Us Cardiff Roller Collective lot enjoy spending time together so much we don’t just spend many hours together every week at training or tactics talks, we also like going away on holiday together. Following an ‘interesting’ weekend spent at Butlins, we weren’t sure if we would be allowed to travel in a group again but we had a fixture against Belfast Roller Derby’s Banshees in the calendar and so it was time to pack up our pads and fly to Belfast for BelFast and Furious.
The big concerns ahead of the bout revolved around if it was safe to put pads in hand luggage (would the stink make all the other passengers unconcious?) and which colour shiny pants to pack. Those weren’t my concerns, as i don’t wear shiny pants and my kitbag is so big it was never going to fit in an overhead locker. I was mainly looking forward to hitting people and drinking beer, two of the main reasons I took up roller derby!
Our adventure began early on Saturday morning with a supposedly quick car journey to Bristol airport. We learned quite a few things on that journey, including that Zombride is not good with maps, all of somerset looks pretty, its a good idea to leave at least two hours for an hour long journey and that Bristol airport has more than one long stay carpark and its best to check which one you are booked into if you only have 20 minutes before check-in closes.
Luckily we are super-fit roller derby goddesses and arrived at the terminal only slightly out of breath from our invigorating ‘jog’, met up with the rest of the team and from here the trip descended into some kind of green glitter madness. It being just a week before St Patrick’s Day, one of the more tacky shops in the airport had a fetching range of Irish themed accessories and we felt that we should purchase most of them, including prizes for the bout awards, a wide range of things to stick on ourselves and a range of fetching eyewear.
Giddy with excitement over our purchases, the flight passed quickly and before I knew it we were in Belfast. 20 of us were making the trip – the team and our entourage of derby widows, bench manager and refs, which looked quite impressive and meant we needed a bus to get to the hotel. We had all booked into what seemed to be a decent, clean hotel but every taxi driver we met told us that it was a very dodgy hotel and only a few weeks ago someone had tried to set fire to it.
Several hours of lunch, lounging, rugby watching and napping made sure we (well, I) were mentally ready for the bout. Honest. Not at all mainly full of nerves. It was my first A team bout, as well as my first away bout so I was even more nervous than usual. My usual mental state at bouts follows this process:
Week before bout – why do i have to bout? I want to just train and never have to play!
Day of bout – I feel sick, I hate this, I am going to play rubbish, I NEVER want to bout again
Lining up for first jam – I need to pee! ARRGGHHH!
Second jam – Bring it on! I want to hit people!!
Second period – I NEVER WANT THIS FUN TO END!!
Next day – why do I have to bout?
Arriving at the Valley Leisure Centre, the venue for our bout, brought home the difference between this and the other bouts I’d played at. When its in your home venue it doesn’t feel that strange and its just like a super special training session, with an audience. Being in a different venue, being given a changing room, checking out the floor, seeing all these people setting up makes you realise that this is a proper sporting event where people are paying to come and see you compete. I think of roller derby as my hobby, something that I do to have fun and get fit, messing about on roller skates and hitting people. Warming up in the hall, in a uniform, in a team, was an incredible feeling, making me realise that I play a sport, I compete, I’m part of a team and a sport that has fans. As a lifelong avoider of sport, its a bizarre feeling and was a little bit dizzying to be honest.
We had plenty of time to get ready, and with spare time on our hands, there may have been a little too much time to cover ourselves in green glitter and stick on tattoos. We have, as a team, decided not to go for the scary derby look and more for the WTF look. I can’t even remember why we started sticking fake tattoos on our necks but its now a tradition to try and look as jailbird and ridiculous as possible. And the green glitter stripes on our faces was to show respect for the other team although at least one person wondered if the other team would think we were just taking the mickey!
I was then mainly just hoping that I didn’t mess up and/or wasn’t sick on the track. My wishes didn’t really come true as I managed to fall over in a very simple warm up, and then fall over again as I was trying to get back up again. Elegant.
But then the whistle goes for the first jam, and my mind changed almost instantly. I went from worrying about me to worrying about the team. How good would Belfast be? Would they have killer blockers and faster jammers? I knew we had a strong team and good tactics but Belfast were an unknown quantity.
I should admit now I am possibly the worst person to be writing a bout report. If you want to know the blow by blow, jam by jam happenings, I couldn’t tell you. Adrenalin does strange things, and I lose the ability to remember any details of the jams, including the ones I am in. It literally all does become a blur. But what I do remember is that the Belfast Banshees are tough, and the first few jams were fast with both teams working hard for and winning lead jammer regularly. When we won it, we were playing very tactically, trying to stop Belfast from scoring. We established a lead by the third or fourth jam and our lead slowly climbed up throughout the first half as we focused on winning lead jammer and controlling the pack. By the end of the first half we were leading 58-42, even though Belfast had a powerjam against us.
I had played in a few jams and that first jam I was a bit like a rabbit in the headlights. Man, it felt fast, faster than the bouts I had played in, and the noise was louder, and the jammers are faster, and you have less time to set up positions or plays. But your team is there to help you and I completely trusted the more experienced players I was with to tell me where to be or what to do and that calmed me down. Its funny how in just two minutes you can learn more than in a week of training sessions. I learnt that you don’t need to go for a big hit to floor someone, just being in the right place with the right momentum a little flick of a shoulder is all you need.
The second half I saw more of the game – we only had 13 players and no one spare to line up manage so had been trying to do it amongst ourselves. But it wasn’t working and as an experienced line up manager i could make more of a contribution as a line up manager than player. I wanted to play, and got a bit jealous watching everyone else going to line up on the track, but my team needed a line up manager. It did mean I got to order everyone about, which i do enjoy more than a little bit…
The first ten minutes of the second half we started piling on the points with some powerjams and some really really good blocking, keeping Belfast’s jammer behind our blockers while our jammer grand slammed her way round. We were over 50 points ahead at one point, and I was starting to think that we were comfortably ahead and sure to win, but this is roller derby and it can all change in two minutes. You know the other team are going to score a lot when you have your jammer and two blockers in the bin and in the second ten minutes of the period it seemed we had the jammer in the bin more than on the track. Belfast made the most of the opportunity and put on 60 points in four power jams. The crowd went crazy when they came from so far behind to one point ahead. We didn’t panic and kept our nerve and kept working hard to keep control of the pack as well as hitting their jammer to the ground at every opportunity to tire them out. But we were sin bin regulars, and Belfast were working equally hard so that with 20 seconds to go we were ahead 140-138!
The good news for us was that we were starting with a powerjam in our favour, so we were able to get lead jammer status, get another vital 5 points and then call off the jam without their jammer being on the track. My heart was in my mouth for each of those twenty seconds, praying that something didnt go wrong. And then that beautiful, beautiful final whistle was blown and the final points were up showing we won 145-138.
Then it was frantic sorting out who we wanted to give awards to, rush back to the hotel, get changed, get back into Belfast to the after party. Mmmmmm beer! That first beer after a bout tastes so gooooood. We handed out awards to the Belfast team, along with beautiful green wands and tiaras, who handed us awards along with equally tacky gifts (including glittery cowboy hats. Its like they knew we like glitter!).
I then had several more beers and the more beers I drank, the more I wanted to cover other people in green glitter and the more I wanted to take photos of people covered in green glitter. And then i had enough beers to make me want to dance. And thats never a good sign. The rest of the evening will not be reported here in order to protect the not so innocent….!
Food, taxi, bed.
The next morning was necessarily a slow start. Training sessions are harder exercise than bouts, but the adrenalin and energy expended at bouts is much higher and the day after a bout I am drained. We slowly assembled and laughed at those who were feeling the worst, as is traditional, before heading off to a local shopping centre for some food and somewhere to while away a couple of hours before we saddled up again into our gear for a training session with Belfast and Limerick.
We slowly dragged ourselves to the leisure centre, wondering why we were willing to do this to ourselves voluntarily, and surely it would be more humane to let us sleep. It was a training session with a guest coach (Evil Von Detta) and although the warm up made me feel all the aches and pains, before long I was really enjoying ducking and jumping, transitions and Queen of the Track (especially when The Mighty Bush was mighty and won one round!). I managed to conquer my lack of confidence about jumping and was leaping over people’s ankles
Then it was time to change, mitigate the padstink and get in the taxi for the airport. We spent a happy hour or so sat around looking at the photos of the bout and bemoaning how much airport food costs. Its time like that which is the best bit of being in a team, enjoying just spending time with each other, laughing at photos of The Mighty Bush without a top lip, Slay Mysterio always managing to look cool, or of NikkiBlocker Glory eating floor, while they are busing fraping my facebook. I never would have met the people in my team without roller derby, and although on paper we had nothing in common, they are all amazing people and awesome friends that i love hanging out with.
Roller derby helps you meet the loveliest people too. Every single taxi driver we had was friendly (and a bit mental), highlighting the dodgiest parts of Belfast and the place to pick up the ‘fitties’ if we were so inclined. Everyone in Belfast Roller Derby was so welcoming – not only had they made cute little cupcakes for us after the bout, we had more after training. And anyone who knows me knows the way to my heart is through cake! Belfast did such a great job in hosting the bout and we totally have to raise our game to decorate our hall in future as they made the leisure centre look fabulous – and had such loud fans. We have a lot to live up in the return match and I can’t wait to play against the Banshees again