Sometimes it’s girl-on-girl. Sometimes it’s boy-on-boy. Sometimes both men and women are involved together, all performing under some sort of alias or alter-ego. There are magazines, websites and streaming services of varying qualities available for your perusal. It becomes a fascination which leaves me poring over a computer screen for hours at a time. I feel like a 13 year old again. Only this time the search terms are a little different. We’re not talking about the sex industry here, but one of the world’s fastest growing sports – roller derby.
What I’m trying to do here is open people’s eyes and challenge their perception of something that is rapidly becoming an industry with a huge following. I’ll get to what I mean quite quickly. Whilst trying to drum up support for an upcoming Nottingham Roller Derby event I approached a family member and suggested she bring the kids. “Ooh no, I couldn’t be seen at an event like that. All those girls in their tarty hot pants. Eugh.” A roller derby game is hardly a swingers club or an attempt to better the Houston 620, yet somehow has a sexualized image. Last time I went to an open game there was face painting, a cake stall, a raffle and a couple of tables selling club merchandise. As far as I’m aware, nobody had contacted Ann Summers and asked them to join us and sell their ‘special’ range. It’s solid family entertainment with a great atmosphere. Truth is, the girls mostly wear sports leggings anyway.
As a club we were recruiting for new members recently, and remembering a conversation with a colleague where she lamented about not enjoying the gym, I suggested she join the mailing list and consider our beginners program. “Nope. I can’t do that. That’s not a sport for well-adjusted individuals is it?” Not well adjusted? We’re talking about teachers, bus drivers, tax inspectors, engineers and plenty of other types of career choices. Funny thing is, I expected she would have fit in quite well.
The only reason we aren’t necessarily well adjusted is because of the effort put in to developing both ourselves personally and NRD as a whole. Nottingham Roller Derby is a club which is run, governed, funded, founded, maintained and grown purely by its members, and to be fair this is to be applauded.
I’ve been involved in growing a sport before now and I’ve seen the blood, sweat and tears that will be regularly produced. Roller derby isn’t a commercial product. There’s no team of stage hands or set-up crew. The guy you saw lining up and unfolding all the chairs or laying the sticky tape used to mark the track – chances are that he or she will be a participant in the game. In addition to this there’s a likelihood that they’ve also contributed to the cost of that day’s event.
These guys and girls then find time to train both for themselves and as a part of the team 3-4 times per week. Probably twice as a skater and then personal exercise as well – gym, cycling, running and the like. Roller derby requires a blend of strength, stamina and well-rehearsed technique. I like to think of it as grace under pressure. Each of the skaters (and referees) on track have had to earn their stripes by completing the minimum skills training (often referred to as ‘fresh meat’) made up of technical manoeuvres, endurance and knowledge of the rules.
There are no prima donnas here who only turn up to earn obscene amounts of cash on a weekly basis. We’re all in it for a sense of pride and personal achievement. There’s no better rush than standing on that start line waiting for the whistle, or scoring that extra point, or making that huge booty check. Hearing the crowd go mad for something you just did is surely among some of the best feelings in the world. The fact that people are prepared to pay their hard earned cash to watch us – the skaters – doing something we love (and to be fair, at times, loathe) is quite literally flattering.
How do we challenge these preconceptions? Surely the only way to break this taboo is to invite the sceptics along for a look or a go or to even help out. A recurring theme is that “I got into derby purely by accident”. Many of us – myself included – got pulled to an event and instantly became hooked. I got a text that read something like “hey, me and soandso have just started ‘fresh meat’. Come and have a go”. I’ve been hooked ever since. I’m convinced that once someone has seen and experienced roller derby in any capacity they will be back for more, regardless of their preconceptions. Come along to a game and have a chat. Talk to people. Ask what’s happening on the track. And then join us for a drink at the after party.