Walking into the ARC at Caledonian University, I was immediately faced with a line of Stormtroopers emerging from the men’s changing area. This was not going to be a regular sports event.
Roller Derby is full of oddities, but they all add to its colourful effect. Like other sports, it has the ritual of introducing the teams but achieves this in a creative and idiosyncratic way. Each team has its own theme, which is acted out in fun displays that represent both team name and theme. Having mascots is a tradition that is also kept, with Stormtroopers and Darth Vader appearances entertaining at half time.
As well as this popular tradition, it embraces a bunch of new ones: blaring rock music throughout the event and humorous team and player names that pun on the real names of the players.
Derby is colourful and quirky in its team’s outfits and style: opting for punk, rockabilly and burlesque aesthetic influences.
Roller Derby also embodies a property that no other sport does: it is largely played by women only. Mixed or men’s games may appear once in a while, but never at tournament level. All this adds together with strong undertones of feminism and a sprinkle of passionate and competitive girls(and guys) to form a sport that is genuinely unique.
The game itself is relatively simple but extremely fast paced, requiring almost as many referees as there are players on the field. The sport originated from endurance races in the 1880’s and grew from there slowly becoming a contact sport as the spectators enjoyed the crashes of opponents more than the race itself.
Even today, physical injury is part and parcel of the sport with almost every girl talking about what kinds of injuries they have endured, a lot of them happening off-track while having fun rather than when serious competition is taking place.
Eventually, clearer rules were defined and it evolved into the game being played today. Teams of five players designate one person, the ‘jammer’ to attempt to lap the other team, in order to score a point, while the rest of the team attempt to stop the opposing ‘jammer’. The game itself is played in a series of ‘jams’ between which the players swap out with team members on the bench. The sports recent amateur revival in the 00’s has built numerous teams of girls who compete in national and international leagues today.
Glasgow’s community of roller girls is large despite the sports marginalised popularity in the mainstream. They started with a group of enthusiastic girls wanting to play roller derby and, with help from London derby players, have risen to become the first established team in Scotland and 4th in the UK. Their membership is vast and quickly rising with new intakes frequent, although they are always in need of people to volunteer for various aspects of the Roller Derby experience.
Although large, the community of skaters in Glasgow is close-knit and friendly. Competitive on-track and friendly off-track is a very fitting description of the community and the players manage to switch from one to the other in mere seconds. Roller Derby’s intrinsic need for many different skills – speed, agility, power – is the reason why a lot of girls join and enjoy the sport so much. “Roller Derby has kind of become my life” says one girl, “there is a place for all kinds of strengths here”.
The next intake of members is after Christmas for details visit www.glasgowrollergirls.com or search for Glasgow Roller Girls on Facebook.