’t female-orientated. When the resurgence happened in 2001 in Texas, it was all about empowerment and girls skating in fishnets and little skirts smashing into each other. Other girls looked at it and thought “We can do that” and it spread. Women enjoy it because it’s fun and you don’t have to be thin, ultra-fit, strong or tall or bendy to do it. There’s been a bit of resistance to guys getting involved, to be honest, because the girls feel quite protective towards Roller Derby. It’s the only full-contact sport that was created by women for women.

Is it as dangerous as it looks?
It’s no different to any other full contact sport; injuries-wise, football seems to be worse. It’s just perceived as such because we’re on skates and we’re going pretty fast.

You’ve got some brilliant monikers as players. Do you all take on a persona when you go out there?
Yes. But now that it’s becoming a more serious sport, people are starting to buck the trend and play under their real names. We like the theatrical side of it, though.

Should Roller Derby be in the Olympics some day?
There’s already an England team - one of our players,  El Vicious, plays for them. The Olympic debate is great; it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Do you think roller derby in the UK is getting the attention it deserves?
It's hard. We don’t really have a sports culture over here, whereas America take even college leagues really seriously over there, as do Australia. The derby players over there get five to six thousand people per match, whereas the biggest London team can only get two thousand maximum. We’re more like the four hundred to five hundred range. That’s not to say that we’re not seeing a change already though; we get people who come once and then invite all of their friends, and it snowballs from there.

How are you increasing awareness of Roller Derby?
We always try to promote ourselves around Nottingham. The Sports Trust recently had a big open day that we got involved with, and out of 5,000 events we were one of the twelve chosen to be visited by Sharon Davies, John Inverdale and David Moorcroft. We’ve also had Roller nights, with bands and stalls. Getting people to take interest can be hard, but when people realise that it’s a serious sport - and a fun one - they get really interested.

Are you still looking for new recruits?
We’re happy to take anyone and teach them to skate, but to be able to progress so that you can play, you do need a certain skill set.

And why should people come out and watch you?
Because it’s amazing. Roller derby is like nothing you’ve ever seen, it’s just great to watch -even my grandparents love it. Once you’ve been, you’ll want to come back again and again.

Hellfire Harlots website 

Nottingham Roller Girls

So, how do you even score in this game?
You play in two minute ‘jams’, and each team consists of a ‘jammer’ and four ‘blockers’. The jammers are the point scorers and race against each other through the pack and around the track. The blockers do all they can to help their jammer through, and stop the other team’s jammer. Each ‘bout’ lasts an hour. It’s a whole load of smashy-bashy fun, with a generous side portion of tactics, and we love it.

Is it girls-only?
It used to be but it feels more unisex now that we have the Super Smash Brollers in Nottingham, who just took part in the European championships.

Do you think there are misconceptions about the sport?
We often get “How is the roller balling?” or “Did you have fun at the roller disco?” There is a perception of it being violent, and to an extent we do play up to that, but it’s not actually that violent. There’s no recklessness, just a bit of argy-bargy, as it’s a tactile game. You do need a bit of fire in you, but in a good, positive way. It’s all hugs and cuddles at the end.

What do you think about the debate of roller derby becoming an Olympic sport?
We’re all for it. The Womens Flat Track Derby Association are accepting a lot of European teams at the moment, which hopefully will mean that we’ll have more teams from different countries to play. We’re relatively new to the game, but one of the great things about playing different levels is you learn and improve really quickly.

It's one of the fastest-growing sports in the UK right now. Why's that?
There’s a bit of a niche for it, the alternative thing. Even if you’re not sporty you see a match and want to have a go because it looks fun. There’s also this whole scene around Roller Derby and it’s very social. There’s nothing else like it.

Do you think it's getting the attention here it deserves?
People don’t watch it like they do in America; it’s showy, and there’s beer and chips and it’s in big old warehouses. Over there they have fans that don’t skate, while over here people come because they skate. We can’t even book the Ice Arena. People worry our skates will damage their floors, but we are very careful not to cause any trouble.

Did the recent film Whip It give the sport a boost?
It inspired a lot of people, even though it’s super-cheesy. It’s great that there’s a film out there about it. There are also a few really good documentaries, like Derby Baby and Hell On Wheels, which are fascinating.

Is there much rivalry between the teams?
There's a friendly rivalry; we all want to play each other and win and be the best, but having said that, the sisterhood is stronger than that. We watch each other play and train together.

Is being a fast skater the be-all and end-all?
Not at all. Being able to play a game on skates is a whole skill-set that requires strength and agility. You might be the best skater in the world, but unless you can understand the rules of the game you’ll find it tricky. We also require a certain level of commitment too.

Why should people check out a Roller Derby bout?
There are so many levels to it; no matter how much of the game you understand, you’ll still get something out of it and you’ll still get excited. On a base level it’s an entertaining sport, it doesn’t last forever, and there’s often a bar.

Nottingham Roller Girls website

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