Report by Alistair Corless
A CARDIFF team will host the Roller Derby British Championships this weekend.
The Tiger Bay Brawlers, formed in 2010, are the pioneers of roller derby in Wales. The all-female team were one of only two clubs when first starting out in Cymru – Swansea City Roller Derby were the other.
Now there are 14 teams in South Wales. “It’s testament to the progression of the sport,” said Tiger Bay Brawlers player Allie Brock.
But what is Roller Derby? Created in the 1930s in America, it is an extreme form of speed skating. The game entails two teams skating around a track in the same direction. Each team has a “jammer” who skates at the back of the pack. Their goal is to skate past members of the opposing team. Each team has five players. As well as one “jammer”, each side has three “blockers” whose sole purpose is to prevent the “jammer” from lapping their team. There is also one “pivot”, who both blocks and organises the defence. “Jammers” score points every time they lap the pack.
Lee McCabe, who plays for the South Wales Silures, Cardiff’s main male side, said: “Roller derby is the fastest growing sport for women in Wales at the moment – and the men’s game is just catching up. We have a couple of ex-rugby players coming in who see the attraction of being able to hit someone on skates.”
The contact sport is known for its heavy collisions. Brock said: “It hurts. Similar to rugby once you get hit on your chest and shoulders it takes away all your breath.”
Tiger Bay are the third highest ranked team in the UK, the 10th highest in Europe, and the 60th highest in the world. The Brawlers also qualified for the British Championships for the first time this year.
In November last year they took part in the European Championships, were they beat Danish giants Copenhagen. Last June they played in America – the first Welsh team ever to do so. The Brawlers held their own in the East Coast Derby Extravaganza (ECDX) tournament, in Pennsylvania. Playing against teams ranked more than 50 places higher than them in the rankings, they defeated both the Garden City Rollergirls and Providence Roller Derby.
“We caused the upset of the tournament,” Brock recalls. The Brawlers have been invited to play in Missouri in the “Skate to Thrill” competition in April. Tiger Bay’s achievements were recognised last year, as they scooped the accolade of “senior team of the year” at the Cardiff European Capital of Sport 2014 awards.
With the London Rollergirls now ranked as the sixth best side in the world, UK Roller Derby is redefining the sport. While some of the Brawlers have exclusive names which they pick from a worldwide Roller Derby register – such as Jen-Clawed Van-Slamme – the Brawlers are moving away from gimmicks to focus on the sport itself.
Brock said: “The sport is progressing from an underground mentality of office worker by day and roller derby player by night. We are attempting to make the sport more family friendly so it reaches more people.
Looking forward to this weekend, how will the Brawlers fare?
Brock said: “Our friends and family haven’t been able to see us play at home so it’s really great to be able to do a two-day tournament. We have played both Rain City and Central City before but it is difficult when you are playing these teams as you are both familiar with each other.”
The Brawlers will be playing at the Newport Centre. For more information, visit: http://brawlers.co.uk/
Watch the Brawlers play at the last Roller Derby, via their YouTube channel here: