A pulsating afternoon of sport on eight wheels with one of Cambridge’s best-kept sporting secrets – a women’s sports club we in Cambridge could be giving far greater support to
I’d never been to a roller derby match before – despite having childhood friends being passionate skaters. I’ve still got a pair of rollerblades in my room gathering dust somewhere. Watching the Romsey Rollerbillies (they are here) and their opponents gliding round the room made me want to get my skates on again. (Problem is where to go in Cambridge – something I’ll come back to). Have a look at this short clip I filmed.
The skater to keep an eye on is Suffolk’s No22 wearing pink and white, with the nom de sport ‘Miss Behave’. Each of the participants in the sport adopts such a persona with the name emblazoned on the back of their shirts. If you’re wondering what the rules are, they are here.
‘We’re playful, but don’t mess with us!’
That was a theme that resonated throughout the afternoon. These women are hard as steel. Given the bumps and bruises you get from this sport – and the ease and speed they got up soon after falling over had me in awe. Not least because when I’ve fallen over on rollerblades, it has hurt. Badly! This is not a sport for premier league footballers. Also, everything at the end was good-natured, despite the very physical nature of the competition.
What struck me about the matches was how the skaters could move with the ease and grace of a ballerina across the floor, then instantaneously switch into a different mindset and crash through a wall of opponents trying to impede them. The much-needed padding on wrists, elbows and knees, along with the accessorising of clothing and sporting war-paint made you take notice.
It took time for me to get a feel for what was going on, but once I had picked up the individual on each side their opponents were trying to stop, it began to make sense. With the more experienced teams playing second, the difference in organisation and co-ordination was marked. The officiating was done as with other sports through whistles and sign language – the latter being much more clear and explicit than what you see in football. Something to learn from?
Game 1: Cambridge Rollerbillies vs Granite City Roller Girls (Aberdeen)
All of the women were competent on their skates. The similarity I found with dancing is that body shape and physique didn’t seem to be a determining factor as to how good an individual was. As this was my first match watching, I didn’t really know what to look out for, so the 398-89 win for Cambridge didn’t feel to me as a new viewer to be one that I could easily say: ‘Yeah – they played their opponents off the park’. The other thing I struggled to spot were the judgement calls on sin-bin penalties. One minute a skater would be gliding around the hall, the next they’d be in the sin bin. Hence homework for my next match is to learn the referees’ signals. (There are several referees – all on wheels). Here’s a clip from the match.
Game 2: Cambridge Blockabillies vs Suffolk Roller Derby
Suffolk came out for the warm up on a mission. Their outfits, their body language, their warm ups and facial expressions demonstrated this. But then so did Cambridge. You got the sense that this was going to be a clash between two well-drilled sides. And it was. When skaters were inevitably sent to the sin bin, the side with the numerical advantage were ruthless in exploiting it. When you have over half your team in the sin bin, two vs five – even for 30 seconds feels like much much longer.
The variety of moves the jammers (the one player on each side that tries to score points by passing their opponents) used was noticeably greater than in the previous game. The same went for the defences/blockers too. I’ve never seen so many people so nimble on pairs of rollerskates. You anticipate a jammer who has built up speed will plough into a wall of blockers, but just as they are about to, they turn 90 degrees ‘Cruyff-turn-style’ and completely outwit four opponents before heading on their way – with four points in the bag.
Learning to be ‘as one’ with the camcorder
This was probably the most enjoyable filming session I’ve ever had with this camcorder – one where I’ve got some footage that is the result of conscious continuous decisions I was taking as I filmed rather than relying on the technology to do the leg work. In the first videoclip above, the part between 0m30s and 0m40s is the bit where I tracked the subject (i.e. ‘Miss Behave’) moving the camera while zooming in and out as she skated towards then away from the camera.
This was where I did most of my filming from during the two matches. This is a panorama taken from my cameraphone. The crowd are to the right, the scoreboard, commentators and first aiders are on my side. The track is denoted by the yellow-and-black tape you can just make out in the foreground. That said, we were rightly warned to stay out of the way lest we got clobbered. Fortunately none of us did – we heeded their advice.
Romsey Rollerbillies need our help
“August 2010: the Rollerbillies become the first league in the UK to have their own venue, a beautiful warehouse nicknamed The Spandex Palace. In 2012 the warehouse was demolished, and the Rollerbillies now use practice venues in and around Cambridge“
What is it with Cambridge demolishing, leaving vacant or underusing buildings that could be used by so many community groups?
The announcers made appeals for sponsorship and support. Cambridge Womens Football Club have made the same. The ground they used to play at is no longer available, so they are having to play in Ely – over 10 miles up the road and on the other side of a completely different city. Women of Cambridge deserve so much better. If you are interested in joining or sponsoring either of the above teams, see Romsey Rollerbillies here, and Cambridge Women’s Football Club here.
And if you’re interested in improving the choice of sports and activities in Cambridge, and the sustainability of clubs that offer them…
Join us at Anglia Ruskin University for Be the change – Cambridge on Saturday 13 September – see http://bethechangecambridge.org.uk/?page_id=83 for more details