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Roller Derby – London’s hippest underground women’s sport

By River Reporter Oct 25, 2011

By Fabiola Buchele & Nadine Ramsberg

Kamikaze Kitten has just skated through the pack, bulldozing opponents out of her way. The power of the golden hot pants can’t stop her as she continues to race to victory, with rival Lola Volkano tight on her wheels. She scores one point. Two points. The crowd is thrilled.

Aggressive & ferocious

Welcome to roller derby, London’s most exciting underground sport. It’s aggressive, it’s ferocious, it’s full of adrenaline and it’s played by women.

Cat Robinson has been a roller derby girl for two years.

After graduating from Kingston University’s graphic design department in 2008, Cat stumbled across roller derby when she was looking for a team sport to get into.

She went to one of the London Rollergirls’ fresh meat events, where teams look for new members, and has skated for the Ultraviolent Femmes since. Recently she qualified for the B-team which consists of the league’s top skaters.

Funky underground concept

Since it kicked off in the US in the 1930s as a roller skating race for cash, the sport changed multiple times before becoming roller derby.

After a re-invention in the 80s, it took on the shape of a funky underground concept, where the entertainment factor is just as important as scoring points.

It was then that the all-female teams got organised and got the derby rolling DIY style, with all the Rollergirls involved from helmet to toe-stop. The sport relies on all team members organising bout venues, administrative tasks and keeping the whole game rolling.

Punk-rock ethos

Roller derby quickly became a popular sport, and spread to the UK, where 71 amateur roller derby leagues have been put together during the last five years. The London derby scene is known to have an open door policy and welcomes players and spectators from all walks of life. For many people, it’s love at first sight when they come to their first game. There’s something intriguing about girls in colourful fishnets, sparkling shorts and sweaty wrist guards competing in a high-impact sport. Add a pinch of 80s glamour on retro skates and it spells addiction.

Even hard-core football fans like computer engineer Jamie, rave about the “punk-rock ethos of this true feminist sport”. His friend, Matt, adds “I love the tongue-in-cheek approach; the names, the jokes and the commentators.”

The guys, who have bought season tickets for all the league games, enjoy a break from the slick football professionalism and are thoroughly hooked.

Unique names and fancy outfits

Twenty six-year-old Cat became a renowned derby girl under the alias Rebel du Jour. Although she doesn’t see Rebel as her alter-ego, she says that getting dressed up for a game “is like putting your war paint on.

Not many team sports have this individuality”. The fun factor of unique names and fancy outfits add to Cat’s enthusiasm for the sport.

Besides training and competing, Cat and all her co-skaters are part of the derby committees, who help out with merchandise, advertisement, finding sponsorship and designing the artwork. “It’s very much a grass root organisation. We are all involved at every level and everyone is pulling their weight. It’s therefore much more than just a hobby,” she says.

London Rollergirls’ PR spokewoman Catherine Gee, plays for the Harbour Grudges as Lex Plode. For Catherine, the goal is for everybody to know what roller derby is and for it to be taken seriously as a sport, especially on a level with men’s sports. “Although London Rollergirls have been featured in the mainstream press and on TV and despite the thousands of people who go to watch the bouts, most people have never heard of roller derby.

“I first got involved because I was looking for a way to do exercise that wasn’t boring. I hate running and I hate the gym. I also wanted to meet other women who had interests beyond boys and shoes,” she says.

No sport for the idle

I’d certainly never worn gold hot pants before but now I wear them in front of hundreds of people while being knocked on my arse.

There are crashes and falls and you get to watch girls do things you don’t normally get to see.”

There’s one minute left of the last jam. Kamikaze Kitten and the Ultraviolent Femmes are skating towards a hands-down win. Their opponents, the Harbour Grudges, have to accept a defeat in this first bout of the season. Despite the sparkle, roller derby is no sport for the idle. The 60 minutes of fighting, racing and taking blows are up, and at the last whistle blow, the score board reads 116 to 84.

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