By Laura Stevens

Roller derby is not a sport familiar to most here in Brighton. Yet, skating around the periphery of Brighton’s subconscious is a triumphant, successful team of women. You may have caught a glimpse of some helmeted ladies whizzing down the streets, or heard the crowd’s raucous yells from a leisure centre when a match is on. But who are these mysterious Brighton Rockers? To answer this question and introduce anyone to this underappreciated sport, TAKEPART festival put on a taster session at King Alfred’s Leisure Centre.

The Brighton Rockers – Brighton’s very own all female Roller Derby team – had set up a track and lent everyone a pair of skates. Hesitation was apparent in some, not to be unexpected in a sport that requires a helmet, wrist guards, kneepads and, in case a flailing limb knocks out your teeth, a gum guard.

Yet, this did not deter the crowds of people who were keen to get rolling and try something different. Overwhelmed by the numbers, some latecomers had to wait their turn while the more confident rookies glided their way in-between cones. To the amusement of the onlookers the not so experienced were more reminiscent of Bambi with limbs akimbo while inexpertly groping their way around the hall.

I had gamely agreed to give it a go. This was before I had heard rumours of injuries such as concussion and fractured bones… However, with my complete ineptitude on four wheels I was far more likely to injure others with my out of control movements rather than myself.

Yet, despite my utter inability to even complete the basics of roller derby, the Brighton Rockers could not have made me feel more comfortable. The whole squad had pooled their kit so everyone could have a go, and their coach – ‘The Mighty Mighty Bash’ – was more than understanding to everyone’s tumbles. All abilities were encouraged at this session and for many, this was the first time they had ever seen a roller derby.

To the undiscerning eye, roller derby can appear very confusing and rather combative. For those with no knowledge of the sport this is a very simplified breakdown: Imagine a flat looped track. On this track are two skaters (one from each team) with stars on their heads that can score points. To help their own team and stop the other’s point scorer, there are four other skaters called ‘the pack’. This combination of offensive and defensive can be achieved by, essentially, using your body to block the other person.

Having been taught the rules that evening I was hardly an expert but what came across overwhelmingly clear was how much fun everyone was having! Even when someone was bashed it was laughed off and it was apparent that this was a sport where your ability was not defined by your age or body shape – no one was the wrong size.

The accessibility and camaraderie of the Brighton Rockers is definitely part of their attraction according to squad member, Danielle Leggatt,
“You don’t have to be a specific shape. If you’re a big girl you’re an arse to reckon with. If you’re tiny and small you can nip through really fast. There’s always a place for you on that track.”

With a squad that ranges in age from 18 to 40 plus, and day jobs including paramedics, teachers and office workers, it does really appear that anyone is welcome here. With three training sessions a week there is necessarily a time commitment but as Leggatt points out,

“If you want to get picked and play games then you train really hard. If you just want to have a laugh, you make sure the coaches know you want to have a laugh and you come when you want.”

The hard work from the team has led to a winning streak. From conception four years ago at a pub on Valentines Day, the Brighton Rockers have transformed themselves into a force to be reckoned with. Playing in various leagues in Europe, the ladies now have their eyes set across on the pond, by applying to play in the ultimate of roller derby leagues: WFTDA.

Standing for Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, entry to WFTDA would escalate the team’s glory-hunting by allowing them to play in higher leagues and jet over to the States, the home of roller derby.

Yet, two main obstacles stand in the way of the Brighton Rockers. Firstly they are a Brighton sports team yet they are unable to play in their home city. Venues’ worry of skates means typical training facilities refuse to host them or expect a pricey fee to cover insurance. This results in a lack of visibility in their city as Leggatt succinctly says: “It’s so hard to build a presence somewhere where you don’t play.”

And, secondly: a failure in Brighton to take roller derby seriously. According to Leggatt, “We are a Brighton sport team but not quite taken as a Brighton sport team.” Not being recognised as a serious sport means less ticket sales, less funding and therefore less money for equipment and games. Viewed by some as an underground activity, Leggatt turns that on its head by saying “Roller Derby is seen as a subculture sport but it’s desperately breaking into the mainstream.”

Countering these two hurdles could help propel the Brighton Rockers into the place they deserve amongst Brighton sporting prowess. Representing the city across Europe and potentially next year in the USA requires recognition, a venue and a fan base. Those in the know are already committed to the cause but more is needed to ensure the continued success of this very Brighton sport team.

The Brighton Rockers will be competing on Sat 26 July at the Dolphin Leisure Centre,
Haywards Heath