It’s eight years on from the birth of modern roller derby in Austin, Texas, and the first WFTDA sanctioned roller derby tournament to be held outside of North America is nearly upon us.
Anarchy in the UK is going to see six bouts between WFTDA East Region teams over two days. As well as being a major sporting milestone, it’s shaping up to fascinating on the track too. Confidently picking a winner for any of the six bouts is nigh-on impossible.
How does the London team feel about their first sanctioned bouts, and taking on hosting duties for the first time as a full WFTDA member? “There was such a hoo-ha following London’s ranking by DNN after last year’s East Coast Tour that we certainly feel a little pressure to prove ourselves in this tournament,” according to London Brawling captain Kamikaze Kitten. And what do Montreal make of the fact they’re about to add playing in the first WFTDA sanctioned bout to be held outside of North America to their impressive array of boundary-busting achievements? “I think it’s real proof that Roller Derby has no boundaries and that it is the kind of sport that is welcomed all around the world,” says Skids’ unmissable coach The Rev.
Charm City made it to the last eight of last year’s Championships, but team captain Rosie the Rioter admitted her team had an inconsistent 2010: “Our eyes were definitely on the goal of making it to championships, but like a lot of teams, we had player turnover and some consistency issues.” Thankfully for Charm things clicked into place for East Regionals when they registered an upset over Boston Massacre and booked themselves tickets to Chicago, where they went out losing by 62 points to eventual champions Rocky Mountain. “We know that we walk into this tournament with more experience than the other three teams but, that doesn’t mean we are resting on our laurels,” Rosie concluded. The main threats from Charm will, as ever, come from star blockers Dolly Rocket and Joy Collision, ably supported by Just Carol on the jammer line.
Montreal have had an incredible 2011 so far, registering wins against the highly rated Rat City and Boston Massacre, catapulting them up the rankings and setting up a potential top-four seeding in the region. They did lose to one-time national champions the Oly Rollers on their West Coast tour, but they’ve also notched up a close victory against Jet City and demolitions of Queen City and New Hampshire. Add that to a crushing win at Toronto’s Quad City Chaos, and they are most definitely the form team going into the tournament. How does The Rev see their success? “I think going up against teams like Oly has shown that we can adapt to almost every style of gameplay and learn from them while we are skating,” he said. “I also think it shows that as a team we have grown from our beginnings and have learned and continue to learn from our mistakes as well as our victories,” he concludes. Iron Wench was picked out as the main threat by the other two visiting teams when questioned by DNN, and her recent performances, especially against Boston, certainly bear that out.
Steel City are feeling confident they can upset those two, though. Steel Hurtin’ captain Ally McKill sets out their stall: “We have an amazing team this year and everyone has really been stepping it up. It’s a long season, but we’ve all got our eyes on the prize–that being a trip to Denver for the Championships.” Her team opened their account in 2011 with a loss to Philly’s Liberty Belles, and lost out to a strengthened Massacre in a last-jam thriller after their own demolition of Queen City. They then registered an 88-point win against Providence Roller Derby–a team London beat by 97 points on their US tour last year–showing just how close things are going to be. Steel City’s Ally McKill fancies her team’s chances, and picks Charm as a tournament favourites despite Montreal’s recent run of form. “I think Montreal had the benefit of coming in a little under-the-radar early this season and other teams may have underestimated them a bit. I can’t imagine anyone making that mistake again.” Athena’s fearsome packwork mean she is still the one to watch–both the other visiting teams picked her as Steel’s key blocker–but the jamming of Hurricane Heather and The Shocker are likely to be just as important if Steel are to make an impact here.
London Brawling are an unknown quantity heading into the tournament thanks to a lack of sanctioned bouts. On their way to full WFTDA membership last year they notched up convincing wins against Providence and Connecticut, and lost by one point to Philadelphia home team the Philthy Britches, who featured seven of the Liberty Belles in their line-up, but the team hasn’t played a WFTDA team since they achieved membership late last year. Brawling’s lack of top-level bouting experience may well count against them, according to Kamikaze Kitten, but there are some positives. “Obviously, the best practice for roller derby is playing roller derby, but there are some advantages to having a lighter bouting schedule. We concentrate a lot on polishing our rough edges and being flexible on the track,” she said. Their main threat in the pack is likely to come from Stefanie Mainey, but she’s ably assisted by a range of double-threat players sitting on London’s long jammer bench — Axis of Evon, Vagablonde and Grievous Bodily Charm are all likely to feature heavily in the pack and on the jam line.
It’s not just the teams who are coming from all corners, though. The action on the track is being overseen by London Rollergirls’ head referee Duncan Disorderly, assisted by two refs from each of the attending teams and an international all-star ref crew. Hambone of Gotham Girls Roller Derby will be flying the flag for New York along with Miss Trial of the New York Shock Exchange, with Judge Knot of Texas and Cherry Fury of Edinburgh’s Auld Reekie lending their support. Rounding out the guest officials are Major Travis T, from Birmingham’s Central City Rollergirls, and Deadly Nedly of Leeds Roller Dolls.
The tournament really could be anyone’s — the unpredictability of London, the form of Montreal, the experience of Charm or the strength of Steel City could all be telling, and no-one’s taking any chances.
Charm’s Rosie the Rioter again: “In any sport, you can have your superstars,” she said, “but what the real threat is, an entire team that is hungry, on the same page and working extremely well together.” She rates London’s chances, saying “Looking at their play last and this year, they have a pretty fast and disciplined style… One of the most exciting elements to this tournament will be actually seeing them play sanctioned games for ranking against their regional counterparts. It’s like the second birth of modern roller derby.”