A NEW season got off to a rocking start for Glasgow Roller Derby on Saturday as their top team took on friends and rivals from the Auld Reekie Roller Girls from Edinburgh.
The two leagues’ A-teams lined up for a bruising, all-action bout which was a rip-roaring advert for a sport which combines athleticism, intelligence, endurance and skill.
The Irn Bruisers flew the flag for the West and the Twisted Thistles represented the East – both of them serving up an engrossing contest which see-sawed thrillingly between the two sides.
For the uninitiated, roller derby is a women-only sport played on a flat oval track. There is one scorer (called a jammer) for each team on track. It is their job to juke their way through the four opposition blockers, fly round the track and start to lap the opposing players.
For every player she overtakes, the jammer scores a point. It is a full-contact sport but there are strict rules. You can’t elbow or hit anyone with a forearm, knee, kick or shove an opponent, or plough full tilt into someone’s back – if you do, you’re packed off to the sin bin.
However, you can use your shoulders, hips and upper body to force your way through or knock someone off track.
Games are played in short bursts of high-octane action – called jams. Each team has up to 14 players, but only five can play at one time – one jammer, four blockers.
The stop-start nature of the sport means the players need to blend endurance, balance, skill and toughness – physical and mental. It’s 0-60mph in the blink of an eye, with skaters often playing offence and defence at the same time.
The result is an exciting but strength-sapping shift for the players and a thrilling watch for the crowd.
The ARC Sportscentre in Glasgow was packed with fans of both teams on Saturday in a game which finally went Auld Reekie’s way after an action-packed hour of full-on sporting endeavour.
The game started in style after the players were piped on to the court to cheers from the large crowd – made up of supporters of all ages.
Jammer duties for the Irn Bruisers were largely shared between Marshall Lawless, Rogue Runner, Sarah McMillan, Hardcore Prawn and Megan Hyndman.
Within two jams, the Thistles were 14 points to the good, but the Bruisers came roaring back in jam three, with Lawless brilliantly weaving her way through the crowd and scoring 12 points.
Jam four saw Rogue skate her way to another four points – giving the Bruisers a narrow 16-14 lead.
Both teams were showing remarkable skill – it’s genuinely breathtaking to see a skater slide through a throng of players while negotiating a corner, often balancing on just one skate.
But it’s a team sport and you have to admire the amount of work that the blockers need to put in to give their jammer the chance to score. Maulin Rouge was managing the bench brilliantly with Haberbashery on line-up – deciding who to bring on at the right time, mixing up the personnel to keep the attacks fresh.
The Bruisers’ pack were working overtime trying to keep a lively Thistles team back, with Chemikill Hazard and The Very Hungry Splatterkiller marshalling the troops superbly – ready to turn defence into offence in a split-second.
Sarah McMillan sported the jammer’s star in round five as the Bruisers consolidated their lead, making it 18-15. Lawless duly took up the baton in jam six – adding another four to take the score to 22-15.
The Bruisers were in full flow – leaving the Reekie rollers reeling, but derby can change in the blink of an eye, one of a myriad of reasons why it’s so thrilling to watch.
Sure enough in jam seven, Admiral Attackbar – outstanding for the Thistles – ghosted through the pack to score a super seven, putting Auld Reekie in front 24-22.
McMillan stepped up in jam eight and brought the Bruisers make into the lead with a fab four – 26-24 and very much game on.
It was nip and tuck, with the game on a knife edge – as finely balanced as the skaters taking a corner at full speed.
Cometh jam nine and cometh the Marshall – spinning her way brilliantly through a ruck of players and accelerating away. Auld Reekie’s jammer was sin-binned (a Power Jam) and Lawless put the Bruisers in pole position with another 15 points – 41-24.
Jam 10 saw Rogue trying to score, but she was hit with a penalty and the Thistles sought to take advantage. Unfortunately Lilo and Stitches was herself sin-binned before she could make any real in-roads for Auld Reekie and a freshly-released Rogue raced round to add another four for Glasgow – 45-29.
Jam 11 saw McMillan sporting the star and despite taking a hefty fall she was straight back on to her feet – forcing her way through a tough defence to make the score 49-32.
Lawless took on jammer duties in the 12th, exploding out of the pack and speeding round to add another four points for the GRD.
But Auld Reekie came roaring back in jam 13 courtesy of the Admiral – who notched up nine points, including a grand slam (when all five opposition players are passed) - 53-41 in favour of the Bruisers.
The 14th was a power jam, with two Auld Reekie players in the sin bin, and McMillan shot round the track to notch up her own grand slams – adding a superb 13 points, 66-41.
Jam 15 was graced with a sublime piece of skill. With two Bruisers in the sin bin, Lawless used her remaining two blockers brilliantly to weave her way through the pack and add another six points – 72-45.
Megan Hyndman was unable to add to the tally in jam 16, but the team put on enough pressure to limit Auld Reekie to just two points.
The next jam saw the game see-saw again. With two players serving penalties, Glasgow could only watch as the Thistles scored 10 - 72-57 to the GRD.
Auld Reekie racked up the points in the 18th – a Power Jam with the GRD jammer in the sin bin – and Attackbar edged her team into the lead with a mighty 19, making it 76-72 for Edinburgh.
The visitors consolidated their lead in the 19th and 20th jams, making the score 82-72.
However, with half-time looming, Marshall fired Glasgow back into the lead with three thrilling grand slams – making it 87-82 at the break.
It was a chance for the players to ease aching muscles and catch their breath – with the fans also in need of a breather from a pulsating, all-action encounter.
Into the second half and Auld Reekie got rolling with Attackbar in charge of a Power Jam. The Edinburgh side used tactics to call off the jam early – ensuring the second bout began with Glasgow’s jammer still serving time, the Thistles taking a slender 91-87 lead.
Lawless fought her way through the ranks in jam two to bring home four valuable points for Glasgow. Hardcore Prawn took the star for jam three as the Bruisers shuffled the pack, but the Auld Reekie defence held firm – 96-91 for Edinburgh.
McMillan stepped up in jam four to score a fantastic four and cut the lead to one point - 96-95 for Auld Reekie.
It was Rogue vs Attackbar in jam five, but the Edinburgh jammer was in merciless form – scoring four to break the century and make the score 100-95.
Lawless took the star in jam six, scoring two points. Hyndman followed suit in the seventh, breaking out of the pack to bring Glasgow to 99 points.
Jam eight saw Hazard brilliantly holding off Cider – jamming for Edinburgh – and Rogue juked left and right to evade the Auld Reekie defence, putting Glasgow back into the lead – 103-100.
Into the ninth and McMillan was sin-binned, giving Attackbar the floor. After serving her time though, a determined McMillan raced round the track to force Edinburgh to end the jam – 115-103 to the Thistles.
Jam 10 turned the game back Glasgow’s way as indiscipline cost Auld Reekie, with three players warming the penalty bench. Lawless took full advantage – pocketing 25 points and giving the Bruisers a 128-115 lead.
Rogue took the star in jam 11, skating low and fast, snaking her way through the pack to score another nine points.
The 12th saw McMillan packed off to the sin bin and Auld Reekie clawed their way back into the game – 137-130 for the GRD.
Jam 13 saw the long-limbed McMillan stretch her aching muscles to score another four for Glasgow – 141-134 to the girls from the west.
Prawn proved she was no slouch when she weaved through the Auld Reekie defence in jam 14 and hit the turbo switch – notching up nine points as Glasgow hit 150.
The Thistles stung back in jam 15 and 16 as Attackbar racked up the points. Stalwart defending by Hazard, Splat and Mistress Malicious couldn’t keep the capital skater back – 154-150 for Edinburgh.
In jam 17, with just over five minutes left, the Thistles added another four points to take their tally to 158. Jam 18 saw Lawless break out, but the opposition skaters found another gear to up the pace and keep Glasgow from scoring.
It was 161-150 to Auld Reekie as time ticked away. Derby games can hinge on tiny moments of drama – with one jam enough to turn a bout on its head.
Glasgow threw everything they had to try to turn the game their way, but it was ultimately not to be.
Auld Reekie added another 14 points in jams 19 and 20 – leaving Glasgow hoping for a miracle as Edinburgh led 175-155.
Splat took the star for the final tussle and valiantly added eight points for Glasgow, but when she was penalised for cutting in front of an opponent the game was finally over the Bruisers.
The final score was 187-163 for Auld Reekie, but the real winners were the fans lucky enough to see a sporting contest of such a high calibre.
You got the feeling that Glasgow would have muscled their way back into the lead if they had perhaps another five minutes, but it was not to be. They were beaten, but unbowed and the fans gave them a rousing cheer as they soaked up the applause with taut hamstrings and aching muscles.
The sense of community among the skaters, referees, officials and fans is palpable – it genuinely is all inclusive and heartwarming to see.
If you’ve never been to a match, you’re missing out on a unique sport with offers a thrilling mix of brains and brawn, skills and spills.
Glasgow Roller Derby offer a warm welcome to everyone. It’s that family, communal vibe that you remember in the aftermath of a match – that and the amazing exploits of unsung heroes skating their hearts out for the cause.
Check out www.glasgowrollerderby.com and follow the team on Facebook and Twitter.
Glasgow Roller Derby will be in action again on March 30 as they host an inter-league match, featuring their home teams – Bad Omens, Death Stars and Hell’s Belles.
Irn Bruisers team line-up: The Very Hungry Splatterkiller, Rogue Runner, Chemikill Hazard, Lucky Hateball, Megan Hyndman, Becki Menzies, Sarah McMillan, Mistress Malicious, Cara Viola, Hardcore Prawn, Marshall Lawless, Mazzy Chaos and Devil’s Advoskate.